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Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Nurse sharks are gentle and come to the boats looking for hand outs

An ideal location for snorkeling and diving, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is just 4 miles south of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Established in 1987, Hol Chan covers an area of approximately three square miles and was the first marine park established in Belize. Originally threatened by over fishing, the rich and diverse marine life of Hol Chan has experienced an encouraging regeneration under the sanctuary’s protection.

In Mayan, Hol Chan means little channel. Named for a break in the Belize Barrier Reef approximately 25 yards wide and 30 feet deep, the channel was probably the result of erosion and exposure. The currents created by the channel contribute to a unique ecosystem and spectacular array of marine life.

The reserve is divided into four distinct habitats or zones:

Zone A – Coral Reef Zone

– This habitat contains a stunning variety of corals including elkhorn, brain, Starlet, boulder, staghorn, finger, lettuce, fire and pillar. Many lobster are found here as well as schools of snappers, grunts and blue tangs. Commonly seen reef fish are hog fish, parrot fish, barracuda, triggerfish, black tip reef sharks and nurse sharks. The channel itself is the most popular area of the reserve and here you’ll find large grouper, spadefish and the occasional permit, tarpon, manatee and eels.

Zone B – Sea Grass Zone –

This zone provides the link between the mangrove and reef zones. Queen conch, manatee and bottlenose dolphin are found here. In addition to many unusual species of sponges, the sea grass or lagoon zone also contains the Boca Ciega blue hole. This underwater cavern is popular with divers because of the large schools of fish that gather there.

Zone C - Mangrove Zone

Within this zone are seven mangrove cayes and numerous channels including Boca Chica. The mangrove root system provides a rich habitat for sponges, anemone, young fish, invertebrates and tunicates.

Zone D – Shark Ray Alley

This zone was annexed by the reserve in 1999. Local dive guides began frequenting the area after having been told of the proliferation of sting rays and nurse sharks. Fisherman had been cleaning their daily catch here for many years and the rays and sharks boldly approach boats and humans, hoping for a tasty handout. Both species are known to be quite gentle. While the animals may swim up and seem to invite physical contact, it’s best to enjoy the view and keep your hands to yourself.

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