Turneffe Atoll Geography
Ideal for Diving & Snorkeling
The Turneffe Island is a pristine reminder of what the Florida keys were once like. The atoll, consisting of approximately 28,350 acres, is made up of a mix of high and low lands which essentially fringe an expansive lagoon system that can reach a width of 5 miles and a length of 13 miles. The islands, some of them larger than 5,000 acres are characterized by a variety of vegetation types, reflecting the topography of the land. The high lands are generally covered by littoral forest, palmetto, broken palmetto thicket and coconut; the low lands with high, medium and low mangrove. The complex pattern of cayes, splits, channels, lagoons and reef are excellent breeding ground for wildlife and fish. The atoll has been used by fishermen since Mayan times and today it is dotted with fishermen’s camps, mostly from Belize City.
Turneffe Atoll is the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere. Located 25 miles east of Belize City, it is the closest to the mainland and the most accessible of the three atolls in Belize. Unlike the outer atolls, Turneffe is unique; it is not a ringlet of sandy islets like Lighthouse Reef and Glover’s Atoll, but is instead nearly covered with thick green mangroves and a shallow lagoon. It is the only Caribbean Atoll made up of dozens of mangrove islands which are the juvenile nurseries for coral reefs and many schools of fish.
Turneffe Atoll offers world class diving and snorkeling — the visibility often ranges from 100 to 150 feet. In addition, at least 60 species of birds are found at Turneffe during the height of the migratory season, including 18 species of nesting birds. The large expanses of intact mangrove and sea grass habitat and shallows serve as a huge nursery area for a wide array of fish species, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins and invertebrates. The marine life at Turneffe make the scuba diving and snorkeling an adventure like no other destination in the Caribbean. The coral formations and marine life found here are truly unmatched.
Blackbird Caye is located along the southeastern margin of the Turneffe Islands platform that is surrounded by a continuous fringing and patch reef complex. Blackbird Caye comprises a total of 4,721 acres of land. Several species of mangroves contribute to a partially submerged forest, which begin as individual sprigs or trees and end up gathering enough soil around the entangled roots to build an island. Above water is a bush much like a sea grape tree, only with smaller leaves. Below is a system of long roots, some hanging in mid water, sponge covered and creating a maze for juveniles and smaller fish to swim through. Crabs, lobsters, oysters, and more hide in the maze of roots.
The range is home to a number of important conservation targets which include, but are not limited to, at least 2 marine fish spawning aggregation sites, a breeding population of the endangered American Crocodile, and a number of threatened coastal marine habitats including the greater reef complex itself, beach forests that support several important species of resident and migratory birds and at least 2 species of marine turtles are believed to nest on the range.