February 3, 2010

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Lighthouse Reef

Our Belizean adventures continued today with an hour-and-a-half boat ride further east, to Lighthouse Caye and the famous Blue Hole; a dive site popularized by marine explorer Jacques Cousteau. The Blue Hole and Lighthouse Caye are designated as World Heritage sites, both established and run by the Audubon Society of Belize. This conservation effort is largely due to the abundant population of Red-Footed Boobies and Frigate birds nesting on the island.




The Blue Hole Stalactites

We had the pleasure of sharing the turquoise water once again with Dr. Sylvia Earle as we descended into the Blue Hole. This dive site is just that, a circle of blue water measuring ~2.4 km (~1.5 miles) across at the surface, placed in the center of a submerged atoll, maxing out at 125 m (410 ft) in depth.  We descended to the 40 m (130 ft) mark, and were drawn back in time as we approached a 6 m (20 ft) ledge with stalactites,  measuring 9 m (30 ft) in length,  hanging into the abyss. Scientists have determined that these stalactites were formed during the ice age when the sea level was much lower than it is today.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

Following our dive we took the opportunity to explore Lighthouse Caye and its abundant bird nesting sites. Wayne Sentman, a naturalist and field biologist with the Oceanic Society, shared with us his extensive knowledge of the inhabitants of this remote caye. 

Outreach Coordinator
Sadie Waddington

 The Frigate birds and Red-Footed Boobies have an interesting relationship on the caye. Frigate birds are kleptoparasitic, which means their feeding methods often include stealing food from others, especially the Red-Footed Boobies. As the Red-Footed Boobies return to their nest with their catch of fish, Frigate birds intercept their return and intimidate them into regurgitating their meal. Frigate birds have mastered the techniques of catching food in mid air, an adaptation to overcome their lack of a preening gland, a gland that secretes oil to allow sea birds to waterproof their feathers; hence Frigate birds are not able to land or dive into the sea.  


Before we left Lighthouse Caye we had one more interesting encounter with a Ctenosaura similis, also called the Black Iguana, who was sitting in one of the gumbo limbo trees sunning itself.

Our last dive of the trip was at a site called the ‘Aquarium,’ where we saw an abundance of marine life, including fish, coral and sponges. The highlight of the dive had to be the sighting of a Hawksbill turtle munching on some of the colorful sponges. As we have mentioned earlier in our blog, Hawksbill turtles are a critically endangered species; their turtle shell was often used in jewelry and hair clips. The sighting of two of these wonderful creatures gives us much hope for the future of Belize.



As we head home to California we are drawn to reflect upon our time in Belize. We can see that the organizations and Belizeans we have met are taking important steps towards the protection of their marine resources. Belize gives us much to be hopeful for and we look forward to seeing positive changes to further protect Turneffe Atoll and other important marine areas in the years to come.






Writing by Sadie Waddington


Photography by Kip Evans
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