Responsible Tourism in the Belize Barrier Reef
We want you to vacation in Belize for years to come, but we all need to be careful when visiting fragile ecosystems like our coral reefs. Your actions could help to preserve these living reefs for the protection and enjoyment of future generations. These guidelines will also help keep you safe as you explore some of Mother Nature’s wildest places.
So, when you visit Belize, please follow these simple rules in and out of the water.
- Keep your distance. Whether on land or in the water, remain physically distant from the coral reefs, animals, and plant life while snorkeling, scuba diving, or swimming. Living corals, fish, and sea turtles don’t care if you are wearing a mask–they need their space, and for your safety, so do you. While they appear as tough as rocks, corals are living beings called polyps, so touching or standing on them can damage them.
- Do not feed the animals. Our magnificent array of aquatic animals knows how to find their own food and have particular diets (no, it’s not keto). Leave them to find their own food, and we will make sure you are well fed during your visit to Belize.
- Wear reef-safe sunscreen and personal care products. Sunscreen may protect our skin from sunburn but often contain chemicals that have been linked to coral reef deterioration. Roughly 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in our oceans each year, so find sunscreen free of toxic chemicals, or better yet, avoid applying sunscreen and wear a rash guard, sunglasses, hats, and other protective gear. Other personal care products like hair gel, makeup, and lotion also pollute our waters with an estimated 82,000 different chemicals. Avoid using personal care products as much as possible, especially those with oxybenzone, preservatives, and glitter, proven to be toxic to reefs and wildlife. MarineSafe provides a list of marine pollutant chemicals to avoid here.
- Take home what you came with. The corals and their inhabitants have everything they need in the water to survive. Leave their homes as nice as you found them by taking back all your trash, personal items, and other objects. (And no, you can’t leave your partner here, this isn’t their natural habitat!)
- Do not trash our shores. Make sure to pick up your trash and recyclables on the beach and in the ocean. Even though you won’t see it after you leave, what you leave behind lingers in the sea for hundreds of years.
- Avoid single-use plastics. That plastic bottle of water you just drank out of will take 450 years or more to break down into microplastic, which will continue to float around in the ocean long after your vacation. Reusable bottles, bags, utensils, plates, and other items are preferable to keep plastic waste out of our oceans.
- Eat sustainable seafood. Just like fruit, fish should only be eaten when they are ripe and in season. Eating fish when they have had enough time to grow and during the right time of the year helps prevent the fisheries from being depleted. Visit the Fish Right, Eat Right website for more information on responsible seafood consumption. Visitors should also try many delicious dishes featuring lionfish, an invasive species with no natural predators and breed very quickly.
- Do not collect corals or any other animals. Corals and other flora and fauna don’t belong on your shelf—they belong in the ocean. So, don’t take them on your excursion or buy them in a shop. Take a picture from a safe distance or, even better, be present and make memories of your coral reef experience that will last forever.
- Watch where you dock. Use the mooring buoys and piers provided by each management authority. Docking on your own could permanently harm the corals and disturb the ocean floor sediment.
- Do not stir up the sand. Stirring up the sediment and sand can disturb the ecosystem and actually smother corals. While it might look cool in pictures, cloudy water upsets the amount of light corals need to survive.
- Hire licensed guides. Properly trained and licensed guides know the reefs very well. Not only will they show you the best spots to snorkel and swim, but they will also keep you and the reef’s inhabitants safe on your Belizean adventure.
- Always pay your entrance fees. These fees are vital to the protection and proper management of the protected areas. These fees are generally included in tour packages. Feeling generous? Donate to the Belize Barrier Reef to help fund our conservation efforts.
- Stay in your lane. Recreation zones and nature trails were created for the safe enjoyment of Belize’s spectacular landscape and to help protect it. Walking off the trail damages the natural environment. Please swim or snorkel in designated areas only.
- Book with eco-conscious tourism services. Your visit on land can also impact the coral reef ecosystem. Staying in a green-friendly accommodation and working with licensed guides and operators can help lessen your impact by minimizing water use, properly managing wastewater, and sourcing sustainable seafood. Companies managed by communities are even better as they help provide sustainable livelihoods for locals. Find a list of accommodation here.
- Be water wise. Water is a precious resource and is scarce in some areas, especially the cayes. Reduce your water consumption by taking shorter showers, reusing linens, and staying in accommodations that support water conservation.