Belize, October 2021 Trip Report
by Brian Magnier
With back-to-back trips to kick off our return from Covid, this second round was just as packed with sand, sun, and beautiful snorkeling as the first! Following the same itinerary, we started in Belize City and transferred to Turneffe Island Resort on Turneffe Atoll, which would be our base of operations for the coming week.
The first day of snorkeling was a great introduction to Caribbean fauna, and for many of us a nice reintroduction into the water after a long hiatus. The shallow reefs were bustling with activity, and it didn’t take us long to locate rays, moray eels, and several octopuses! Though they are masters of camouflage, they are often messy eaters. We looked for the remains of recent meals which often included ‘clean’ seashells and were excited to find these wary chameleons of the deep home for our visit. Colorful butterflyfishes, angelfishes, and damselfishes were plentiful, including the tiny juvenile yellowtail damselfish showing off its most incredible shades of blue. As we hopped out of the water and into the dinghies, I heard the distinct sound of a loud exhaled breath. I called out “Manatee between the boats!” and pointed to what looked like a coconut floating by but was the snout of a large West Indian Manatee. Those willing to quickly jump back into the water after just drying off were rewarded with brief views and a lesson in just how fast the seemingly obese manatee can swim.
After our initial snorkel on the reef flats, we spent some time exploring the dramatic topography of what are called Spur and Groove reef formations. Formed by water flowing over the reef and then rushing back out to sea-carved channels, Spur and Groove reefs are a great way to enjoy a variety of depths and bottom types in quick succession. Hopping over spurs and floating over the deep grooves, we were treated with closeups of damsels and schooling blue tangs, then a birds-eye view of stingrays and nurse sharks resting deeper down in the sand.
Our Great Blue Hole ‘day’ was incredible from start to finish. Calm seas made for a fast 1-hour boat ride to the Great Blue Hole where we had the chance to snorkel around this incredible sinkhole, the largest of its kind in the world. We slipped into the warm, crystal-clear water where some of our first views included fields of purple and yellow sea fans that grow along the edge of the sinkhole. We had a blast skirting the coral-lined edge of this turquoise gem and were visited several times by resident populations of midnight parrotfishes and chubs. After our time in the Great Blue Hole, we transferred over to Halfmoon Caye for the chance to either jump back in the water to snorkel from the beach, or to explore the island and visit the nesting site of the red-footed booby and magnificent frigatebird. I love birds so the choice was easy! With about half the group, we leisurely strolled through the jungle and were treated to sightings of green and black spiny-tailed Iguanas, hermit crabs, anoles, geckos, migrating warblers, and of course plenty of red-footed boobies and magnificent frigatebirds. After lunch at the picnic site, we continued onward to another beautiful snorkel site along Long Caye.
What could have been a relaxing, lazy ride back to dinner was interrupted by Lee’s keen eyes spotting a pale white spout on the horizon. Nearing the spout, which was coming up at regular intervals and being blown at an angle rather than straight up, we realized we were watching a pair of sperm whales! Quickly everyone on board was wide awake and crowded on the starboard side of the ship, where everyone had great views of the largest species of toothed whale on the planet.
The snorkels around Turneffe Atoll hold a fascinating diversity of critters, from big nurse sharks and rays to tiny ribbon-like juvenile spotted drums. A goal of mine was to see the endemic, white-spotted toadfish, a species found nowhere besides Belize, and in one day I went from never having seen one to having seen five! Fairy basslets, rock beauties, goldentail moray eels…I could go on listing species we saw ad nauseam.
In just a week of snorkeling, we were able to enjoy the best of what the Caribbean has to offer, and I eagerly await our next trip to the little Central American country of Belize.