Perspective. It can transform an ordinary or beautiful landscape, into an interesting or spectacular one.
I’ve lived by the Belize Barrier Reef for over 40 years. Countless mornings and evenings I’ve stared at the waves breaking, mesmerized by the rhythmic crash of the Caribbean Sea on the coral ridge of the barrier reef. Nearly every day that the weather and tide permit, I will snorkel or dive the break, above the barrier reef, where a whole new morphology will reveal itself.
The Belize Barrier Reef runs for 185 miles from the Mexican border in the north, to the Sapodilla Cayes, a hook shaped formation of islands a scant 18 miles from the coast of Guatemala, in the south. The bathymetry of the coastal zone landward of the barrier reef is wonderfully complex, composed of patch reefs, ringed reefs, deep channels and large marine platforms. The number of habitats is similarly diverse with vast seagrass beds, coral reefs and mangrove islands supporting a seemingly infinite array of marine life.
The structure of the seaward side of the barrier reef is remarkably similar over its entire length. If I approached the reef from the ocean, depending on my location, I would cruise over either gentle upwards slope, or massive vertical cliffs that rise out of the depths to form coral ridges as shallow as 40 feet. From this shallow ridge, the bottom will continue to slope up to a region called the “spur and groove,” seen in this photo, which eventually merges with the barrier reef itself.
The spur and groove is part of the most active section of the barrier reef where tidal flow and wave action carve parallel sand valleys between immense coral mounds and suffuse them in oxygen rich, crystal clear water. The complex architecture of this type of reef provides a multitude of hiding places for all kinds of marine life. Large predators such as tarpon, permit, sharks and dolphins find this a fertile feeding ground. The occasional sea turtle, manatee or jumping eagle ray create a favorite area for snorkelers and kayakers.
From the perspective of sitting on the beach gazing at the reef, you might never realize the complexity of the structures lying right offshore. Drone photography changes that. Flying from the safety of South Water Caye, I have logged hundreds of hours over the Belize coastal zone, bringing a fresh viewpoint and a renewed respect for the marine ecosystems of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere.