Belize Scuba Diving
Lighthouse Reef is the most distant of the Belize atolls from shore and is quite small with a length of approximately 80 km. For many it offers the best diving Belize has to offer with both liveaboards and resort stays possible. Being more exposed, there can be times when the wind picks up and makes some of the dive sites inaccessible but there are normally some sheltered spots to dive in the lee of the islands.
The middle of the reef is where the world famous Blue Hole is located, made famous by Jacques Cousteau (who seems to have made a superlative quote about everywhere he ever dived!). Much has been said about The Great Blue Hole and not all of it enthusiastic, mostly due to unrealistic expectations as to the likely marine life.
A collapsed cave roof makes the hole shape which bottoms out at about 150m. You will go down to around 40m to see the now submerged remnants of stalactites. There may be some sharks around. Even if there is not much in the way of marine life, diving The Great Blue Hole is a unique and interesting experience.
There is much more to the atoll than just the Blue Hole however, and for many divers Lighthouse Reef is the focal point of their underwater Belize adventure. The reefs can boast an extraordinary diversity of reef topography including sandy reef-flat areas, walls, grooves and channels, caves and caverns.
Half Moon Caye Wall is a much loved site since it can be done a number of times in different ways. It features a sandy shallow floor with a lip of coral atop a vertical wall. Both large and small marine life is normally present in abundance including manta rays, eagle rays and turtles, plus flounders, razor fish and thousands of garden eels.
Dive Site Descriptions
The Great Blue Hole - Was formed almost 15,000 years ago - glacial waters flowed through the limestone deposits of the then exposed Lighthouse Reef resulting in huge subterranean caverns. The roof of one of these caverns collapsed during a shift in the earth's crust, leaving behind Belize's most visually stunning spectacle and its most renowned dive site.
Brought to prominence by Jacque Cousteau's famous research and dive vessel Calypso in the 1970's, the Blue Hole of Belize is over 120m deep and over 300m across at the rim. Only accessible by 2 narrow channels through the otherwise completely surrounding coral reef, the deep blue of the hole can look imposing to even the most experienced divers so listen carefully to the briefing and stick close to your guide.
The reef around the rim of the hole is only a few feet below the surface and coloured by anemones, elkhorn, starlet and club finger corals - an excellent site for snorkelling but that's not what we're here for ...
Depending on weather conditions, the dive will begin on either the north or the south side. Staying reasonably close to the wall will assist with orientation. There is not much to see here in terms of wildlife - coral growth and therefore fish life is restricted by the lack of light that penetrates the Great Blue Hole.
As you approach the shallowest cave systems at about 30m, you will notice the angle of the walls change resulting in overhangs burdened with stalactites some of which are more than 1m in diameter and up to 6m in length. Fallen stalactites litter the floor of the cave 15m below and mark the entrance to a cavern system which adds an eerie feel to this already atmospheric dive.
At this point in the dive you may be greeted by the guardians of the Blue Hole in the form of Caribbean reef sharks and bull sharks that come barrelling out of the depths. This used to be an unpredictable occurrence but recently some of the dive operators have been attracting the sharks with chum and a small number seem to have taken up residence, large tiger and hammerhead sharks occasionally mix with their smaller brethren. If they do, pick a large pillar to hide behind!
After a slow ascent you need to spend some time offloading some of the nitrogen absorbed during this deep dive and the coral reef which rims the hole is a fantastic place to do that. Angelfish, butterfly fish and colourful groupers all inhabit the shallow coral gardens, dozens of Pederson's cleaner shrimp and neon gobies advertise frantically from what seems like every coral head, trying to tempt you along with the passing fish to utilise their services.
A truly memorable dive and simply a 'must do' if you are diving in Belize.
Half Moon Caye Wall - Is one of the best dives in the Caribbean and often included in daytrip schedules; if not then ask for it!
Starting your dive in the apparently barren sand flats, what appears to be sparse vegetation on closer inspection transforms into a vast colony of garden eels, their willowy, graceful bodies protruding from their burrows delicately picking out morsels of food brought to them by the current.
A slow careful approach is required; these shy animals slink back into the protection of their holes seeming to match the speed of your approach.
The sand flats continue down to a depth of 14-15m; here you will be confronted by a thick wall of mainly staghorn coral reaching to within 6m of the surface. Decide to either swim over the reef crest, find one of the narrow grooves and follow them seaward being careful not to stir up the muddy sand of the seabed.
Or the most exciting option is finding one of the short, straight and easily navigable tunnels that bring you out to the ocean side of the reef wall, all the while looking out for yellowtail snappers, groupers, razorfish, arrow crabs, red banded coral shrimp and the curious looking toadfish which is native to Belize.
You could easily spend your entire dive meandering your way through the spectacular spur and groove formations. With so much to see here your time may be up before you even reach the outer wall. Large pelagics frequently patrol the precipitous abyss. Spotted eagle rays and turtles are frequent visitors, while huge manta rays, sharks and large black groupers are not uncommon.
With so much to see here and several different kinds of dives, it would be possible to spend the entire daytrip moored up at one site. During your surface interval take the time to go ashore and view the red footed booby bird colony on Half Moon Caye.
A great day out and comes highly recommended by Dive the World.
How to Dive Lighthouse Reef
Belize liveaboards spend quite a few days around Lighthouse Atoll and the Blue Hole on each dive trip as it forms the majority of their itineraries.
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There is year round diving in Lighthouse Reef with the driest months of the year being February and March. August to October is the wettest period.
Good for: Large animals, small animals, underwater photography, wall dives
Not so good for: Wreck dives
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 40m
Currents: None to very strong
Surface conditions: Mostly calm but can be choppy further from shore
Water temperature: 25 - 29°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >30
Distance: 80 km south east of Belize City
Access: Belize liveaboards and Turneffe resorts
Recommended length of stay: 1 week
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