THROWBACK THURSDAYS: “Sea and respect”

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“Sea” and respect … Turneffe’s multiple-use reserve helps protect a globally important coral reef ecosystem

“Sea” and Respect…Turneffe’s multiple-use reserve helps protect a globally important coral ecosystem

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Millions of organisms

In 2012, with the supervision and financial support of multiple non-profit organizations, the Turneffe Atoll System was declared a multiple-use marine reserve.  This was due, primarily, to the fact that it is considered the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere and, therefore, perceived as a “nautical rainforest”.

What is coral?  Actually, the question should be “what ARE coral”.  When scuba diving in Belize and you come across coral it may look like chunks of rock to you.  In fact, these rock-like structures are the result of millions of organisms, called polyps that multiply in colonies. They cling together, are living and “breathing”, only feed at night and hide during the day. The reason they appear as being rock-like is because they have an exoskeleton, to provide them with support, which is composed of calcium carbonate.  This is the same com that shellfish use to make their shells – this type of coral is referred to as “hard coral”.  Another type of coral is referred to as “soft”, for it does not have a calcium carbonate skeleton. Instead, it supports itself upright by tiny spines.

Within Turneffe’s coral reefs thousands of animals make their homes.  It is believed that there are possibly thousands of other unknown species which live in and around the coral reef.   It is a scientific fact that it supports, within its folds, more species/unit area than any other area in the surrounding ocean.

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Thousands of coral species

Lastly, this coral ecosystem also makes contributions to the medical field from which research is currently underway to find cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections and viruses.  It has been discovered, and which is of great importance, that the compounds within the Caribbean Sponge are used in the making of AZT which is the medicine primarily used to fight the AIDS virus.  Also, corals and molluscs are used to manufacture orthopaedic and cosmetic surgical implants.   Currently, there is on-going investigation to find out whether coral skeletons may be used for bone grafts.  A soft coral known as Caribbean Gorgonian produces a compound used as an anti-inflammatory and, this same substance is also used in an anti-wrinkle cream.  Taking into consideration that approximately 95% of the ocean has not yet been explored, the possibilities of discovering more and more medical uses for coral are practically endless.

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Rock-like structures

So, when scuba diving in Belize and you come across coral please “sea” it and treat it with respect.  Remember the numerous benefits it is contributing globally and that one day it may even save your life.

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CREATURE FEATURE: Manatees

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The world’s largest Manatee population

The Meso-America Reef System is home to one of the world’s largest populations of manatees — estimated to number anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500!

The population thrive in and around Turneffe Atoll, which is approximately 30 miles (38 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide — it is the largest atoll in western hemisphere.

The atoll is made up of a series of mangrove islands, cays, lagoons and lush grassland marine robes — all of which are surrounded and protected by a ring of vibrant and unique coral species.

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Frequenting the coastal waters

Manatees are large, often slow moving mammals that frequent coastal waters and rivers of Turneffe Atoll. They are born underwater and have been known to live up to 40 years. The huge creatures are usually very docile and are therefore great for viewing underwater.

The marine mammals are also known as sea-cows and are mostly herbivorous — eating over 60 species of plant species and 10% of their bodyweights everyday.

Manatees can measure up to 13 feet (4 m) in length and weigh as much as 1,300 pounds (590kg). They also have paddle-like flippers.

Just like other mammals, manatees make sounds, especially when communicating with their young. When adult manatees communicate with one another it is usually during sexual intercourse and playful interaction.

When female manatees give birth they must immediately rush their young to the surface for its first breath of air.

Frequenting the coastal waters

“Manati” — meaning “breast” — derives from the Taino, a people existing in Colombia before European settlers forced them out of the country.

There are three species of manatee, distinguished primarily by where they live. One manatee population ranges along the North American east coast from Florida to Brazil — many of which are found residing in the Meso-America Reef System. Other species inhabit the Amazon River and the west coast and rivers of Africa.

To see these remarkable creatures, visit Blackbird’s website: http://www.blackbirdresort.com/

 

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MESO-AMERICA REEF SYSTEM (MARS): Little Cousin

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The Great Barrier Reef’s little cousin, differences and similarities between the two.

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Over 2,900 individual reefs

The Mesoamerican Reef region lies within the Caribbean Sea and spans the coasts of Mexico, Belize Guatamala and Honduras. It is the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, stretching almost 700 miles (1125 km) from the northern point of Yucatan Peninsula right through to the Honduran Bay Islands — not to mention spanning Belize on its way.

The Great Barrier Reef is also known for its size — it is the largest coral reef system in the world made up of over 2,900 individual reefs. Like the Mesoamerican Reef’s famous Blue Hole, one of the top ten dive sites on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef can be viewed from outer space.

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Stretching almost 700 miles

Both reefs house a breathtaking array of wildlife and coral and organisations are working hard in the western and southern hemispheres to make sure these are protected against human activity. Many fish from the Mesoamerican and Great Barrier Reef are on the protected species list.

Given that the reefs support so much life and diversity, both have been made World Heritage Sites. Thousands of tourists therefore visit the sites every year to dive and snorkel amongst the awe-inspiring wildlife.

The Mesoamerican Reef is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusc and more than 500 species of fish. The Great Barrier Reef is made up of more than 400 species of coral and more than 1,500 species of fish.

No wonder the Mesoamerican Reef is called the Great Barrier Reef’s little cousin. Check out the Blackbird website for more information about dive sites in the region: http://www.blackbirdresort.com/

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EPIC EXCURSIONS: The Elbow

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The largest and most diverse atoll

Located at the southernmost point of Turneffe Atoll, The Elbow is regarded by many as one of the most diverse and exciting diving spots in the region.

Turneffe Atoll — the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the western hemisphere — supports a wide range of diverse aquatic species such as the endemic white spotted toadfish and the white lined toadfish. Plentiful sponges and corals provide feeding grounds to endangered animals including the green sea turtle

Due to the location of The Elbow, several strong currents merge from both sides of Turneffe Atoll and meet at a precise location — attracting a huge array of aquatic wildlife, including massive schools of snapper, jacks, mackerels and eagle rays.

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Glowing range of colours

Divers are therefore able to swim right into the heart of these schools, becoming completely surrounded by thousands of glistening fish. Barracuda are also attracted to these waters. Their hunting technique is fascinating to observe as the predator lies in wait, suspended in the water before disappearing like a torpedo towards unsuspecting pray.

Sharks are also known to frequent The Elbos but don’t worry — fish are so abundant here divers are not on the menu. Other incredibly large species include the Goliath Grouper, which can grow up to 9 ft (3 meters) in length and weigh as much as 800 pounds (360 kg). These particular fish are no illegal to catch, due to overfishing in the past, and have been placed on the “critically endangered species” list.

The coral at The Elbow is also awe-inspiring. Gorgonians, a distant cousin of coral, can also be found at the site. These leafless, tree-like underwater bushes sway majestically with the current and as a result are also known as “sea fans” — glowing a range of colours from purple, red and yellow.

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EPIC EXCURSIONS: Blue Hole (Lighthouse Reef Atoll)

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Blackbird offers one of the most exciting dive excursions in the world – the famous Blue Hole Adventure Day. Departing every Tuesday, this visually stunning – below and above the water – adventure takes dive adventurers to some of the most spectacular underwater destinations on the planet: The Blue Hole, Half Moon Wall and The Aquarium.
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Operating from within Turneffe Atoll, located 24 miles (38 km) east of Belize City, Blackbird Caye Resort is situated only one and a half hours by boat from The Blue Hole, which means our guests are able to leave at 8am from Blackbird Resort and by 9:30am be in the water — that’s fast

In 1971 Jacques Cousteau, a famous undersea explorer, dubbed the Blue Hole as one of the world’s top ten scuba diving sites. This has caused the structure to become very popular among diving enthusiasts. Cousteau was famous for helping invent the first aqua-lung device that allowed humans to stay underwater for long periods of time. He also explored all five of Earth’s oceans for over thirty years.

We take divers to a max depth of 130 feet (40 meters) for around eight minutes to view an astonishing array of marine wildlife and coral in the clearest of waters. The entire dive takes roughly half an hour. Snorkelers are also able to explore the rim of the Blue Hole and will often see grey sharks up to 50 feet (16 meters) below.
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Half Moon Caye — an island within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll system — is the second stop. The trip is breath-taking as the boat glides over 10 ft (3 meters) of crystal-clear turquoise waters — in the middle of the ocean. You will catch a glimpse of the red-footed boobie — a rare bird that resides on the atoll, the largest nesting site in the world.

Not only is it a World Heritage Site, but the reef hosts a wide range of rare and endangered coral and fish species. Sharks of all shapes and sizes flock from far and wide to feed at this site. Eagle rays and turtles also frequent the area.

A barbeque also awaits hungry divers and snorkelers, lovingly prepared by our very own chef. Chicken, burgers, fruits and vegetables are slowly grilled to make sure you don’t go hungry following your underwater exploration. It’s not your usual packed lunch, everything is cooked on the island using wood and coal fire grill. Our secret Caribbean marinade is second to none.

After a mouth-watering feast, the third dive site awaits: The Aquarium. The dive site is located within the Lighthouse Atoll and lives true to its name: the area is bursting with aquatic life with an abundance of schooling fish from School Master Snappers, Creole Wrasse, Queen Angelfish, Banded Butterflyfish and Honeycomb Trunkfish.

Renowned for its crystal clear waters — with visibility up to 80 ft (24 meters) — the site plummets to depths of up to 50 feet (15 meters). The Aquarium is reachable by boat, 13 miles east of Turneffe Atoll, to the northeastern corner of Long Caye.
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Here at Blackbird, you won’t find a more safety conscious dive crew — as a remote resort our standards are incredibly high. We always go one step further to ensure your safety.

Large groups are welcome — the most people accommodated on one trip was 33, on top of nine crew.

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TURNEFFE ATOLL SYSTEM: What makes it so important?

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Turneffe Atoll is located just over 24 miles (38 km) east of Belize City and is surrounded by intensely coloured waters, which glisten vivid blue, green and turquoise. An atoll is a ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed of coral. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At approximately 30 miles (38 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide it is the largest atoll in Belize. Turneffe Atoll is made up of a series of mangrove islands, cays, lagoons and lush grassland marine robes — all of which are surrounded and protected by a ring of vibrant and unique coral species.

The atoll was officially declared a marine reserve in 2012 by the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development.

It is the most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere. The islands — some of which are larger than 5,000 acres — are covered by more than 77 different varieties of vegetation. Interspersed with lagoons, mangrove forests cover almost all low-lying areas of the atoll.
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Turneffe Atoll’s reef supports a wide range of diverse aquatic species such as the endemic white spotted toadfish and the white lined toadfish. Plentiful sponges and corals provide feeding grounds to endangered animals including the green sea turtle.

Blackbird Caye South is thought to have the largest sea turtle nesting site on the atoll and has witnessed loggerhead turtles nesting on Blackbird Oceanic Field Station beaches in recent years.

Belize’s largest American saltwater crocodile population also resides within the atoll, approximately 200-300 individuals. It is also the only offshore stretch of water designated for the endangered Antillean manatee.

Giant marine toads, green tree snakes and other reptiles and amphibians use the littoral forests and brackish lagoons at their home.

Blackbird Caye Resort can take you there. Check out the website for more information: http://www.blackbirdresort.com

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MESO-AMERICA REEF SYSTEM (MARS): What it is and why it is important it is looked after

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Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Caribbean”, the Mesoamerican Reef is a rich tapestry of bold corals, mangrove forests, coastal wetlands and diverse marine life. And while the reefs have endured all nature has to throw their way, including seasonal hurricanes and other natural disasters, the system is not so well equipped to deal with the impact of human activity.

The Mesoamerican Reef System stretches more than 620 miles (1000 km), spanning the eastern coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

Over two million people reside in the coastal communities encompassed by the reef, hosting more than 65 species of stony coral and over 500 species of fish. Several dolphin species also call the reef their home including spotted, bottlenosed and rough-toothed dolphin can be found in the reef’s waters.
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The Meso-America Reef System is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of manatees — estimated to number anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500.

Of the fish that are sought after by fisherman, the most regularly caught are spiny lobster, shrimp, grouper, snapper and queen conch.

However, coastal development, pollution, overfishing and unregulated tourism are threatening the reef system.

Climate change is also expected to impact the Mesoamerican Reef. Factors such as coastal flooding, rising sea-levels and mass coral bleaching due to warming seas are posing considerable danger to the aquatic wildlife and fauna that thrive there.
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Work is being undertaken in a bid to protect the reef though and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is collaborating with coastal communities to improve mangrove forest conservation and restoration, develop climate change adaptation strategies and to establish marine protected area.

Interested in taking a closer look at the Meso-America Reef System? Book a holiday with Blackbird Caye Resort today: http://www.blackbirdresort.com/

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Dive into Scuba Lessons in Belize at Blackbird Caye Resort

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KA3A2462The allure of the ocean is enticing, and wanting to explore its remarkable underwater world is something many people dream of. The sheer wonders of the ocean life you will discover while diving will prove to be absolutely breathtaking and may just become a lifelong hobby. You will experience vivid colors, fascinating creatures and unique plant-life that will give you a true appreciation of another world.

If you’ve ever contemplated learning how to scuba dive, why not incorporate that into a vacation at our tropical paradise? As a PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) facility, Blackbird Caye Resort offers all PADI training courses. However, if you don’t want to spend your entire vacation learning, then there are options to give you time to relax and learn.

While many folks want to really get serious about diving, many just want to test the waters (literally!) and see if it is something they want to pursue. That is the beauty of having choices and at Blackbird Caye Resort, we provide our guests with those choices.

Our very popular “Discover Scuba Dive Program” is a non-certification course that simply provides our guests with basic scuba knowledge and is a great introduction into diving:

  • Watch a 30 minute video
  • Spend 1 hour in the pool learning to breathe and do a few skills
  • Do a 40 minute dive in open water to a max depth of 40 feet (based on skill success in the pool) with an instructor

If you’re serious about diving, our dive packages provide our guests with flexibility and choices that will be a perfect fit for anyone.

Open Water I Certification is the main course for becoming a diver. It typically lasts four days and consists of about two days of classroom-style learning, covering all aspects of the physics of diving and equipment, plus two days of hands-on learning, becoming acquainted with the scuba gear in the water and doing simple dives. You can do e-learning prior to arriving at the resort to give you more vacation time!

 Open Water II Certification provides advanced open water learning to further your diving skills, enjoyment and safety. This is a recommended, but strictly optional course and is typically taken after 20 or more dives, giving you time to become totally comfortable underwater on routine dives.

PADI Enriched Air Diver Course is a specialty scuba diving course. Scuba diving with enriched air nitrox gives you increased no decompression dive time. This means more time underwater, especially on repetitive scuba dives. To qualify, you must be 15 years or older and have a PADI Open Water certification, or qualifying certification from another organization.

There are 70+ dive sites located near the resort with an average time of 12 minutes to reach them. Some of the popular dive spots you will visit are “The Elbow”, “Calabash Cut”, “West Side Story”, “CoCo Point”, “Al’s Hideout”, and “Oasis”. Offering some of the highest biodiversity in the Caribbean, Turneffe offers a well-developed reef encircling the entire island chain making it the perfect location for divers, snorkelers and kayakers.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us!

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