Swimming with sharks (Belize, part 4)

Yes, our trip to Belize included time swimming with sharks….

Belize is a must-go place for scuba diving and snorkeling.  The salty Caribbean sea provides great buoyancy and makes snorkeling an easy sport (once you get used to having your face underwater).  Belize’s reef system is the second largest in the world and provides a wonderful variety of fish and coral.  

Our resort provided three different snorkeling trips during our one-week stay.  The first time was in water that was shallow enough to stand up in (on the sand, not coral, of course).  The second time the water was about 10 feet deep, and the third time we went out beyond the reef for snorkeling in deeper waters.   All three trips provided totally different but extremely enjoyable snorkeling experiences.

Trip One: Shallow Water.  Since we were so close to the bottom during our first trip (4 feet or so), we were able to pay a lot of attention to the actual coral.  There are numerous types of coral that can be found in the Belize reefs, but the ones that stood out the most to me were:

brain coralBrain coral:  I didn’t know that’s what this coral was called, but the minute I saw it, that’s what I called it – my own name happened to be correct, and you can see why I chose that moniker. (picture courtesy of Ross Smith, travelpod)

Antler coral:  it looked like, uh, antlers!  Lots and lots of tall antlers slowly swaying with the caribbean current.

Finger coral:  Guess what this one looked like!  Yes, fingers.  Long fingers reaching up to sky.

Tons of other coral:  I can’t say it better than that!  There were many types, all different colors.

And then the fish!  On trip one, we saw many beautifully colored fish; most were relatively small and traveled alone or with two or three others of their species.   There are 300-500 or so species that can be found in the Belizian reef (sources disagree on the exact number but it’s a lot), and on this first trip we may have seen about 50 different types.     Brilliant blue and silver striped fish; red and yellow fish; fish of every conceivable color.  There would be three or four fish just floating in one area towards the bottom of some coral, and other fish flitting back and forth through holes in the coral. 

Some of the more common fish that are found in the Belizian reefs are blue tang, trumpetfish, butterfly fish, gobies, porkfish, grunt, hogfish, wrasse, angelfish, snapper, to name just a few.  I couldn’t tell you the names of this fish we saw on trip number one, since we were just so amazed by the beauty of it all.

sharkTrip Two and Trip Three:  I’m going to wrap these up together, since I have a hard time remembering what we saw on trip two versus trip three.  Because we were in deeper water, the coral was higher, and the fish were bigger. 

We saw schools of fish – many of them.  50 or more of the same fish would swim in a lazy group below us, or would flit from reef to reef, or would in some cases get really close to us.  Our guide pointed out a very large lobster hiding in a hole of some coral.  We tried to get the lobster to come out but were unsuccessful.  We saw some sharks hiding underneath the coral.  We saw tarpon and barracuda.  We saw a beautiful, large lionfish.

And then, the most exciting moment of our snorkeling trip.  We had just entered the water and had been swimming for a few minutes, when I saw, coming right at us, perhaps a foot or two beneath us, a 6 or 7 foot shark.  I froze on the top of the water, spreadeagled and didn’t move a muscle.  The shark slowly moved closer and then just swam right under us.  I waited until it was safely past, and then raised my head above the water, ripped off my mask, and said “HOLY $HIT!!”  We had been told the sharks won’t bother you unless you bother them.  Of course, we didn’t believe that, being from New York –  we don’t believe anything we were told, but it appears to be true.  The shark did not come back, and we went on to snorkel for another hour or so (note: we didn’t have an underwater camera, so the above shark picture is also from Ross Smith, UK; printed with permission).

A final note on fish in the sea of Belize.  You don’t have to go far to see underwater life.  We grabbed a snorkel mask one day and just paddled around off the coast of our island.  We saw a huge swarm of small fish – perhaps a thousand or so.  We saw a barracuda right under our pier.  We saw manta rays right off the dock, and many brilliant orange starfish. 

Bottom line – if you have your own snorkel gear, bring it.  The sights are not to be missed.

For my other Belize posts, see:

For the blog about the rainforest trip, see http://actvra.in/gsw (Termites Taste Like Carrots).

For information about the people of Belize, go to http://actvra.in/gyD (The Diversity of Circumstances).

The trip to the Mayan ruins was discussed in two parts:  http://actvra.in/gJc and http://actvra.in/gNW.

Next, the bird sanctuary.

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