Discover the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, a protected marine area of regional and global importance that includes a mosaic of rich ocean habitats.
Established in 2012, the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve (TAMR), centered on Turneffe Atoll in Belize, is a classic example of a Marine Protected Area or MPA. Its importance comes from its size (it’s the largest offshore atoll marine reserve in Belize), location and the diversity of habitats it contains. The TAMR has been created and managed to protect and sustain these ecosystems as well as the livelihoods of coastal communities whose people depend on a long-standing traditional fishery based on conch, finfish and lobster.
The Reserve lies some 50km off the coast of Belize, and covers an area of approximately 1 317km2. Although there are no fixed human settlements within it, the TAMR is home to high-end tourism resorts and a research facility belonging to the University of Belize.
Turneffe Atoll is approximately 50km long and 20km wide, surrounded by a shallow fringing reef and filled with a labyrinth of channels and mangrove-covered Cayes. To help navigate this remote marine wilderness, we’ve created a collection of maps.
To make the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve safer and easier to visit, we’ve deployed an extensive network of buoys. This map depicting our dive moorings and channel markers will help you navigate the best scuba diving in Belize.
Tasked with the protection of the Atoll, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association has mapped out its conservation and management zones, including Turneffe’s vitally important spawning aggregation sites.
Turneffe Atoll is renowned as a uniquely developed barrier reef structure and a biodiversity hotspot. Although it can be viewed as an isolated natural structure, it actually forms part of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), which runs for over 1 000km along the Caribbean coastlines of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
This huge reef structure is exceptionally diverse, with Turneffe Atoll being a particular highlight. The MAR has been recognised for the many different roles it plays, including protecting and stabilising coastal habitats, maintaining coastal water quality and supporting employment opportunities in fishing (by providing a habitat for commercially important species) and ecotourism. The TAMR does all of this too, just on a slightly smaller scale.
Different gradients on the reef help the coral deal with changing sea temperatures
Unlike other MPAs in Belize, the TAMR protects deep water (blue water) habitats and important fish spawning grounds as well as the reef itself. It also covers habitats including mangrove swamps, terrestrial vegetation, and seagrass. This remarkable mosaic of habitats only makes the TAMR more important.
Mangroves and seagrass play a key role in protecting habitats against storm surges, filtering and removing pollutants, increasing salinity, and providing nursery areas for fish. Coral reefs of course provide habitat for many other species, as well as also acting as protective barriers against rising sea levels.
Turneffe Atoll helps protect Belize’s coastal areas by reducing wave energy
From the beginning, the TAMR was intended to be a multi-use reserve by enabling sustainable fishing (as carried out by local communities) as well as tourism. Both of these activities help to generate fees that keep the TAMR operating, and create jobs for local people.
The appeal of the TAMR to tourists is easy to understand. With world-class diving on both coral reefs and wreck sites including The Wit, the Reserve is a magnet for SCUBA divers and snorkellers. Above the water, the mangroves and back reef flats offer world-class sport for fans of shallow water flyfishing while guided walks such as the Calabash Caye Nature Trail offer an interpretive experience and insights into both human and natural history.
The TAMR protects livelihoods today – but also tomorrow. That’s because it plays a vital role in the life cycle of species that keep the local fishing industry going, including the Caribbean spiny lobster and queen conch.
The TAMR also protects many threatened species and the ecosystems they require, from staghorn and elkhorn corals to hawksbill and green turtles, manatees and dolphins. Other species that depend on the many habitats within the TAMR include the American saltwater crocodile and deeper water fish including marlin, sailfish and sharks.
The different habitats within the TAMR are closely inter-connected, which only adds to the importance of the Turneffe Atoll. On a global scale, pristine stretches of mangrove and seagrass can help to limit the impacts of climate change.
Declaring the Turneffe Atoll as a protected area was a no-brainer; the challenge now is to ensure its long-term sustainability. As a visitor to Turneffe Atoll, you can play your part – and have an amazing ocean experience at the same time!
Turneffe Atoll is a biodiversity hotspot with an abundance of iconic, important and threatened species.
Following best practices in marine parks and protected areas helps responsible travellers do the right thing.
We can only save what we can understand, which is why science is so important for corals and reef ecosystems like Turneffe Atoll in Belize.
Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) are the ocean equivalent of a nature reserve on land – that is, a defined area that is legally protected.