Coral reefs are among the most fragile ecosystems on earth. Colonies grow less than 5cm a year; once damaged, the coral is far more susceptible to bacterial infection, which can quickly lead to large-scale irreversible deterioration. All licensed tour guides in Belize are trained in reef ecology, and should brief you on reef precautions. If exploring independently, keep the following points in mind:
• Never anchor boats on the reef – use the permanently secured buoys.
• Never touch or stand on the reef.
• Don’t remove shells, sponges or other creatures, or buy reef products from souvenir shops.
• Avoid disturbing the seabed around corals – clouds of sand smother coral colonies.
• If you’re a beginner or out-of-practice diver, practise away from the reef first.
• Don’t use suntan lotion in reef areas – the oils remain on the water’s surface; instead, wear a T-shirt to guard against sunburn.
• Don’t feed or interfere with fish or marine life; this can harm not only sea creatures, but snorkellers and divers too – large fish may attack, trying to get their share.