The Turneffe Islands make up the largest of the three offshore atoll reefs in Belize and also are the most accessible from the mainland. Unlike the other two Atolls (Glovers & Lighthouse), there are over 200 cayes within the reef which are covered with mangroves. These have created land, lagoons, creeks and expansive flats. Closest to Belize City and easily accessible, Turneffe features spectacular diving suitable for every level of diver. Along the western reef line north of the Elbow, novice divers can feel comfortable on shallow reefs, removed from the steep and deep walls so typical elsewhere. Along the eastern reef line south, there is an abundance of marine life, end sensational for seasoned divers. Current and walls make the diving here challenging but great for finding large pelagics. Turneffe is the largest of the three atolls and the only one with an extensive cover of mangroves. Most established dive sites are limited to the southern end, but there is enough here for several weeks of diving. The marine life at Turneffe Island makes the scuba diving an adventure like no other dive destination in the Caribbean. The vastness and variety of marine life and coral formations are truly unmatched. With more than 200 mangrove islands, the atoll is a natural nursery for a wide variety of exotic fish, including the rare Whitespotted Toadfish, which is endemic to Belize. Other types of tropical marine life commonly viewed include eagle rays, playful dolphins, turtles, huge green morays, giant jewfish, nurse sharks, reef sharks, trunkfish, grouper, snapper, permit, and horse-eye jacks. The Turneffe Atoll area stretches 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. It has often been described as a myriad of different dive destinations all bundled into one. The depth of the water and distance from the mainland of Belize result in excellent underwater visibility, normally in excess of 100 feet and often ranging up to 150 feet. Together, the three atolls of Belize have more than 160 miles of walls and reefs suitable for diving - seldom are other divers seen. The secluded, unspoiled environment of the atolls is a far cry from the major dive centers and other popular fish destinations of the Caribbean. It is truly one of the last frontiers for divers and anglers alike. The entire eastern shoreline of Turneffe is protected by a continuous vertical reef approximately 35 miles (56 km) long. From the crest of this reef, a narrow ledge falls away over a distance of about 100 yards (91 m) until it reaches an average depth of between 55 and 65 feet (17-18 M) where the drop- off begins. Along this ledge are a number of spur and groove formations which are host to a myriad of reef fishes.Click Below For Feature At a depth of approximately 150 feet (45 m) is a horizontal ridge with another at 250 feet (76 m). These ridges extend throughout the length of the reef and are an example of wave erosion when water levels were much lower than today. There are few navigable entrances through the reef. In the southeast there is North Cut, some 400 yards (121 m) south of Cocoa Tree Caye. A little further south is South Cut just 150 yards (45 m) from Big Caye Bokel. The depth of both channels is only 8 feet (2.4 m) so their use is limited to small craft. They both provide access into the South Lagoon where a dive resort is situated on Caye Bokel. On the southwest corner of the atoll there are entrances at Pirates Creek just above Big Caye Bokel, and Blue Creek, two miles (3.2 km) further to the north. Both entrances are only 5 feet (1.5 m) deep at the mouth although they do deepen to 8 and 13 feet (2.4 and 4 m) respectively. Any craft entering through these channels must exercise extreme caution. The mangroves create murky water inside the atoll and this obscures underwater obstacles. Further north there is Rendezvous Cut on the west coast and Eastern Cut on the opposite side of the atoll. These entrances are much larger and are used by the diving trade from San Pedro. En route to Lighthouse Reef, the dive boats arrive at the Turneffe Islands about mid-morning and usually dive at a site not far from Rendezvous Cut. Afterwards the boats enter through the cut and anchor long enough to allow the passengers a light lunch before proceeding through Eastern Cut and across to Lighthouse Reef. Quite different from its neighbor Lighthouse Reef, this atoll has few steep walls that seem endless. Turneffe looks as if it sat on huge stairs, each step splendidly decorated with coral. One particularly interesting site is located on the very southern end of the atoll, The Elbow.
Turneffe Atoll Dive Sites
Listed below are a variety of dive sites around the southern end of the atoll reef and two on the western side. THE AQUARIUM - Water Depth This shallow setting is reminiscent of a household aquarium. It is very clean and tidy, with a variety of small corals and a profusion of small reef fishes including almost every variety of grunt. The maximum depth is 12 feet (3.6 m), so it is an ideal site for the last dive of the day. it's a good spot for underwater photography. Big coral heads and outcrops start at a depth of 35 feet (11 m) and stretch down to 60 feet (18 m). These coral formations are large and wide with mountainous star coral being the most dominant variety. Numerous tunnels, arches, nooks and swim-thrus make this a fascinating dive site. TRIPLE ANCHORS - Water Depth 40-60 Feet Triple Anchors is just south along the western reef line from Blue Creek. Its bottom topography and coral formations are typical of this side of Turneffe Atoll, with coral stacks scattered across a broad, gently sloping reef. Among the coral are scattered remnants of an early 18th century vessel, including a few artifacts and three anchors, which give the site its name. The three anchors occur along a NW/SE line over a distance of several hundred yards. Two large anchors are cemented into the reef in an upright position and a smaller one lies in the sand among the coral formations. It takes an experienced eye to recognize these relics because they are now heavily encrusted with corals and sponges. One of the two large anchors is easily found because it sits a short distance northwest of the mooring system recently installed at the site. The other two anchors can be found in opposite directions. To the northwest is the smaller anchor, whose symmetric form is preserved by the coral. It and the mid-sized anchor are not the best photographic subjects compared to the large anchor southeast of the mooring. HOLLYWOOD - Water Depth 20-50 Feet Hollywood is a good place to get comfortable diving the offshore atolls. Located on the leeward side of Turneffe Islands, this site is sheltered from swells and large waves. The reef here is wide, slopes gently and provides ample shallow-water diving. Dive boats generally anchor in 4045 ft of water. It takes a good swim seaward to reach water depths greater than 50 feet. Snorkelers will find they too can enjoy the protected shallows of Hollywood. A swim toward the distant mangroves takes you toward a reef crest that is typically under several feet of water. Because the reefs are submerged and waves attenuated, this is one of the best places to snorkel the reef crest. Perhaps the least desirable aspect of this dive site is its low visibility. Although the water is by no means murky, clouds of suspended matter derived from the atoll are typical. SUSIE'S SHALLOWS - Water Depth Susie's is another shallow dive ideal for rounding off the day. The maximum depth is only 15 feet (5 m) and the coral heads rise up to within a few feet of the surface. All the reef fishes can be found here. it is an especially good place to photograph the radiant rock beauty. PERMIT PARADISE - Water Depth 35-60 Feet The permit, a large member of the pompano family much prized by the serious game fisherman, is a regular visitor to this area. Here a horses hoe-shaped curve cuts into the coral on the very edge of the reef. Coral types and patterns are very similar to the Hollywood site. The depth here is 60 feet. Located along the same reef trend, Permit Paradise reefs are similar to those found a short distance north at Hollywood. Looking down from the surface after entering the water, you can see abundant clusters of large coral stacks. Most have 10-15 ft of relief above the white sandy bottom at a depth of 40-60 ft. WRECK OF SAYONARA - Water Depth 30-60 Feet Sunk by Dave Bennett in 1985, the Sayonara is a modern derelict. It is a former passenger/cargo boat and makes an excellent dive for inexperienced wreck divers. The wreck rests on a bed of coral and sand at a depth of 50 ft, listing slightly to starboard. It has about 15 ft of relief and is intact from fore to aft. Her wooden frame is deteriorating rapidly so entry of the cabin is not advisable as the whole structure may break apart. Besides, she was stripped of everything except the shaft and prop prior to sinking. Much sediment and rotting wood can be seen and exploration inside the wreck is not encouraged as bubbles not only reduce visibility by disturbing the accumulated mud, and also may cause the superstructure to collapse. BAT BROOK SHALLOWS - Water Depth 15 Feet Inside the reef on this southwest corner of the atoll is a wide area between the cayes and the reef. This entire corner, with its shallow diving conditions of only 15 feet (5 m), is ideal for repetitive dives. This site is very similar to Susie's Shallows although the fish life is different, with French and gray angelfish in the "young adult" stage of their development being particularly common. JILL'S THRILL - Water Depth 60-110 Feet Situated right on the edge of the wall is Jill's Thrill, one of only two wall dives off the southwest side of the atoll. Right along this corner of the reef the coral drops sharply to 60 feet. The reef then slopes gradually over a distance of 100 yards down to a depth of 110 feet where we find this site. On the edge of the reef wall the coral reaches up again to within 60 to 65 feet of the surface before dropping down. RANDOLPH'S ROCKS - Water Depth 60+ Feet At an average depth of about 60 feet are a series of scattered coral heads and boulders resting on a flat surface. Giant brain corals are especially prevalent as are deep water gorgonians which provide attractive cover for all kinds of smaller reef fishes and crustaceans. HMS ADVICE - Water Depth Located just outside Pirate's Creek in 16 feet of water are the remains of a British naval cutter which was wrecked on June 1, 1793. With a length of 56 feet and a beam of 21 feet, the vessel carried ten 3-pounder guns. It is likely that the guns were salvaged long ago because of the shallow water, although the site is worth a search with an underwater metal detector. After almost 200 years, little is left of the actual ship except for three anchors and some mast rings. Observant divers are occasionally rewarded with buttons, brass spikes and broken bottles, so the area is worth a good dig around. WEST POINT WALL - Water Depth 35-40+ Feet This is the second of the wall dives on the southwest corner of the atoll. Two coral ridges, each 35 to 40 feet long, protrude horizontally from the vertical reef wall. They are 65 feet apart and both ridges can be visited during a single dive. CABBAGE
PATCH - Water Depth Between the lighthouse and the reef is a pristine area of staghorn, elkhorn, brain and lettuce leaf corals. These varieties are found all around the southern end of the atoll, but the beauty of this particular spot is quite unbelievable. It is an excellent spot for divers who wish to photograph species of coral. Here, like elsewhere in the shallower waters, are all the common reef fishes. Angelfishes, butterflyfishes, squirrelfishes, parrotfishes, grunts, clamselfishes and even queen triggerfish are all present in good numbers along with several species of moray eel. Large tarpon are often seen between here and HMS Advice. THE ELBOW - Water Depth 60 Feet to unlimited wall This popular dive site is found at Turneffe's southernmost promontory. Here the reef reverses its direction and is very exposed, deep and wide. Shallow reefs crest at 80 ft and deepen progressively toward the southern tip of the elbow shaped promontory. Waters above the reefs have typically excellent visibility, with currents generally flowing from the north. However, their direction and strength are inconsistent and should be checked to plan your dive. The Elbow is considered an advanced dive because of environmental conditions. Seas are often rough even on calm days because of large ocean swells, making entries and exits more difficult. Once in the water, currents usually sweep divers out toward deep water, beyond the reef, and 75% of the dive time must be spent in mid-water because bottom time on the reefs at depth is very limited. Excellent buoyancy control and air consumption are simply a must. THE CORRAL - Water Depth These two sites are close together, but are dived separately by the local dive trade. While currents are hardly experienced in Belize, these are both drift dives situated at the southern tip of the atoll reef. The currents provide a natural concentration of food which accounts for the greater number of fish shoals and pelagic life. The Corral has a constant depth of 90 feet and can be undertaken by most divers. The Elbow is at the very southern tip and is for the advanced diver only. The average depth at the beginning of the Elbow site is 90 feet and usually ends at 120 to 140 feet. THE ZOO - Water Depth An excellent photography site and home to numerous nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays and hawksbill turtles. THREE AMIGOS - Water Depth Spurs that thin out to a flatter reef. Look for eagle rays over the wall and abundant reef fish on top. MYRTLE'S TURTLES-Water Dept 60 Ft to unlimited wall Myrtle's Turtle is the first in a series of dive sites on the eastern limb of Turneffe Atoll. It is located just a short distance north of the Elbow and directly in line with the old lighthouse platform and two western points of Turneffe. It is among the best dive destinations Belize has to offer. Myrtle's Turtle is a deep dive and requires divers to monitor their depth and time carefully. The reef is fronted by a sheer wall that begins at 155 ft and plunges vertically to intersect a slope covered with sparse coral plates and sea whips at about 250 ft. Above the wall, the reef slopes upward steeply to form the seaward flank of a system of spurs and grooves that crest at 55 ft. Along the wall, living coral formations form huge triangular blocks and an uneven line of alternating ridges and narrow cuts up to 35 ft deep. LEFTY'S LEDGE - Water Depth 50 Feet to unlimited wall The straight eastern reef line south of Black Beauty forms a small scallop at Lefty's Ledge. All along the rim are massive coral bastions and at several locations seaward, coral growths create prominent ledges that jut out above the deep-water drop-off. Behind the curved rim, the reef is deeply incised with sandy canyons that slope seaward and spill out over the dropoffs at 100 ft. Most sandy strips are relatively narrow features littered with small coral structures, but one looks like a jet runway because of its enormous width and length. JOYCE'S JUMP GORGONIAN BLUFF - Water Depth These are three separate sites situated close together with similar features. At the edge of the reef wall, there is an awesome handshaped coral promontory with three "fingers" outstretched, each with a different name. At the tips, these fingers are 50 to 60 feet apart and approximately 60 feet deep. The last of the fingers, Gorgonian Bluff, is well known for its magnificent display of deep water gorgonians. Blacktip sharks are regularly seen at all three sites. BILLY BOB'S SHALLOWS - Water Depth Along the southeast corner of Big Caye Bokel in shallow water averaging 25 feet, are scattered coral heads with splendid structures of elkhorn and staghorn, as well as other types of coral. This is a pristine area and one of the few which attracts reef squid and octopus. BLACK BEAUTY - Water Dept 60 Feet to unlimited wall Black Beauty is another site along the same eastern drop-off as Myrtle's Turtle. Once again, the reef top consists of a series of triangular slivers of living coral and deep sand-floored ravines, culminating in a straight line near the wall at about 60 ft. From there they dip steeply toward the wall and deep water. The featured attraction at this site was a huge black coral "tree" found along the drop-off in shallow water. However, like many other large, shallow, black coral growths, this beautiful feature has succumbed to the unrelenting hunt and demand for black coral jewelry. Rarely are black coral trees now found here above 50 ft, leaving only scattered small trees growing along the steep reef slope above 150 ft. MAJESTIC POINT- Water Depth 50 feet to unlimited wall Majestic Point is a small promontory formed by a massive coral ridge. Its coral buttresses rise vertically about 55 ft from the steep drop-off found all along the eastern reefs on Turneffe's southern end. On either side of this majestic spur are other well-developed coral ridges separated by sandy crevices. The sand channels generally run perpendicular to the reef line, but some turn and intersect the reef at acute angles near the drop-off. Like similar areas to the south near Myrtle's Turtle, there are plenty of deep-water lace coral and gaudy sponges on the massive coral ridge. Many lace corals form huge fans more than 6 ft across. These sessile carnivores and filter-feeding basket, giant tube and rope sponges thrive because they have good exposure to plankton that is swept along the reef front by currents. The promontory is very photogenic and can be the focus of most of your dive. Late morning sun bathes the decorative cover, divers or large pelagics in golden rays and the point is surrounded by streams of light when you look upward toward the early afternoon sun. This allows you to capture the effect of sunbeams being filtered by lace coral, or frame a diver dwarfed by the impressive presence of the point. These three sites offer some delightful spur and groove formations which have created canyons, tunnels and exciting swim-throughs. As the canyons narrow, the corals combine to create a sheer cliff between the depths of 70 and 150 feet. TRAIL, CUT THROAD, FRONT PORCH - Water Depth 50 Feet to unlimited wall Directly east off the front porch of Turneffe Island Lodge is another site along the same eastern reef line, northward of Majestic Point. Like its neighbor, this site has a deep and high relief reef. Its top at 55 ft is about the same depth as Majestic Point, but here fewer canyons extend through the reef all the way to the dropoff and none of the coral ridges are exaggerated in size. Coral growth is vigorous and fresh here and, as everywhere else along this part of the reef trend, it forms many protective recesses that shelter a host of large and small creatures. Fish are quite prolific at Front Porch and several curious forms may be discovered within the darkened nooks. One resident found here, which is not particularly common elsewhere in the Caribbean, is the dark blue toadfish. Its body is completely covered with white or light blue spots except around the eyes where a series of short lines highlight a star pattern. Some divemasters in the area erroneously identify this fish as a stargazer, but its bearded large mouth, body shape and its sound distinguish it as a species of toadfish. Many divers who have not seen this fish have heard its distinctive croaking noise, similar to, yet different from the grunting noise made by grouper. Although a shy fish, some divemasters have managed to coax it out of its hiding place to give photographers a most rewarding memento of the reef. GAIL'S POINT - Water Depth 45 feet to unlimited wall Gailes Point is one of those dive sites along the eastern reef line that has everything. The reef line sweeps inward toward the lagoon and forms a shallow crescent several hundred yards across and perhaps 50 yards deep. On either side of the re-entrant is a massive coral ridge that forms a distinctive point. The reef top slopes gently seaward at 45 ft. Overhangs and caverns can be found all along and near the drop-off, including several large caverns at 70 ft on the northern coral ridge, which flanks the recessed reef line. From bottom to top, this reef has enough attractions to satisfy even the most discriminating diver. One dive is simply not sufficient to capture all that is here. Although located very close together, these are separate dive sites. Lots of shallow grooves cut through the coral at a depth of 45 to 60 feet at all these sites. Over the reef wall are undercuts which create massive overhangs. There are also a number of ledges and a rarely equaled profusion of tube and barrel sponges. BLUE CREEK - Water Depth 20-35 feet Blue Creek reef is named after the tidal pass that divides a tangle of mangroves a distance behind the western reef line. The reefs at Blue Creek are shallow, broken and have abundant and varied marine life. Snorkelers and less experienced divers will find this site very attractive. Live-aboards visiting this site frequently spend the night here and offer this site as a night dive. THE SECRET SPOT, FABIAN'S ROOST, BIRTHDAY REEF - Water Depth The main feature of these three sites is the vertical reef wall. From the reef crest, the underwater terrain gradually falls away over a distance of about 100 yards to a depth of 60 feet. Here begins the drop- off- an amazing precipice which is an example of Belizean underwater beauty at its best. Even the novice diver can savor this wall as it begins in relatively shallow water. Mountainous star, brain (including the giant brain coral) and finger corals are intermixed with large tube and barrel sponges. PETER'S PEAKS- Water Depth 35 Feet The bottom here slopes away to a depth of about 35 feet. At this point the diver is confronted by an imposing wall of living coral. To get to the other side, you can either swim up to about 15 feet and cross over the top of the wall, or you can find one of the many tunnels in the coral. Entering at 35 feet, you invariably come out the other side closer to 60 feet. This is very exciting diving. RENDEZVOUS CUT - Water Depth 40-50 Feet It is here, close to Rendezvous Cut on the western side of the atoll, that the diving trade from San Pedro give their customers a first dive when on a two-day visit to Lighthouse Reef. There is no reef crest so the boats anchor above the underwater ledge and have a large expanse to choose from. At 40 to 50 feet the seabed consists of outcrops of the most common corals. Generally rising only a few feet above the sand, there are occasionally much larger coral heads, usually giant brain, although very large branches of elk horn are also seen. RENDEZVOUS WALL - Water Depth 35-110 Feet One of the most curious dive sites I have ever encountered is just to the south of Rendezvous Cut and is known as Rendezvous Wall. The reef wall commences at a depth of 35 feet, below which is a well-formed overhang. At a depth of 135 feet, in the center of this overhang, is a hole. To be exact, it is a small tunnel (too small for the diver to enter) formed by rainfall cutting through the limestone substrata when the sea levels were much lower than today. This tunnel connects right through to one of the lagoons inside the atoll and has become a fresh water outflow from that lagoon. Both the freshwater and the silt kill the coral and have not only created the overhang but have also caused the white appearance of the surrounding corals, which are known as the "icebergs." COCKROACH SLOPE- Water Depth 80+ Feet Sandy slope to deep wall drop off. N.E. POINT- 85 Feet Mildly sloped coral ridges 85 feet. Shark watchers hang-out. N.W. HAUGER WALL- Water Depth 40 Feet then slopes to 100 Feet Vertical walls. Lots of Groupers. RENDEZVOUS POINT - Water Depth 25-80 Feet Walls with canyons and grottos. Lots of Grouper. VINCENT - Water Depth 25-75 Feet Grouper in abundance.
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