The Belize Barrier Reef may not have the worldwide recognition of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But the UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches over 190 miles, comprising more than a third of the 560-mile Mesoamerican Reef, which is the second largest coral system in the world. It’s also Belize’s top tourist attraction by far, drawing around 130,000 visitors annually.
The 370 square mile Belize Barrier Reef System encompasses seven marine reserves, 450 cayes (including the ever-popular Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker), and three atolls. The most famous of these is Lighthouse Reef, the most easterly diving hotspot in Belize and home to the Great Blue Hole. As a result, Belize is arguably the most exceptional place for Scuba diving in the western hemisphere, with a diverse array of walls, pinnacles and reef flats to be explored.
It’s one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, providing home to over 100 species of coral, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates. And with 90% of the Belize Barrier Reef still waiting to be researched, scientists estimate there are thousands of new marine species there just waiting to be discovered.
Our day of diving the Belize Barrier Reef with Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort was like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
It was the worst because my father had passed away the week before our trip to Belize, and I was just starting to deal with the shock and grief that comes from losing a parent unexpectedly. Even the dive itself proved problematic: While I was filming GoPro footage of a Nurse Shark early in our first dive of the day, another diver came down on top of me and knocked me into the coral, drawing blood from my arm and leg. When we surfaced, the waves were so choppy that I ended up getting seasick as soon as the dive boat picked me up.
But in terms of the marine life we saw, it was also the most exciting day of diving we’ve ever had. In addition to the aforementioned Shark, we were blessed with close-up sightings of three Spotted Rays, Lobsters, Pufferfish, Seahorses, a Moray Eel out in the open water, and even a Sea Turtle. We also saw several Lionfish, and learned about Hamanasi’s conservation initiatives to eradicate them. For an additional fee, you can learn to spear-hunt the invasive species, which they serve in the resort restaurant and give the striped spines to local ladies to turn into gorgeous earrings and pendants.
As you’ll see in the video above, it was an extraordinary day on the Belize Barrier Reef, which was arguably the most beautiful place we’ve ever gone Scuba diving. Though global warming has led to rampant coral bleaching (which some studies show has impacted up to 40% of the reef), the parts we explored were vibrant, healthy and full of marine life. So much so that we’re dying to go back to Belize to dive more of its barrier reef system in the future! –Bret Love; Video by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, with special thanks to the Garifuna Collective
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PIC OF THE DAY: Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort Beach, Belize
GO GREEN TIP #101: How to Choose a Responsible SCUBA Diving Operator
Responsible travel has become a major buzzword in recent years, with gap year and travel industry companies climbing over themselves to use the moniker in their marketing materials. Some use it as a badge of honor, while others use it in an attempt to greenwash their image.
Responsible travel (which is also known as responsible tourism, sustainable travel or ecotourism) is basically an umbrella term. It’s frequently used as a catch-all phrase, lumping in dozens of “green” buzzwords and ethical issues such as wildlife tourism, volunteer travel, conservation issues, and more.
But what is responsible travel exactly? Does responsible travel matter and, if so, why? Here we’ll take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly elements of the rapidly growing responsible travel industry.
You never really realize how important your travel fashion choices are until you find yourself in a remote destination for two to three weeks with no access to laundry services. Traveling light (i.e. carry-on luggage only) and combining business travel with ecotourism adventures only serves to complicate matters more.
Over the past 7+ years of traveling together, Mary and I have gotten much smarter about what and how we pack. We’ve even created an informal Travel Packing Checklist, which changes depending on the type of climate(s) we’re traveling to.
Because technology changes constantly and new innovations help make our travel lives much easier, this list is ever-evolving. What follows is our 2016 travel fashion guide, with clothing and accessories suited to six different travel styles.
Disclaimer: We receive no compensation for our product reviews. But we do get a small percentage when you purchase products through our affiliate links. Continue reading
I’ve never been so happy to depart a destination as I was the day we left Lake Natron. Wrecked by a stomach virus, relentless heat, and winds that pelted us with stinging sand, I was miserable and ready for pampering at Lake Manyara’s Escarpment Luxury Lodge. But it’s our time learning about Maasai culture in a nameless village along the way that I’ll forever remember most about that day.
There were no signs pointing travelers to the village, which is located about 10 minutes outside Mto Wa Mbu en route from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Lake Manyara National Park. In fact, even calling it a village might be a stretch.
There were perhaps a dozen small circular bomba (houses) made from grass, mud, sticks, and cow dung, all enclosed inside a circular fence (enkang) fashioned from thorned Acacia branches. The surrounding scenery was dry and desolate, with dust devils swirling across the horizon.
But from the moment the Maasai villagers came walking out to greet us, singing a song of jubilant welcome that hit me square in my soul, I felt my mood being lifted for the first time in days. And by the time we left, I realized that my face hurt from smiling so much…
SPECIES: Maui dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui)
CURRENT RANGE: West Coast of North Island, New Zealand
CURRENT THREATS: Fisheries, oil exploration, inbreeding, disease.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically Endangered
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: Occasionally between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato, North Island, New Zealand.