Lighthouse Reef Dive Sites
The Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the farthest atoll from the mainland and has some of the greatest underwater visibility in the Caribbean. Beautiful reef structures and walls beginning at 35 feet that are loaded with colorful corals and sponges that are seen through the clear water. The famous Blue Hole is a natural phenomenon, which is the middle of Lighthouse Reef. Some of the best wall dives exist on Lighthouse Reef, including several shallow drop-offs next to Half Moon Caye, where there are many discoveries to be explored.
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole is one of the greatest dive sites in Belize, located just eight miles from Long Caye. It was made famous by Jacques Cousteau in his 1970 Calypso journey. In the last ice age, seawater was frozen in glaciers lowering the sea level more than 350 feet, exposing the limestones of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. As a result larger subterranean caverns were created when fresh water flowed through the limestone deposits. Since this ice age, the top of the cavern has collapsed to form this sinkhole. With 100 feet of visibility, there are no currents and there are depths of over 400 feet making the Blue Hole an amazing site for advanced level divers. The Blue Hole is a round, deep depression in the center of more than 75 square miles of blue-green water, making up the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Its diameter is just over 1,000 feet, with a maximum depth just over 400 feet. Besides two narrow passages on the eastern and northern rims, the Blue Hole is entirely surrounded by living coral. Visitors may dive either the north or south side to depths of 100 to 150 feet where the closest caves may be seen. You can begin by snorkeling to the coral rim. A good way to keep your sense of direction while you are descending in the Blue Hole is to not get to far from the wall. There is an overhang that shapes a cave-like ceiling that stalactites hang with a width of more than three feet and up to 20 feet in length. As you descend below the ceiling, the bottom of the cave has numerous detached stalactites. Occasionally you may see a shark or turtle casually swimming by. Red algae, hydroids and gorgonians cover most of the corals. You may also find sharing brush, mermaid's fan algae, elkhorm, club finger, shallow-water starlet corals, giant green anemones and arious urchins. The most diverse and abundant marine life is found on the reefs that border the outside of the Blue Hole. Snorkelers will also enjoy observing the many life forms that surround the Blue Hole.
Half Moon Wall
Half Moon Wall is an amazing dive spot, which includes the Half Moon Caye National Monument. Before or after your dive you can also see the boobie bird sanctuary on Half Moon Caye. The reefs here are magnificent and diverse. The site is located just south of Half Moon Caye. The coral structures form a thin rim at the border of the wall. There is also a sloping, desolate sand flat separating the reef rim from shallow reefs by the shore. The Half Moon Wall is an excellent dive spot for the intermediate level diver. It has depths of 30 plus feet, amazing 100 feet of visibility and low-level currents. When divers go 30 feet below, they see that the reef rim has a stunning development of spurs and grooves. There is both large and small marine life on the Half Moon Wall. You will see garden eels, conch, rays, flounder, star-eye hermit crab, tilefish, manta rays, groupers, yellowtail snappers, razorfish, toadfish, spotted eagle rays, turtles and black groupers as well as various other marine creatures at the Half Moon Wall.
Hat Caye Drop-off
Close to Long Caye is an island called Hat Caye, where there is a reef drop-off, which is where it got its name. It is found along the central wall in the western part of Lighthouse Reef and it has an alluring shallow reef and is the southernmost site divers regularly go to in the atoll. There is a wide shallow reef, with a wide patch of sloping sand separating two reefs. One is very shallow close to the island and the other is a narrow line that is on top of a drop-off. Dive boats usually anchor above the sloping sand areas near the wall, which provides a great dive with dramatic wide-angle picture opportunities. Also check out the sandy slope behind the reef against the wall. The visibility on this site is about 50 feet, with minimal currents, making this a good site for beginners. Right at the perimeter of Hat Caye Drop-off there are massive basket sponges. Many divers try to climb into the basket sponge’s opening, but sponges take a long time to grow, and usually get damaged when divers do so. Damaged sponge tissue is vulnerable to disease, which eventually destroys the sponge. These sponges are also home to many other marine animals. A plethora of starfish may be seen. Also look for coral shrimp with their white antennas. Giant yellow tube sponges and deep-water lace coral, as well as many fish may also be seen at the Hat Caye Drop-off.
Tres Cocos was named from a group of three tall coconut palm trees just east on Long Caye. This spot is about one mile north of the Hat Caye Drop-off. It is another marvelous dive site on the western side of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, right next to Long Caye. It has a shallow coral reef and wall with big overhangs. With visibility of about 80 feet and depths starting at 30 feet with minimal to medium currents, makes this a great site for beginners also. While algae covers a lot of the shallow reef, there is plenty of other marine life to see. Coral shrimp, large spotted moray eels, lion's paw sea cucumbers, urchins, arrow crabs and sea feathers are also found at Tres Cocos. There are many parrotfish, damselfish and blue tang there for the algae and in the water above you will see many jacks and large black groupers. You may also see turtles, Spanish mackerels, Creole and Black coral on the wall. Further north on the wall, you will see large sand flats that replace the reef and a wall with gorgeous coral arches below the surface. Rays, Conch and peacock flounders can be seen here. Hanging from the wall and arches are tube sponges and soft corals.
Long Caye Ridge
The Long Caye Ridge is located on the western side of Long Caye. It is named from a ridge of reefs sticking out that form a small peninsula just north of Tres Cocos. Spur-and-groove formations can be found on the bottom leading to the wall and a drop-off of major proportions. The grooves are perpendicular to the wall and go directly into the sea. With depths of 40 plus feet, 80 feet of visibility and minimal currents, the Long Caye Ridge is excellent for beginners. The sponges, coral and fish here are similar to those on Hat Caye Drop-off. There are many large and colorful sponges and delicate gorgonians near the drop-off and all along the wall. Below the soft coral, vase and tube sponges there are developments of finger and yellow pencil corals. You will also see coral niches for spotted crabs, lobsters, filefish and arrow blennies. This is also a great site for underwater photos.
Another grand dive site. Just a ½ mile north of the Long Caye Ridge you will see Que Brada or "broken reef." It has a fine ridge of corals rims and crescent-shaped wall. As on other parts off the west side of Long Caye, the wall is vertical to slightly overhanging. You will see plentiful stacks of coral sprinkled across the sandy bottom. The coral patches extend right up the wall, and just north, turns suddenly to the east. It depth range is 40 plus feet, 80 feet of visibility and having minimal currents making it another great spot for new divers. Like elsewhere off Long Caye, coral and sponge growth provide plenty of great photography subjects, with some of the best being the fish. Many dive boats have been feeding fish here for years. Schools of yellowtail snappers shadow divers on the reefs. Large black groupers, ocean triggerfish, spotted eagle rays and turtles can be seen at this site, allowing for spectacular photos.
Unlike other parts of the Long Caye reef system, those at Cathedral are profoundly segmented. The Cathedral Reef starts shallow with the wall cresting at 30 feet. Sculptured by and rising above the sand channels are coral formations, which is how it got the name Cathedral. The Cathedral’s depths are 30 feet plus, with 50 feet visibility and a light current making it great for the intermediate skill level diver. Divers can see narrow passages and tunnels along with some fascinating and diverse marine life. Coral gardens decorate the reef top and sponges color parts of the coral stacks red and orange. There is also cactus coral to be seen and photographed. The many and varied fish at this site are also an attraction. There are groupers, French angels, stoplight parrots, trumpets and yellowtail snappers. Past the reef, large sheet coral up to six feet across cover the wall with huge basket, rope and long yellow tube sponges. Wire coral, deepwater lace and other soft coral growths extend up to five feet. You will also find turtles, lobsters, eagle rays and groupers.
This site was named from the large schools of silversides that were usually found inside the caves. The coral development sets this site apart from all the others. Massive coral formations create a structure full of cavities for marine animals to hide in. Another spot for intermediate divers, with depths of 40 plus feet, visibility of 80 feet with none to light current conditions. Several nocturnal animals, such as sea urchins and brittle starfish can be seen at this dive site during the day. The sides and ceilings have red and orange sponges and mosses. Along the surfaces you may see basket starfish and unusual sponges in the shallow areas. Some divers have seen sclerosponges. They were thought to be extinct and were rediscovered within the last 20 years. These sponges are known to be located in caves in shallow water and help build reefs below 150 feet. They are rare, but can be seen at Silver Caves.
The Aquarium is located right off the northwestern side of Long Caye. Clear, long coral ridges and sandy canyons run perpendicular to the reef. The coral ridges here have many holes and grottos, providing a sanctuary for a variety of marine life. The Aquarium is breathtaking for intermediate level divers with depths of 30 plus feet, visibility of 80 feet with the possibility of strong currents. Moderate to strong currents flow across the reef here almost all the time. When exploring the north-facing wall of the point, you may find troublesome currents too. These currents by the point usually go across the reef from the east. To feel less of the current, you should go down to the reef surface. If you swim east at the beginning of the dive, you will have an easier trip back to the boat. Named for its wide-ranging invertebrate life, the Aquarium is where you will see the ordinary and extraordinary. Many of the animals that are usually hidden deep in the reef at other dive sites are more visible at the Aquarium. A good place to check is next to the crest of the wall. By the top 50 feet of the wall, deep-water lace coral and black coral are also seen. All different types of parrotfish can be seen on the algae patches covering the reef top. The fish are definitely colorful and diverse at the Aquarium.
Nurse Shark Lodge
Nurse Shark Lodge lies east of the Aquarium, on the same reef. It is a wall that drops into the deep all along this section north of Long Caye. Many visitors go there for the large marine life. Nurse Shark Lodge got its name from divers that have regular shark sightings. The Lodge part of its name is from the shallow caves that fill the reefs and are where sharks may be sleeping. For intermediate level divers, the Nurse Shark Lodge has depths of 40 plus feet, 80 feet of visibility, and low currents.
Eagle Ray Wall
Eagle Ray Wall is located on the other side of a tidal cut through the north end of Long Caye and near Nurse Shark Lodge. Most of the time you can see eagle rays right off the wall. They are regularly seen about 40 feet below the surface. Great for snorkeling, this spot has an outstanding shallow reef and a colorful wall. The reef is not more than 35 to 40 feet and there are several long coral ridges separated by sand gullies, where snorkelers can follow these formations into shallow water and can go right to the reef crest, while divers are directed to the opposite. The wall drops considerably into the deep along this part of the reef, where it is full of corals and red cup sponges. This wall is also loaded with an assortment of fish and invertebrates. Also for intermediate level divers, it has depths of 35 plus feet, 80 feet of visibility and low currents. In addition to the eagle rays, there are many beautiful underwater highlights.
The Southwest Cut has a wide channel on its edge and is open to lagoon water and sometimes ocean swells that go over the lagoon from the windward side. The Southwest Cut is great of intermediate level divers. It has depths of 40 plus feet, 50 feet of visibility and at times strong currents. Southwest Cut is unusual, with a lot of the reef tops covered with algae, soft coral and sand. The reef is cut by a wide sand passage that drops very deep. On the wall there may be a good chance to see shrimp, eels and many other marine life. The diving here is great at night as well as during the day. Sharptail eels, scorpion fish, tarpons, sail-finned blenny, yellow-banded coral, nudibranchs, manta rays, trunkfish, filefish and hogfish can all be seen at the Southwest Cut.
West Point I & II
On the northern side of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll is West Points I and II. The one to the south is West Point I and the one to the north is West Point II. Both reefs have a narrow perimeter next to a wall that drops to 125 feet. A range of sponges and corals cover the wall having many shapes and colors. Below 125 feet there is a narrow area covered with sand and a light cover of coral. The sloped area is the beginning of another deep wall. Great for beginners, West Point I and II have depths of 25 plus feet, 50 feet of visibility and moderate currents. The fish are plentiful. There are trunkfish, angelfish, parrotfish, yellowtail snapper, queen triggerfish, white spotted filefish, hogfish, barracudas, tiger groupers, butterfly fish, longsnout, creole wrasses, blennies, gobies, hamlets and spotted and green moray eels. The coral are just as varied at West Point also.