EPIC EXCURSIONS: Lighthouse Reef

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Lighthouse Reef  — a small atoll 70km from mainland — hosts many dive sites but perhaps the most awe-inspiring in the famous Blue Hole: a collapsed cave risen from the ocean’s floor, leaving a deep geological mystery bursting with aquatic wildlife.

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A geological mystery

Other sites include Silver Caves. Long Caye Wall, Coral Gardens and the aptly named Oasis —where huge black coral sponges grow from vertical cliffs.

The trip begins in early morning (Tuesday) after a hearty breakfast. First Blackbird will transport guests out to Turneffe Atoll, the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the Western Hemisphere.  After diving/snorkelling the wonders of Turneffe, guests are whisked off to Light House Reef Atoll.

The Blue Hole — one of the top ten dive sites in the world — lies near the center of the Lighthouse Reef. The hole is circular in shape, over 984 ft (300 meters) across and 407 feet (124 meters) deep and has been declared one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world!

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Caribbean reef shark

Scuba divers are lured by the opportunity to dive in the crystal-clear water meet several species of fish, including Midnight Parrotfish, Caribbean reef shark, and other juvenile fish species.

Other species of sharks, such as the bull shark and hammerheads, have been reported there, but are not regularly sighted.

Check out the Blackbird website for more information: http://blackbirdresort.com/

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EPIC EXCURSIONS: Half Moon Caye Natural Monument

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Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument is an island within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll system, 13 miles (20 km) east of Turneffe Atoll and therefore incredibly isolated.

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The most diverse atoll

Before reaching Halfmoon Caye, Blackbird guests will be able to experience the wonders of Turneffe Atoll — the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the western hemisphere.

The trip begins in early morning (Tuesday) after a hearty breakfast. First Blackbird will transport guests out to Turneffe Atoll. After diving/snorkelling the wonders of this site, which was officially declared a marine reserve in 2012 by the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, guests are whisked off to Light House Reef Atoll.

It is difficult to reach unless you possess a very fast speedboat and the local knowledge needed to navigate the seas. Luckily Blackbird has both in spades, so if diving the Halfmoon Caye and The Blue Hole have ever been on your bucket list, we can take you there.

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Shallow and deep waters

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument was made part of the Crown Reserve in 1928, making it the Belize’s oldest protected wildlife site.

The island is completely isolated — miles from the nearest land — and sits just 4.5 miles (7 km) of reef bursting with marine life.

Because there are both shallow and deep waters, it is possible to snorkel and dive.

Different species of fish reside within varying depths of water so either way, there is a plethora of underwater wildlife to view.

After experiencing Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, Blackbird takes guests to The Blue Hole — one of the top ten dives sites in the world.

A mysterious underwater structure plummeting depths of up to 410 ft (124 meters) lying approximately 60 miles (96 km) off the coast of Belize

Book a holiday now with finest dive resorts in Belize: Blackbird Caye Resort

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TURNEFFE ATOLL SYSTEM: 5 Facts

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5 interesting facts about Turneffe Atoll system.

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The largest atoll in Belize

The Turneffe Atoll is located just over 24 miles (39 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.

There are only four atolls in the Caribbean and Turneffe is the largest and most biologically diverse of these. In total it comprises of nearly 150 islands covered in the largest mangrove system in Belize. In addition to mangroves, the islands posses large areas of tropical savannas and forest.

At approximately 30 miles (48 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.

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Surrounded by wildlife

The atoll was officially declared a marine reserve in 2013 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 2020 hectares (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.

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.

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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How’s the service?

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The diving is good, how is the service, the staff?

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Past guests of Blackbird Caye Resort are always willing to write about their experiences with us. Check out TripAdvisor — for our reviews. Below are a few about our attentive, gracious and charismatic staff:

“Staff was terrific. Chris and Joe on the snorkel trips were great. Ian and Jackie at the bar were very friendly. Michael the manager very helpful. Great place to relax and enjoy the beach and water, catch up on your reading.” —  Earl S

“Emmy & Cardinal were our dive masters for the week. Love those guys.”LaurieC1961

“The crew out at Blackbird are second to none! Thanks for making my stay so wonderful everyone!!!! :)” gypsygirl32
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“Michael is a perfect manager. Cook is genius in making cakes. Our snorkeling master was doing everything to show us sea life. Thank you to everyone at Blackbird resort!”OlenaChu

“Blackbird Caye Resort is the best vacation we have ever had. The dive masters and the absolute best, they can and are more than willing to answer any and all questions, offer tips to make your diving more enjoyable, nice and so fun. Everyone on staff on the island is so nice and helpful. Anything you need, just ask and you have it. We will be going back again and again. WE LOVE THIS PLACE.” — dogynini

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THROWBACK THURSDAYS: “Sea and respect”

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“Sea” and respect … Turneffe’s multiple-use reserve helps protect a globally important coral reef ecosystem

“Sea” and Respect…Turneffe’s multiple-use reserve helps protect a globally important coral ecosystem

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Millions of organisms

In 2012, with the supervision and financial support of multiple non-profit organizations, the Turneffe Atoll System was declared a multiple-use marine reserve.  This was due, primarily, to the fact that it is considered the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere and, therefore, perceived as a “nautical rainforest”.

What is coral?  Actually, the question should be “what ARE coral”.  When scuba diving in Belize and you come across coral it may look like chunks of rock to you.  In fact, these rock-like structures are the result of millions of organisms, called polyps that multiply in colonies. They cling together, are living and “breathing”, only feed at night and hide during the day. The reason they appear as being rock-like is because they have an exoskeleton, to provide them with support, which is composed of calcium carbonate.  This is the same com that shellfish use to make their shells – this type of coral is referred to as “hard coral”.  Another type of coral is referred to as “soft”, for it does not have a calcium carbonate skeleton. Instead, it supports itself upright by tiny spines.

Within Turneffe’s coral reefs thousands of animals make their homes.  It is believed that there are possibly thousands of other unknown species which live in and around the coral reef.   It is a scientific fact that it supports, within its folds, more species/unit area than any other area in the surrounding ocean.

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Thousands of coral species

Lastly, this coral ecosystem also makes contributions to the medical field from which research is currently underway to find cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections and viruses.  It has been discovered, and which is of great importance, that the compounds within the Caribbean Sponge are used in the making of AZT which is the medicine primarily used to fight the AIDS virus.  Also, corals and molluscs are used to manufacture orthopaedic and cosmetic surgical implants.   Currently, there is on-going investigation to find out whether coral skeletons may be used for bone grafts.  A soft coral known as Caribbean Gorgonian produces a compound used as an anti-inflammatory and, this same substance is also used in an anti-wrinkle cream.  Taking into consideration that approximately 95% of the ocean has not yet been explored, the possibilities of discovering more and more medical uses for coral are practically endless.

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Rock-like structures

So, when scuba diving in Belize and you come across coral please “sea” it and treat it with respect.  Remember the numerous benefits it is contributing globally and that one day it may even save your life.

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CREATURE FEATURE: Manatees

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The world’s largest Manatee population

The Meso-America Reef System is home to one of the world’s largest populations of manatees — estimated to number anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500!

The population thrive in and around Turneffe Atoll, which is approximately 30 miles (38 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide — it is the largest atoll in western hemisphere.

The 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.

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Frequenting the coastal waters

Manatees are large, often slow moving mammals that frequent coastal waters and rivers of Turneffe Atoll. They are born underwater and have been known to live up to 40 years. The huge creatures are usually very docile and are therefore great for viewing underwater.

The marine mammals are also known as sea-cows and are mostly herbivorous — eating over 60 species of plant species and 10% of their bodyweights everyday.

Manatees can measure up to 13 feet (4 m) in length and weigh as much as 1,300 pounds (590kg). They also have paddle-like flippers.

Just like other mammals, manatees make sounds, especially when communicating with their young. When adult manatees communicate with one another it is usually during sexual intercourse and playful interaction.

When female manatees give birth they must immediately rush their young to the surface for its first breath of air.

Frequenting the coastal waters

“Manati” — meaning “breast” — derives from the Taino, a people existing in Colombia before European settlers forced them out of the country.

There are three species of manatee, distinguished primarily by where they live. One manatee population ranges along the North American east coast from Florida to Brazil — many of which are found residing in the Meso-America Reef System. Other species inhabit the Amazon River and the west coast and rivers of Africa.

To see these remarkable creatures, visit Blackbird’s website: http://blackbirdresort.com/

 

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EPIC EXCURSIONS: The Aquarium

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The Aquarium 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.

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Blackbird will transport guests

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.

First Blackbird will transport guests out to Turneffe Atoll, the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the Western Hemisphere. After diving/snorkelling the wonders of Turneffe, guests are whisked off to Light House Reef Atoll, 13 miles (21 km) east.

It is difficult to reach unless you possess a very fast speedboat and the local knowledge needed to navigate the seas. Luckily Blackbird has both in spades, so if diving the Blue Hole has ever been on your bucket list, we can take you there.

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Crystal clear turquoise waters

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. If lucky enough, you might catch a glimpse of the red-footed boobie — a rare bird that resides on the atolls.
The Aquarium is well defined with long coral ridges and sandy canyons that run perpendicular to each other, beginning shallow before dropping off into the depths.

Strong currents often flow across the reef so divers are advised to work carefully with the dive masters — the currents generally sweep across the reef from the east. However, these flows of water can be utilized by divers, who are able to drop down to the west and be effortlessly pulled along to east before rising and returning to the boat.

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Varied and colourful species

Crinoids (aka Sea Feathers) inhabit the Aquarium and are visible during the day. Their orange, featherlike arms are often fully exposed while their small body remains attached beneath the coral formations — in other locations, Crinoids are not so common.

Fish are also varied and colorful at this site. If you look on top of the reef and in the dividing channels, you can find the a wide range of diverse wildlife, including Parrotfish, who graze on the algae patches that mantle much of the reef top.
Check out the website: http://blackbirdresort.com/

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MESO-AMERICA REEF SYSTEM (MARS): Little Cousin

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The Great Barrier Reef’s little cousin, differences and similarities between the two.

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Over 2,900 individual reefs

The Mesoamerican Reef region lies within the Caribbean Sea and spans the coasts of Mexico, Belize Guatamala and Honduras. It is the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, stretching almost 700 miles (1125 km) from the northern point of Yucatan Peninsula right through to the Honduran Bay Islands — not to mention spanning Belize on its way.

The Great Barrier Reef is also known for its size — it is the largest coral reef system in the world made up of over 2,900 individual reefs. Like the Mesoamerican Reef’s famous Blue Hole, one of the top ten dive sites on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef can be viewed from outer space.

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Stretching almost 700 miles

Both reefs house a breathtaking array of wildlife and coral and organisations are working hard in the western and southern hemispheres to make sure these are protected against human activity. Many fish from the Mesoamerican and Great Barrier Reef are on the protected species list.

Given that the reefs support so much life and diversity, both have been made World Heritage Sites. Thousands of tourists therefore visit the sites every year to dive and snorkel amongst the awe-inspiring wildlife.

The Mesoamerican Reef is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusc and more than 500 species of fish. The Great Barrier Reef is made up of more than 400 species of coral and more than 1,500 species of fish.

No wonder the Mesoamerican Reef is called the Great Barrier Reef’s little cousin. Check out the Blackbird website for more information about dive sites in the region: http://blackbirdresort.com/

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EPIC EXCURSIONS: The Elbow

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The largest and most diverse atoll

Located at the southernmost point of Turneffe Atoll, The Elbow is regarded by many as one of the most diverse and exciting diving spots in the region.

Turneffe Atoll — the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the western hemisphere — 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

Due to the location of The Elbow, several strong currents merge from both sides of Turneffe Atoll and meet at a precise location — attracting a huge array of aquatic wildlife, including massive schools of snapper, jacks, mackerels and eagle rays.

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Glowing range of colours

Divers are therefore able to swim right into the heart of these schools, becoming completely surrounded by thousands of glistening fish. Barracuda are also attracted to these waters. Their hunting technique is fascinating to observe as the predator lies in wait, suspended in the water before disappearing like a torpedo towards unsuspecting pray.

Sharks are also known to frequent The Elbos but don’t worry — fish are so abundant here divers are not on the menu. Other incredibly large species include the Goliath Grouper, which can grow up to 9 ft (3 meters) in length and weigh as much as 800 pounds (360 kg). These particular fish are no illegal to catch, due to overfishing in the past, and have been placed on the “critically endangered species” list.

The coral at The Elbow is also awe-inspiring. Gorgonians, a distant cousin of coral, can also be found at the site. These leafless, tree-like underwater bushes sway majestically with the current and as a result are also known as “sea fans” — glowing a range of colours from purple, red and yellow.

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Diving at Blackbird

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Is the diving really that good at Blackbird?

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“The best vacation we ever had”

For those of you locked up in your office today, here is something to brighten your spirits, consider a trip the ecologically stunning turneffe atoll, the home of Blackbird Caye Resort.

Thinking about booking a holiday with Blackbird Caye Resort? Look no further than the positive reviews we have received on Tripadvisor:

“What a wonderful, different vacation this was for us. We had a smooth travel day flying into Belize and it was easy to find the guide who took us to the dock. Pleasant boat ride over to the island. This place is just gorgeous ~ very different trip from what we’re used to, but a good different.” — ketml

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A vacation to remember

‘Blackbird Caye Resort is the best vacation we have ever had. The dive masters and the absolute best, they can and are more than willing to answer any and all questions, offer tips to make your diving more enjoyable, nice and so fun.” — dogynini

“This was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken!. My new husband and I made our visit to Blackbird Caye the second part of our honeymoon and it exceeded all expectations.” — Nancy_Jan_McMillan

“It is more than the beauty and appeal of being so remote. The energy is amazing. This place is rustic and has a small capacity. Between the proximity of the dives and snorkelling, and the moonlight on the sea it is unforgettable. It is an experience, not just a vacation.” — Tripadvisor Member

“My husband and I spent 4 days at Blackbird and could not have asked for anything beyond what we experienced. The dive staff were very professional and we had the best dive experience of our lives…” — SusanB

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