The government of Belize takes environmental protection seriously. About 40% of the country’s national space is protected, including the barrier reef off its coast. The coral reef is vital to Belize’s ecological balance. It helps protect the coast from erosion, which could destroy the other habitats on land.
The crystal blue waters off the coast of Belize make it a popular destination for water sports. However, the government does have strict rules in place to make sure that the fragile coral reef is not destroyed by scuba divers, snorkelers, and boaters.
Since Belize’s Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most popular snorkeling spots, I slipped on some flippers, put on goggles, and jumped into the clear blue waters. I was instantly surrounded by giant grouper (a rather unattractive fish) and a lone endangered sea turtle slowly swam not ten feet away from me! But, Shark Ray Alley was the most exciting part of my snorkeling adventure.
Shark Ray Alley provides a home to dozens of rather harmless, but very large nurse sharks. Nurse sharks get their name from the sucking noise they make while eating fish, shrimp, and squid. It is a common misconception that nurse sharks don’t have teeth, making them a safe option for a swimming partner. In fact, nurse sharks DO have teeth, but their very low energy makes them uninterested in attacking. They even prey on sleeping fish at night to avoid the trouble of chasing their meal! ‘Man-eaters’ or not, swimming with these sharks was terrifying. They can be as big as 14-feet, and I definitely held my breath while I swam next to them.
I’ve come across enormous wonders during this adventure: rainforest canopies, vast cave systems, and towering pyramids. But, for me, some of Belize’s greatest surprises came in the tiniest of packages.
The Blue Morpho is just one of the many teeny wonders this country has to offer. Found throughout Mexico and South America, these butterflies are masters of disguise. When they fold shut, the Blue Morpho’s wings are grey and brown. This serves as camouflage from predators and allows them to blend in with tree bark in the jungle.
Blue Morpho plays an important role in the ecosystem here. Like bees, they carry pollen between plants and help them reproduce. Once you begin too see how nature is connected from ocean to land, from reefs to trees, it’s easy to understand the importance of conservation.