Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System: The coastal area of Belize is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. The system's seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.
Belize is one of the smallest countries in North America, but it is home to many of the most important features in the second largest coral reef system in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef is important geographically, geologically, and ecologically. Diverse plants and animals live both above and below the crystal-clear warm water.
However, the Belize Barrier Reef has been recently scarred because changes are occurring in the environment. The Belize Barrier Reef has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. UNESCO, scientists, and ordinary citizens must conserve this special coral reef system.
The Belize Barrier Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef System, which stretches for approximately 700 miles (1000 kilometers) from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to Honduras and Guatemala. Located in the Caribbean Sea, it is the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere, and the second largest reef system in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The reef in Belize is approximately 185 miles long (300 kilometers).
The Belize Barrier Reef includes numerous features of coastal geology, such as barrier reefs, fringing reefs, sand cays, mangrove cays, lagoons, and estuaries. The reef is home to three coral atolls, named Lighthouse Reef, Glover's Reef, and the Turneffe Islands. Coral atolls are extremely rare outside of the Pacific Ocean. The Belizean government has established numerous institutions like national parks, national monuments, and marine reserves to preserve some features of the reef.
The Belize Barrier Reef is home to a large diversity of plants and animals, and is one of the most diverse ecosystems of the world: 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, hundreds of invertebrate species. With 90% of the reef still needing to be researched, it is estimated that only 10% of all species have been discovered.