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Belize Barrier Reef

Wonders of the World :: --Ancient 7 Wonder||Medieval 7 Wonder||Modern 7 Wonder||Natural 7 Wonder||Wonder of Underwater||Wonder of Industrial||Wonder didn't know Existed||Human with Diffrent||20 Strange Place's||

Seven Wonders of the Underwater World :: -- 1.Palau|| 2.Belize Barrier Reef|| 3.Great Barrier Reef|| 4.Deep-Sea Vents|| 5.Galapagos Islands|| 6.Lake Baikal|| 7.Northern Red Sea||

Belize Barrier Reef

The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 meters (980 ft) offshore in the north and 40 kilometers (25 mi) in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300 kilometers (190 mi) long section of the 900 kilometers (560 mi) long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancún on the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula through the Riviera Maya up to Honduras making it one of the largest coral reef systems in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the New Caledonia Barrier Reef. It is Belize's top tourist destination popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of its 260,000 visitors, and is vital to its fishing industry.Charles Darwin described it as "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies" in 1842.

"The Most Remarkable Reef in the West Indies"

So Charles Darwin referred to the Belize Barrier Reef in 1842, in his study of the origin and evolution of coral reefs. Since then 
it has become renowned as the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 260km long, it runs from the northern 
border of the country, where it is only about 1km offshore, south to the Sapodilla Cayes which lie some 40km offshore.

Belize also has one of the most diverse reef ecosystems in the world, with all the main types of reef represented: fringing reefs 
along the mainland coast; the Barrier Reef itself which grows along the edge of the continental shelf, separated from the 
mainland by the lagoon; and three offshore atolls (Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Atoll and Glovers Reef). The presence of atolls is 
unusual. Most atolls are found in the Pacific, where they form on the top of submerged volcanoes. Very few occur in the 
Caribbean, and they differ in structure, the three in Belize for example lying on non-volcanic submarine ridges.

The Diversity of Coral Reefs

Of all wetlands, coral reefs are the most diverse, being home to more species than any other marine ecosystem. Only tropical rain forests rank higher on the biodiversity scale. This huge diversity is a result of careful partitioning of the reef by all its inhabitants - some use the reef at different times of day (many reef species are nocturnal), others share it by eating different food. Although reef diversity is much lower in the Caribbean than in the Indo-Pacific (a result of the geological history of the  region), over 1,000 species may nevertheless occur on a single reef. Belize has a particularly high species diversity for the region, with about 65 coral species and over 300 fish species, compared with just over 70 coral species and about 520 fish species in the Caribbean as a whole.

blue hole

Utilization of the Reef

In Belize, the coastal waters were used extensively for fishing by the Mayans between 300 B.C. and 900 A.D. Since early this 
century, the economic role of the reef has increased steadily with the growth of the coastal population. Initially, its importance lay in the fishing industry, with a wide variety of species being harvested ranging from turtles, sharks and finfish, to sponges and seaweeds. Today, lobster and conch are the principal fisheries products, and contribute most of the total value of exported  seafood, estimated at over US$10 million in 1995. There is also a domestic fishery for shallow reef fish and a commercial fishery for groupers Epinephelus spp. and snappers Lutjanus spp. However, the main use of the Belize Barrier Reef is now tourism, which is the country's largest source of foreign exchange generating an estimated US$75 million in 1994; hundreds of divers visit the reef each year to experience its delights.

Threats to the Reef System

Belize may be one of the last countries in the world to have extensive areas of almost pristine reef but it is also subject to the many threats that are of global concern and which have already seriously degraded an estimated 10% of the earth's coral reefs and currently threaten a much greater percentage. Greatest damage comes from sedimentation, agrochemical run-off, coastal development, tourism and overfishing. Until recently, the main impacts on the Belize Barrier Reef were from natural events such as hurricanes. However, pressures are mounting from a whole range of impacts including escalating residential and hotel development on numerous cayes, the citrus and banana industries which are causing increasing fertilizer run-off, growing numbers of shipping and recreational vessels in the reef-strewn shallow waters, and a steady increase in divers and snorkellers - Hol Chan Marine Reserve alone now receives over 30,000 visitors a year.

Status of Belize Coral Reef

Coral reefs have not yet been used among the primary criteria for listing wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention, although the definition of a wetland allows for their inclusion. Of the 11 Contracting Parties to Ramsar in the Neotropics that have coral reefs, only 3 have listed sites that include these habitats (the Grand Cul de Sac Marin in Guadeloupe, Klein Bonaire Island and adjacent waters in the Netherlands Antilles, and North, Middle and East Caicos Islands in the Turks and Caicos) and in all cases the main interest in these wetlands has been other habitats and waterfowl. Belize is finalising the process for joining Ramsar and, in the first instance, will be nominating an inland wetland site. However, several parts of the Belize Barrier Reef would qualify for nomination.

A system of marine and coastal protected areas is being set up as part of the Coastal Zone Management Plan that is being 
prepared for the country. So far there are three protected areas that include reefs: Half Moon Caye Natural Monument on 
Lighthouse Reef, Hol Chan Marine Reserve on the Barrier Reef, and Glovers Reef Marine Reserve. A number of other areas 
are likely to be designated as marine reserves or national parks soon, and many of these will be large areas incorporating a 
range of wetland habitats including the central section of the Barrier Reef, extensive lagoon and saltmarsh areas as well as vast expanses of estuaries, mangroves and fringing reefs.