As I dropped past the reef edge into the deeper blue waters off the east side of Turneff atoll I settled down on a rocky ledge to see what would take interest in me and come in for a closer look… about 20m away, about 5m shallower, an eagle ray came gliding in, its silhouette ghost like as it past. An enormous school of Jacks were next to come in, seen from a distance, a huge ball of silver flashes coming so close I could see the fine patterns in there scales. As I looked around, the reef was alive! Small and large resident reef fish cruising in and out of the vast array of corals… ascending, an inquisitive barracuda followed me up watching my every move. As I surfaced and started recovery breathing, feeling the warm tropical air filling my lungs, the sea was like a glass sheet with the green mangroves making a beautiful contrast to the deep blue Caribbean water…
With a water temperature of 30C, 30 to 50 meter visibility, impressive reef structure and an abundance of fish life, the outer atolls off Belize are impressive to say the least and an area that is being preserved for future generations to enjoy with the help of combined efforts of fisherman, tour operators and the Belize government.
Diving two of the atolls off Belize (Turneff and Lighthouse) was one of the most amazing freediving experiences I have had in my life, each session left me with such a stoke that it felt like I was floating! And spending so much time in the water that it felt like my skin would never return to its normal state! Josh Knox; best mate, legend, skipper of Kuhela and founder of Sails and Sandals and I spent a total of 12 days out at the Atolls and we dove at least 5 hours each day and the only reason that we left was that we need to get Kuhela in safe waters for the hurricane season…
Half Moon Cay:
The first couple of dives on this amazing drop off brought in some amazing fish; huge Cuberra Snapper, Hog Fish, Grouper, eagle rays, abundance of reef fish, very curious Barracuda and a black tip reef sharks.
The clarity of the water here was breathtaking, being quite a lot clearer than the waters off Turnoff Atoll.
I noticed that littered amongst the sand were hundreds of conch shells, Josh being raised in Trinadad and knowing how heavily this shell is fished told me that it is the most conch shell he has seen in one area before! An amazing sign to show that the management of the marine parks of Lighthouse Cay are having a noticeable positive effect.
After some amazing dives it was time to get back to Kuhela as the sun was setting and we needed to negotiate the reef pass in the tender. Another amazing session in the atolls!
The Blue Hole:
A marine park and world heritage site the blue hole is very well looked after by the friendly marine officials of Half Moon Cay. Two crew, from the Belize Audubon Society, manage the ranger station at Half Moon Cay and see to the upkeep of the environmental education center there, as well as collecting marine park fees from visiting tourists.
After Josh and I introduced ourselves and got a good run down on how the marine park is operated, the two polite and helpful rangers, Josh and Bill, took Josh and I for a run to the blue hole to do some freediving and take some shots.
Arriving at the blue hole was for me, an experience I will not forget, the sheer size of it leaves you in awe… when I jumped in the water it took me a moment to orientate myself and to take it all in.
Caribbean reef sharks were the first to see what was going on cruising up over the ledge and just as ghostly, disappearing into the darkness as schools of silver drummer danced in and out of the shadows of the boats.
Slowly warming up the dive reflex, diving down to the ledge, the sandy rim was like the boarder of an oasis in the desert with amazing coral and fish life dropping away on the edges of the hole into the blue. After a few more warm up dives I really wanted to check out the stalactites that started at around 90ft, these stalactites were apparently formed when the ocean levels were much lower and the blue hole was above sea level! As I descended down passed the rim I felt the pressure slowly build up on my chest and throat as I filled my cheeks with air to help me equalize my ears, I looked at the sheer walls of the hole and appearing out of the darkness were huge stalactites, the biggest I have ever seen, like huge rocky spines pointing towards the darkness… a sight I will not soon forget.
Josh and I spent the morning exploring the hole and diving amongst the huge stalactites, and admiring the immenseness of the hole, it truly is a humbling experience.
This fringing reef produces some very diverse and breathtaking ground; swim-through caves, sheer drop offs, small pressure pockets on reef pinnacles and sandy bowls… Josh and I spent around five days diving and exploring the fringing reef and had some amazing dives!
With sheer drop offs and little current this area was perfect for freedive training, so over a couple of days Josh and I set up a dive line and did some really fun training. It is a new experience for me, coming from the cooler waters of southern Australia to be able to freedive in warm, clear and totally calm water, it is just bliss! We even had some inquisitive Caribbean reef sharks come in to check out what the action was all about…
I would say that freediving long reef was the highlight of my time out at the atolls; the depth, clarity and biodiversity was the most impressive I have ever seen. I am going to do my best to describe a typical dive at long reef but I doubt my writing ability will do it justice…
Floating on the surface in a complete glass out with not even a ripple to put me off my breath up, I am looking down lining up my dive, already seeing cod, snapper, eels, turtles and sharks that would make for great photo opportunities. I finish my final pre dive breath and duck dive into my first kicking cycle, being as quiet and streamlined as I can as not to scare any fish, I feel negative buoyancy and start to free fall into a sandy gutter near the drop off.
With the camera in front of me and my head down so the fish cannot see my eyes moving I wait to see what comes in… 3 huge tarpon… as I look up his tail almost hits my mask, I glide towards the drop off and descend down to a ledge and find a barracuda hiding behind a coral fan, a tear drop snapper comes in for a closer look and a solo Giant Trevally swims past asserting his dominance. Leaving the ledge and starting the ascent I follow the coral line to find myriads of small shrimp, moray eels, parrot fish and too many other cool little creatures to name, chilling out in the coral gardens. Looking up I see Josh waiting for me on the surface silhouetted by the sun as schools of small bait fish dance through the water column.
As I surface and start my recovery breathing Josh is waiting to see all is good, then we just start laughing as we look around and realize how lucky we are to be in such an amazing place, doing what we love! Stoked!
I was once given a card with a quote on it form a close friend, I cannot remember who wrote this quote but it still sits strong in my mind, it reads, “if you can dream it, you can achieve it. Boldness and courage have real magic in them”, I remember the day I received that card and it was exactly what I needed to get going and I used to look at it daily for motivation.
If someone had of asked me 2 years ago were I would be now I doubt I would have said travelling the world on a yacht with a best mate and freediving the most amazing locations whilst running an ocean awareness organization!
A huge thanks to everyone who believed and supported my dream and fed it tons of positive vibes! So blessed and grateful!
Stay tuned for more epic ocean adventures!