Lonely Planet Writer

Endangered hawksbill turtles make a comeback off the coast of Belize

They were one of the star turns in BBC’s epic Planet Earth 2 – the tiny hawksbill turtles saved from near certain death as they struggled to find their way to sea. Their odds of surviving from hatchling to fully grown adult are minuscule, and only one out of a thousand is expected to survive, the programme explained.

The endangered hawksbill turtle is making a comeback in Belize.
The endangered hawksbill turtle is making a comeback in Belize. Image by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild/Getty Images

One place where the threatened hawksbill turtles are thriving however, is in the protected waters of Glover’s Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize. Conservation efforts there in recent years are proving incredibly successful with the most recent count in the coral reefs finding more than 1000 juveniles living there.

Diver and hawksbill turtle
Diver and hawksbill turtle Image by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Glover’s Reef – named after two infamous pirate brothers – is one of the world’s great barrier reef systems and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The area is also important to Belize’s fishing economy and turtle numbers had been declining until a major conservation project began.

Nicole Auil Gomez of the Wildlife Conservation Society said: “A healthy population of hawksbill turtles at Glover’s Reef has positive implications for recovery of the species in Belize and the wider Caribbean region. Once these young hawksbills mature they leave the atoll and can travel incredible distances.”

The waters in the atoll are a popular spot for snorkelling and diving with turtles, sharks, rays, and countless other species of fish to be found there. The scientific study found that as well as more than 1000 hawksbill turtles, there were also smaller populations of green and loggerhead sea turtles.

The Glover’s Reef area is separately the focus of a major exhibit at the New York Aquarium where a 167,000-gallon tank is dedicated to marine life in the atoll. Among the sea creatures to see there are eels, rays, hogfish, and dozens of other species with information also available on the work of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Belize.