Marine Reserve sights in Central America
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At the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, Bacalar Chico is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, declared in 1996. At the time of research, the park was only accessible by a 90-minute tour-boat ride from San Pedro or Sarteneja.
On the way up from San Pedro, boats might stop at Cayo Iguanu, better known as 'bird island,' as it is the nesting ground for the roseate spoonbill and the reddish-brown egret. The next stop is the San Juan ranger station, at the northern tip of the island, where there is a nature trail and some small Maya ruins to explore. From here, the boat motors through the ancient channel that was dug by seafaring Maya about 1500…
About 19 miles southwest of Caye Caulker, the vast Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary spans nearly 9000 acres, including Swallow Caye and some parts of nearby Drowned Caye. Here the ocean floor is covered with turtle-grass beds, which support a small population of West Indian manatees.
For years, guides have been bringing tourists to this spot, in the hope of catching a glimpse of these gentle creatures as they chow down on the turtle grass. But the constant traffic put stress on the habitat, having the unintended effect of harming the manatees. After tireless efforts on the part of conservationists and guides, a wildlife sanctuary was finally established in 2002.
Declared a marine reserve in 1998, the 61-sq-mile Caye Caulker Marine Reserve includes the portion of the barrier reef that runs parallel to the island, as well as the turtle-grass lagoon adjacent to the Caye Caulker Forest Reserve. Although the reef is regenerating after patchy hurricane damage, it is rich with sea life, including colorful sponges, blue-and-yellow queen angel fish, Christmas tree worms, star coral, redband parrotfish, yellow gorgonians and more. Between April and September, snorkelers and divers might even spot a turtle or a manatee. All local snorkel and dive operators lead tours to the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve.