Belize as we know it – the small, English-speaking Central American country perched along the Caribbean Sea – has been around since 1981, but the barrier reef just off the country’s coast is turning 10,000 years old this year.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef system in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and is home to three of the four total atolls in the Caribbean Sea. Its most recognizable feature is the Great Blue Hole, a bucket list destination for snorkelers and divers the world over.
Of course, the exact age of this biodiverse ecosystem may vary, but the cause for celebration is in large part due to the successful efforts Belize has implemented to preserve their environment in spite of threats from climate change and rampant pollution.
In the last few years, Belize has enacted multiple preservation efforts, including banning off-shore drilling, designating no-take marine protected areas, establishing the “Fish Right, Eat Right” program, and phasing out single use plastic. In fact, the Belize Barrier Reef was removed from the list of United Nations endangered places after almost a decade, and is now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Animals like sea turtles, manatees, and countless species of fish are now feeling the benefits of a healthier reef.
The country’s ongoing marine conservation efforts has made Belize one of the world’s leaders in protecting the ocean and its precious habitat. In-country organizations like Oceana Belize and MarAlliance work tirelessly to advocate for marine health, empowering local action to the point of environmental preservation becoming a cultural marker for Belize.
“Conservation has always been part of Belize’s DNA,” says Hon. Anthony Mahler, Belize’s Minister of Tourism and Diaspora Relations. “Through intensive efforts spanning decades, nearly half of the entire nation has been protected as either nature preserve/reserve, wildlife sanctuary, or national park.”
Even beyond the coast, luxury resorts like Chaa Creek in San Ignacio bring this mentality to the jungle environment, with biodegradable products, environmental education programs, and an onsite organic farm to stock the restaurant. No matter where you are in Belize, that spirit of conservation is strong.
Belize will be celebrating the 10,000th birthday of the reef with events during the first half of June, starting in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, through Turneffe Atoll, down south to Hopkins. Events include snorkeling and diving tours at Hol Chan and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve kayaking, fishing competitions, and cookoffs. “The goal of the upcoming anniversary festivities is not only to promote the Reef’s brand on an international scale,” continues Minister Mahler, “but also to give a chance for the public to learn about the value of this incredibly beautiful yet very fragile marine ecosystem, and encourage positive actions that’ll not only preserve but also allow the Belize Barrier Reef to thrive for thousands more years to come.”
In typically Belizean fashion, these celebrations are bound to be lively, colorful, musical, and delicious. Even when there’s nothing specifically to organize a party over, Belizean hospitality means good times are almost a guarantee, whether a visitor is dousing fry jacks in Marie Sharp’s habanero hot sauce or banging traditional Garifuna drums down in Hopkins.
There are also endless ways to get up and close and personal with the Belize Barrier Reef when the celebrations have ceased. Book a stay at Turneffe Island Resort for a personalized fishing or diving experience – including at the Great Blue Hole – and experience the serenity of being a luxury cast away. Or, charter a trip with Belize Sailing Vacations so you never have to step off the sea if you don’t want to.
In a time when so much about the global ecosystem is at risk, this is one anniversary worth celebrating.