CREATURE FEATURE: Barracuda … more than just a catchy 70s tune

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“You lying so low in the weeds, I bet you gonna ambush me.” — as sung by Heart in the 70s hit “Barracuda.” And this is exactly how barracuda’s hunt for their prey, using stealth and speed.
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Barracudas are long, lean hunting machines with sleek bodies that allow them to slice through the water at high speeds (40mph), puncturing schools of unaware fish.

Turneffe Atoll — the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the Western Hemisphere — is packed tight with the largest mangrove system in Belize, ideal for barracuda. The thick underwater fauna acts as a feeding ground for other wildlife, unawares of the barracuda’s presence.

Of the 27 varieties of barracudas there is one that stands out above the rest — the Great Barracuda, which can grow up to almost 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length and weigh as much as 83 pounds (37 kg).

Add to this a jaw full of teeth that cut like razor blades and you have a fish that is highly evolved to rule the underwater depths. The fish has been around and honing its skills for some 50 million years.
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Strangely, humans have been known to fall ill after eating barracuda, people often become ill from ciguatera fish poisoning, perhaps because the reef fish that barracudas eat themselves consume algae that may contain high levels of the toxin.

Barracudas feed on an array of fish such as groupers, small tunas and grunts. They tend to be solitary but have been fond hunting in small groups and are common in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, not to mention large parts of the Atlantic Ocean.

The waters of Belize and particularly Turneffe Atoll are therefore a vital habitat for the barracuda and subsequently one of the best places to see the torpedo-like fish. Check out the website: http://blackbirdresort.com

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EPIC EXCURSIONS: Blue Hole (Lighthouse Reef Atoll)

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Blackbird offers one of the most exciting dive excursions in the world – the famous Blue Hole Adventure Day. Departing every Tuesday, this visually stunning – below and above the water – adventure takes dive adventurers to some of the most spectacular underwater destinations on the planet: The Blue Hole, Half Moon Wall and The Aquarium.
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Operating from within Turneffe Atoll, located 24 miles (38 km) east of Belize City, Blackbird Caye Resort is situated only one and a half hours by boat from The Blue Hole, which means our guests are able to leave at 8am from Blackbird Resort and by 9:30am be in the water — that’s fast

In 1971 Jacques Cousteau, a famous undersea explorer, dubbed the Blue Hole as one of the world’s top ten scuba diving sites. This has caused the structure to become very popular among diving enthusiasts. Cousteau was famous for helping invent the first aqua-lung device that allowed humans to stay underwater for long periods of time. He also explored all five of Earth’s oceans for over thirty years.

We take divers to a max depth of 130 feet (40 meters) for around eight minutes to view an astonishing array of marine wildlife and coral in the clearest of waters. The entire dive takes roughly half an hour. Snorkelers are also able to explore the rim of the Blue Hole and will often see grey sharks up to 50 feet (16 meters) below.
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Half Moon Caye — an island within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll system — is the second stop. The trip is breath-taking as the boat glides over 10 ft (3 meters) of crystal-clear turquoise waters — in the middle of the ocean. You will catch a glimpse of the red-footed boobie — a rare bird that resides on the atoll, the largest nesting site in the world.

Not only is it a World Heritage Site, but the reef hosts a wide range of rare and endangered coral and fish species. Sharks of all shapes and sizes flock from far and wide to feed at this site. Eagle rays and turtles also frequent the area.

A barbeque also awaits hungry divers and snorkelers, lovingly prepared by our very own chef. Chicken, burgers, fruits and vegetables are slowly grilled to make sure you don’t go hungry following your underwater exploration. It’s not your usual packed lunch, everything is cooked on the island using wood and coal fire grill. Our secret Caribbean marinade is second to none.

After a mouth-watering feast, the third dive site awaits: The Aquarium. The dive site is located within the Lighthouse Atoll and lives true to its name: the area is bursting with aquatic life with an abundance of schooling fish from School Master Snappers, Creole Wrasse, Queen Angelfish, Banded Butterflyfish and Honeycomb Trunkfish.

Renowned for its crystal clear waters — with visibility up to 80 ft (24 meters) — the site plummets to depths of up to 50 feet (15 meters). The Aquarium is reachable by boat, 13 miles east of Turneffe Atoll, to the northeastern corner of Long Caye.
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Here at Blackbird, you won’t find a more safety conscious dive crew — as a remote resort our standards are incredibly high. We always go one step further to ensure your safety.

Large groups are welcome — the most people accommodated on one trip was 33, on top of nine crew.

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TURNEFFE ATOLL SYSTEM: What makes it so important?

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Turneffe Atoll is located just over 24 miles (38 km) east of Belize City and is surrounded by intensely coloured waters, which glisten vivid blue, green and turquoise. An atoll is a ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed of coral. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At approximately 30 miles (38 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide it is the largest atoll in Belize. Turneffe Atoll is made up of a series of mangrove islands, cays, lagoons and lush grassland marine robes — all of which are surrounded and protected by a ring of vibrant and unique coral species.

The atoll was officially declared a marine reserve in 2012 by the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development.

It is the most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere. The islands — some of which are larger than 5,000 acres — are covered by more than 77 different varieties of vegetation. Interspersed with lagoons, mangrove forests cover almost all low-lying areas of the atoll.
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Turneffe Atoll’s reef supports a wide range of diverse aquatic species such as the endemic white spotted toadfish and the white lined toadfish. Plentiful sponges and corals provide feeding grounds to endangered animals including the green sea turtle.

Blackbird Caye South is thought to have the largest sea turtle nesting site on the atoll and has witnessed loggerhead turtles nesting on Blackbird Oceanic Field Station beaches in recent years.

Belize’s largest American saltwater crocodile population also resides within the atoll, approximately 200-300 individuals. It is also the only offshore stretch of water designated for the endangered Antillean manatee.

Giant marine toads, green tree snakes and other reptiles and amphibians use the littoral forests and brackish lagoons at their home.

Blackbird Caye Resort can take you there. Check out the website for more information: http://blackbirdresort.com

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MESO-AMERICA REEF SYSTEM (MARS): What it is and why it is important it is looked after

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Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Caribbean”, the Mesoamerican Reef is a rich tapestry of bold corals, mangrove forests, coastal wetlands and diverse marine life. And while the reefs have endured all nature has to throw their way, including seasonal hurricanes and other natural disasters, the system is not so well equipped to deal with the impact of human activity.

The Mesoamerican Reef System stretches more than 620 miles (1000 km), spanning the eastern coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

Over two million people reside in the coastal communities encompassed by the reef, hosting more than 65 species of stony coral and over 500 species of fish. Several dolphin species also call the reef their home including spotted, bottlenosed and rough-toothed dolphin can be found in the reef’s waters.
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The Meso-America Reef System is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of manatees — estimated to number anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500.

Of the fish that are sought after by fisherman, the most regularly caught are spiny lobster, shrimp, grouper, snapper and queen conch.

However, coastal development, pollution, overfishing and unregulated tourism are threatening the reef system.

Climate change is also expected to impact the Mesoamerican Reef. Factors such as coastal flooding, rising sea-levels and mass coral bleaching due to warming seas are posing considerable danger to the aquatic wildlife and fauna that thrive there.
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Work is being undertaken in a bid to protect the reef though and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is collaborating with coastal communities to improve mangrove forest conservation and restoration, develop climate change adaptation strategies and to establish marine protected area.

Interested in taking a closer look at the Meso-America Reef System? Book a holiday with Blackbird Caye Resort today: http://blackbirdresort.com/

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