Belize hut225


Destination Preview:  Belize
By Laura Speek

It’s only a 23-foot dive and one of the first sites to cloud when the wind blows.  It is not even a beautiful spot compared to the nearby drop-off, but the two rock piles that make up Eel Gardens off St. George’s Cay in Belize house some of the most interesting combinations of marine life I’ve seen.

After a short boat ride from St. George’s Lodge, I followed the anchor line to the first rock pile.  I started to cruise slowly around the edge, looking for the promised resident morays.  I saw one, then two, then five gaping mouths peacefully coexisting in the same small crevice.  I counted as many as seven or eight to a hole.

These weren’t garden eels, which grow by the acre on Belize’s sandy bottom.  There were bona fide morays.  There were a few spotted and green morays, but the majority was the brown-mottled type.

I startled an 18-inch lizardfish.  His buddy, an even fatter cigar, was poised and ready for a quick hop out of danger should his camouflage fail.  I saw a group of four king-sized sand divers.  Clouds of grunt hung over the rock moray eel225pile and I glided through a school that parted to accommodate me.

One of the larger holes was home to a curious and friendly red grouper.  By now the eels were old hat.  The grouper’s house held an amazing array of fish cleaners.  The morays here hosted small black-and-white gobies, which actually swam in and out of their open mouths feeding on parasites and plaque, while banded coral shrimp feasted with their iridescent blue pincers.

Grabham shrimp, a translucent yellow species with rust and white accents, joined the Pedersen cleaning shrimp who lived on a ringed anemone.

Suddenly, a very skittish juvenile queen angel, smaller than a quarter, brilliantly blue and gold, jetted out and then raced back into hiding.  A slightly larger angel, along with baby rock beauties and five tiny blackbar soldierfish were also present.

The juvenile life on the rock pile also included a queen triggerfish, looking awkward but cute in its adolescent stage.  The abundance and variety of juveniles made me feel like I was visiting an underwater nursery.

After 30 minutes, I followed a conch shell trail to the other rock pile.  This site had nearly a dozen lobsters and countless crabs, in addition to a granddaddy-size green moray.  It was a real hub of activity.  Enormous schools of different species, including a particularly large and fast team of Crevalle jack, circled the rocks a time or two before moving on.

dolphin225On the far edge, well off in the distance, I saw something incredibly big.  I swam toward it.  As its shape materialized, I realized it was my size or more.  My heart started pounding.

Shark, ray, barracuda?  No, coming in was a huge male dolphin.  I squealed and twirled to gets its attention.  He moved in closer and took a majestic pass right by my mask.  We made eye contact for one electric moment, then he swam off, leaving me feeling like a most inadequate aquanaut.

What a thrill to be eye to eye with a wild dolphin, and what a great way to end my visit to this very special and unique spot atop Belize’s Barrier Reef.

Published in Sport Diver Traveler