Diving Season for Lighthouse Atoll There is year round diving on Lighthouse Reef as for the most part the climate is sunny and warm, with July through September being the hottest months. The wet/dry season of the mainland doesn't really apply here this far offshore and rains are less frequent than elsewhere in Belize but sporadic throughout the year. There are easterly trade winds all year round, making the leeward west coasts of the cayes the favored dive spots. These winds are usually at their strongest in March and April. From November through February, northerly winds sometimes blow in, bringing with them cooler temperatures. At this time of year boats tend to favor the south and eastern sides of the cayes.
Visibility is generally very good and in the range of 80-130ft (25-40m). The stronger winds in March and April can stir up sediment, and the warmer summer months bring plankton and algae blooms. Visibility is reduced to 70ft (20m) at these times. Water temperatures are usually at 29°C (85°F) but fall a little to 27°C (79°F) from November through February. Mantas occasionally come to the reef to feed on the plankton blooms from August through October. Spawning time for groupers and snappers is April through May. Sea turtles nest at Half Moon Caye between June and November, then hatch from August through January. Silversides are plentiful in March/April and again in September/October. Whale sharks migrate to southern Belize and these popular behemoths of the sea pass by Lighthouse Atoll in April/May.
Blue Hole Diving
A feature attraction of Diving in Belize, Especially for divers with a appreciation of geographical phenomena, is the opportunity to explore the famed Blue Hole. Part of the Lighthouse Reef System, it lies approximately 60 miles off the mainland out of Belize City. It is one of the most astounding dive sites to be found anywhere on earth, right in the center of Lighthouse Reef is a large, almost perfectly circular hole approximately one quarter of a mile (.4 km) across. Inside this hole the water is 480 feet (145 m) deep and it is the depth of water which gives the deep blue color that causes such structures throughout the world to be known as "blue holes." Like a giant pupil in a sea of turquoise, The Blue Hole is a perfectly circular limestone sinkhole more than 300 feet across and 412 feet deep. The array of bizarre stalactites and limestone formations which mold its walls seem to become more intricate and intense the deeper one dives. Near to The Blue Hole, one of Belize's largest protected areas, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, encompasses 10,000 acres of the atoll and 15 square miles of surrounding waters. The diameter of the circular reef area stretches for about 1,000 feet and provides an ideal habitat for corals to attach and flourish. The coral actually breaks the surface in many sections at low tide. Except for two narrow channels, the reef surrounds the hole. The hole itself is the opening to a system of caves and passageway that penetrate this undersea mountain. In various places, massive limestone stalactites hang down from what was once the ceiling of air-filled caves before the end of the last Ice Age. When the ice melted the sea level rose, flooding the caves. The temperature in the Blue Hole at 130ft is about 76F with hardly any change throughout the year at that depth. For all the practical purposes the over 400-foot depth makes the Blue Hole a bottomless pit. The walls are sheer from the surface until a depth of approximately 110 feet where you will begin to encounter stalactite formations which actually angle back, allowing you to dive underneath monstrous overhangs. Hovering amongst the stalactites, you can't help but feel humbled by the knowledge that the massive formation before you once stood high and dry above the surface of the sea eons ago. The feeling is enhanced by the dizzying effect of nitrogen breathed at depths. The water is motionless and the visibility often approaches 200 feet as you break a very noticeable thermocline. In the deeper waters of the Blue Hole itself, you might see a curious blacktip tiger or hammerhead shark, but on most dives you won't see anyone except your dive buddy. Little light reaches the depths of the Hole and water does not circulate freely. As a result, the deeper areas inside the Blue Hole don't have the profusion of life associated with most drop-offs. But as you venture into the shallows around the rim of the Blue Hole to off-gas after your dive, you will discover a wonderful area filled with life. Pederson's cleaning shrimp are everywhere inhabiting the ringed and knobby anemones. With the frantic waving of their antennae, these shrimp invite you, along with passing fishes, to be cleaned. Neon gobies also advertise their cleaning services from the various coral heads. Angelfish, butterflyfish hamnlets and small groupers are also commonly seen. Elkhorn coral grows to the surface and purple seafans, resplendent of their rich hues, sweep at the calm surface waters. If you look up, you will double your pleasure as you catch the reflections of sea fans in the aquamarine mirror of the calm water. Dive boats leave very early in the morning - most guides bring sweet buns for those who can't find any place to eat in the early morning hours. Bring your own coffee, however. One can get mildly disoriented in back-set caves 150' down in clear, still water, filled with 25 to 50 foot long stalactites. A rare - wonderful dive. However this is truly a technical category decompression dive, not recommended for newbies or resort dive qualified divers. (The bottom of Blue Hole is over 400 feet down and the wall slopes back, such that one must have absolute buoyancy control rather than to depend on something to grasp if starting to plummet while descending. Likewise - ballooning is equally deadly to ones health when coming up from 150 plus feet and requires excellent buoyancy control. Decompression times are around 10 to 15 minutes at 20 feet.). The best dive guides anchor a spare tank and regulator at your 20 foot deco spot, usually at the permanent mooring anchor located around the rim of the Blue Hole, which your boat moors too. The Half Moon Caye National Monument reserve protects a 4,000-member booby colony, one of only two in the Caribbean, and was the Belize Audubon Society's first reserve, established in 1982. The booby is a slow-witted, white-feathered bird with a golden head and long blue-grey beak. It was summarily massacred by early sailors and was on the brink of extinction before the reserve was set up. Some 98 other species of birds have been recorded on the caye, including ospreys, warblers and white-crowned pigeons. In 1972, Jacques Cousteau took his famous research ship, Calypso into the Blue Hole, pioneering a route that is still used by the dive trade today. There were two popular rumors that sprang up regarding Cousteau's visit. The first was that Cousteau used explosives to blast a path through the atoll to reach the Blue Hole. This is not true. The second rumor was that Philippe Cousteau lost his life in the Blue Hole during that trip. This is nonsense. Philippe was killed when his aircraft-a converted Catalina - came in to land in Lisbon, Portugal a few years later. Almost all the divers who visit Belize are keen to add this splendid dive site to their list of conquests. When they understand what the hole is and how it was formed, it makes the dive all the more exciting. The Blue Hole is a "karst- eroded sinkhole." It was once a cave at the center of an underground tunnel complex whose ceiling collapsed. Some of the tunnels are thought to be linked right through to the mainland, though this has never been conclusively proved. The mainland itself has many water-filled sinkholes that are connected to caves and tunnels. At some time many millions of years ago, two distinct events occurred. First, there was a major earthquake and this probably caused the cave ceiling to collapse forming the sinkhole. The upheaval, however, had the effect of tilting Lighthouse Reef to an angle of around 12 degrees. All along the walls of this former cavern are overhangs and ledges, housing pleistocene stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Some of the stalactites now hang at an angle, yet we know they cannot develop at any angle other than perfectly perpendicular. In addition, there are those stalactites which were formed after the earthquake and others which were formed both before and after that cataclysmic event-the top of the stalactite being at an angle and the bottom being perpendicular. At that time the sea levels were much lower than today and the second major event was to change all this. At the end of the Great Ice Age the glaciers melted and sea levels throughout the world rose considerably. This process occurred in stages. Evidence for this are the shelves and ledges, carved into the limestone by the sea, which run the complete interior circumference of the Blue Hole at various depths. The first of these ledges is found between 150 and 165 feet (45-50 m) and is best visited on the south side. The base of the ledge is perfectly flat and cuts back into the rock some 15 to 20 feet (5-6 m). This creates an ever-narrowing cavern until the roof reaches the floor right at the back. Here in the V- shaped ledges, cut into solid limestone, are stalactites, stalagmites and columns (where stalactites and stalagmites have joined) which do not exist in the shallower waters of the Blue Hole. There is very little marine life in the hole, and the walls are of bare rock largely due to the scarcity of direct sunlight on the walls, but this hardly matters. Occasionally a lone hammerhead shark is seen, but the general lack of fish, and therefore food, suggests that the creature was simply passing through. The only other fish I have seen were four pompano, but other species have been seen, especially on the south side. Lemon and blacktip sharks, and horse-eyed jacks are spotted with some regularity. Diving the Blue Hole is not for beginners, although anyone can complete a shallow dive and claim to have dived this marvelous wonder of nature. The deeper one dives into the Blue Hole, the clearer the water and the more breathtaking the scenery. But diving deeper than sport diving depths is for specialists only and cave diving requires even more training and equipment. This type of diving is not generally available in Belize, but a few groups have visited the Blue Hole in order to explore the tunnels and caves which extend from within. On the western side at a depth of 230 feet (70 m), there is an entrance through a narrow tunnel into a large cavern. In total darkness the stalactites, stalagmites and columns exist in an undisturbed world. The floor is covered with a very fine silt which billows into great clouds with the slightest movement from a passing diver. In the farthest corner, another narrow tunnel leads upwards into a second cavern and then another leads finally to a third cavern. Here are the skeletal remains of turtles which found their way in but never found their way out. This is the very danger which faces a diver. Now at a depth of only 100 feet (30 m) he must find his way back by the same route down to 230 feet (70 m) before he can commence his surfacing and decompression schedule. if he, his buddy or even a turtle have stirred up the silt, the chances are he will never find his way out again. For those qualified cave divers, this is a very rewarding dive. The Great Blue Hole is not marked on Admiralty Charts-the task of a survey ship is to map that portion of reef which represents a danger to shipping. The hole is found almost exactly in the center of the reef on a course of 3300 from Harrier Wreck. An entire diving trip to Belize is worth the effort and expense for this single dive. Contrary to rumors, although Cousteau did explore the depths of the Blue Hole with his mini-submersibles in the 60's, he did not lose his son Philippe here, he died elsewhere in a helicopter accident. Neither did Cousteau randomly use explosives to destroy the patch reefs while navigating the "Calypso" in the Blue Hole. He did selectively remove, by limited blasting, a very small area to enable the "Calypso" to reach the Blue Hole. Several divers have lost their lives in the Blue Hole for various reasons, and as usual, caution is the rule and divers should be fully aware of safety as cave diving rules will apply when they enter the stalagtite-stalagmite area. Traditionally, before the 1960's, the Blue Hole, because of its awesomeness, was a place very much respected and feared by all who saw it. Lighthouse Reef, an atoll approximately 25 miles long and 10 to 12 miles wide, has a typical enclosed lagoon. The depths in this lagoon vary from 5 to 25 ft., and in it there are many scattered coral formations known as "patch reefs". In the northeastern section of this otherwise shallow lagoon a mariner will come across this indigo blue apparent abyss. Up to the 60's old timers would claim that this hole was bottomless. Because such a blue hole was so striking against a background of tranquil pastel greens of the shallow atoll lagoon, one may be reminded poetically of Homer's accounts in the "Odyssey" of the whirlpool "Charybdis" that gave one a choice of two dangers. IN THE BLUE HOLE THERE ARE NO WHIRLPOOL LIKE CURRENTS, SO DIVERS NEED NOT FEAR THIS.
Blue Hole - The Experience
Thousands of scuba divers visit Belize yearly, and many of them only have the Belize Blue Hole in mind. This might be because it’s the most popular dive site in the country, and is one of the most advertised by local tourism investors. However, the Blue Hole is now just known as a bucket list dive, something that you won’t care to visit again. But there’s hope for this, as false expectations and assumptions are the main causes of disappointment. This dive site is different, though; it’s the kind of novelty that, with the right conditions, can be enjoyed when approached with the right expectations and mindset. The dive starts with a descent to a sandy limestone shelf surrounding the Blue Hole The shelf starts as a wall covered with coral, and then becomes a gentle sandy incline that leads up to a dark abyss. If you dive from local dive boats, you’ll be given about a minute or two to descent and equalize if you’re led to the drop off where will freely go down into the darkness. As you go down, the depths drain the colors to a gloomy shade pretty much the same from the natural light seen after dusk. Further down, you’ll see silhouettes of one of the most fascinating predators of the ocean. You continue past gigantic stalactites hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers from the Stone Age. This is a reminder of the jungle caving expedition of Actun Tunichil Muknal, which you might have visited early on your trip. These cave formations have existed for many millennia even before the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus. In the distance, you’ll see the silhouettes of sharks circling their territory, bolting toward the shallower depths above. On uncommon occasions, keep an eye open for a hammer head sightings. They live in the area and might appear out of the darkness. Then you will start your slow ascent from the maximum depth. You’ll come up past the sharks again, with an occasional curious one coming within an arm’s reach inspecting the visitors in its territory. You’ll arrive on the sandy shelf, and be treated to small bubbles dancing out of tiny holes in the sandy floor. Then the shape of your dive boat will appear above, with your dive leader signaling you to do a safety stop. In total, you’ll finish the dive in 30 minutes, which is something you should prepare for if you’re a diver who loves 60-minute dives. With a dash of luck, this Belize Blue Hole cruise can be a worthwhile experience. However, it’s important that you’re aware of the dangers of this kind of dive, including the personal duties you have as the diver, even when you’re under the supervision of a dive master. If you have a dive computer, adjust the depth according to your No Decompression Limit. If you’re using a rental computer, ensure that you’re briefed on how to use it and always ascend at a reasonable rate. Make sure that you take the necessary steps to remove as much potential stressors for a better dive down the Belize Blue Hole depth. Ascend until you get the signal from the dive master and ascend if they tell you. It’s also helpful to have a dive buddy who will not be a stress to you and to the other divers. There are many divers who came up unmoved with what Belize blue hole diving has to offer. But perhaps if your expectations weren’t too high, and the conditions were excellent, the dive just might be something unforgettable. If you find yourself vacationing in beautiful Belize, looking for an underwater adventure, contact dive tour companies in Belize for their Belize Blue Hole tours packages and rates.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll Dive Sites
The Great Blue Hole Much has been said about The Blue Hole and not all of it enthusiastic, mostly due to unrealistic expectations of likely marine life. A collapsed cave roof makes the hole shape which bottoms out at about 490ft (150m). You will go down to around 130ft (40m) to see the now submerged remnants of stalactites. There may be some sharks around. Even if there is not much in the way of marine life, diving The Great Blue Hole is a unique and interesting experience.
Half Moon Caye This small picturesque island is also in the south of Lighthouse Reef, just to the east of Long Caye, and has been granted national park status as the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument. Half Moon Caye Wall, together with its neighboring site Chain Wall 1640ft (500m) to the west, is one of the best dive locations in the Caribbean and often included in daytrip and liveaboard schedules; if not then ask for it!
Start your dive to the south of the caye by descending onto the sand flats at about 15m depth. What appears at first glance to be sparse vegetation, transforms into a vast colony of garden eels, their willowy, graceful bodies protruding from their burrows delicately picking out morsels of food brought to them by the mild current. A slow and cautious approach is required; these shy animals slink back into the protection of their holes seeming to match the speed of your approach. You should have better luck getting up close to examine some of the vast number of conches which litter the sandy flats. Sea hares, torpedo rays, blue parrotfish and fantail blennies are also plentiful in this area. Occasionally a spotted eagle ray might glide across the flats in search of a meal buried in the sand.
The sand flats continue out to the lip of the reef wall which is a vast growth of boulder and domed corals reaching back up to within 6m of the surface. Decide to either swim over the reef crest and down the wall or find one of the narrow grooves and follow them seaward being careful not to stir up the sedimentary sand of the seabed. The most exciting option is finding one of the short, straight and easily navigable tunnels that bring you out to the ocean side of the reef wall, all the while looking out for snappers, yellowfin grouper and red banded coral shrimp. If you're familiar with the "prrrp, prrrp, prrrp" sound, you might recognize the call of one of the curious looking toadfish that are native to Belize.
You could easily spend your entire dive meandering your way through the spectacular channel formations. With so much to see here your bottom time may be up before you even reach the outer wall. Large predator fish frequently patrol the precipitous abysses of Lighthouse Reef. Green and hawksbill turtles are frequent visitors, while Caribbean reef sharks and large black groupers are not uncommon. Visibility is often very good here so it should be fairly easy to spot the bigger and deeper fish. With plenty of marine action and several different directions and environments to explore, it would be possible to spend the entire daytrip moored up at this one spot.
Tarpon Caves is another of Half Moon's popular sites. It has a vertical tunnel that runs from its entrance at 40ft (12m) down a passage before depositing you into a deep crevice at almost 100ft (30m) deep. There is a second chute that runs up to the right which you can use as your ascent at the end of the dive. Once you are on the wall, there are many cuts, swim-throughs and holes to explore. The walls here have fewer soft corals but a greater number of hard corals than neighboring Long Caye. Don't be alarmed to find yourself being followed by one of the great barracuda; they seem to be particularly inquisitive of divers here and may be your constant companion throughout the whole dive. During your surface interval take the time to go ashore and view the red footed booby bird colony on Half Moon Caye. A great day out and comes highly recommended by Dive The World.
Long Caye In the far south of the Lighthouse Reef system, west of Half Moon Caye but north of Hat Caye, is Long Caye - the largest of the islands out here. The scuba diving all along the west coast of Long Caye is spectacular and considered among the best in Belize.The underwater landscape is characterized by incredible coral gardens (average depth of 33ft (10m) on the west coast and 50ft (15m) on the east) on top of a wall that drops to the sea floor several hundred meters below. The gardens are more like tropical jungles - the massive purple, pink and beige sea plumes stand tall like palm fronds swaying in a summer breeze. There are giant sea rods, massive brain corals and boulder star corals. Branching vase sponges, giant barrel sponges and yellow tube sponges complete the colorful picture. This is the domain of the trumpetfish which, with its sleek profile, cryptic markings and stalking, is perfectly adapted to this environment.
At Silver Caves, a dive site named after the dense schools of silversides that shelter in the channels here, you can see horse-eye jacks hunting for their prey. Creole wrasse flash past, hounded by great barracuda. Honeycomb cowfish, Spanish hogfish, midnight parrotfish and filefish make their way slowly around the reef.
There are many channels and gullies through the underwater forest for divers to explore and here you will find yellowtail snappers, Nassau grouper and schoolmasters clustering in small groups, and pairs of banded butterflyfish hiding from inquisitive eyes. Blue chromis and fairy basslets swarm around the coral heads in the bright shallows. Soapfish rest as if asleep on the ledges or at the base of sponges. Twinspotted drums and arrow crabs can sometimes be spotted in the coral recesses. On the sand floor, yellowheaded jawfish float nervously over their burrow holes.
Once you swim over the reef edge, you'll descend down the caye wall with its trappings of sea fans, elongate stove-pipe sponges, and overhanging sea sprays and sea whips. Longjaw and longspine squirrelfish use the nooks and crannies to hide out. Look among the bushy and feather black corals, you can find pike blenny with their tails cocked, ready to pounce on prey. Caribbean reef sharks and blacktip sharks are seen out here. Sennet cruise past and occasionally black groupers ascend from the depths to take a look at what's happening in their local vicinity. Oceanic triggerfish can be spotted in the blue close by.
Night dives can be just as spectacular at Long Caye. At sites such as Dos Cocos, large tarpon hunt aggressively in the dark, often assisted by divers' torch lights to zero in on the smaller reef fish. Sculptured slipper lobster, as well as the more common spiny lobster, can be found here, and hermit crabs are very common.
A careful examination of the fan branches can reveal such beautiful creatures as flamingo tongue ovulidae shells, decorator and neck crabs. Reef squid are attracted by the boat and diver lights and these fascinating creatures often moved in small schools across the reef flats.
Toadfish can also be found at Lighthouse Reef, especially the large-eyed and whitelined. These amazing creatures are nocturnal so look out for them on night dives, hidden under ledges on the sandy sea bed.
Surface intervals can often be spent in-water, interacting with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins which are sometimes curious of divers and snorkelers.
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