Off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is Belize’s oldest marine reserve, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is Mayan for ‘little channel.” The entire reserve focuses on a cut through the reef (called a quebrada) which is little more than 25 yards (23 m) wide and 30 feet (9 m) deep about 4 miles southeast of San Pedro.
Due to its protected status, what was once a depleted fishing area has now been allowed to re-generate, providing an unparalleled diving/snorkeling experience for visitors and an important refuge for marine life along the northern section of the Belize Barrier Reef.
Over 160 species of fish have been identified at Hol Chan & Shark Ray Alley, along with nearly 40 species of corals, 5 sponges, 8 algaes, 2 seagrasses, 3 marine mammals and 3 species of sea turtle. The large amount of fish life found with the Hol Chan “cut” accessible by snorkelers and beginning divers, the diversity of marine life encountered throughout the 4 zones of the park and the excitement and novelty of swimming with large numbers of nurse sharks and sting rays.
In waters as shallow as 5 feet, large schools of jacks, groupers, snappers and barracuda abound. Along each side of the cut grow healthy stands of corals and seagrass in shallow water, perfect for the beginner snorkeler. The more experienced swimmer can swim from one side of the cut to the other, experiencing shallow reef, drop offs over the steep sides of the “cut”, and seagrass and sand beds in the middle of the channel.
The sharks and rays hear the dive boats approaching and begin to school in anticipation of bait being thrown into the water. When you arrive, you will see the surface often boiling with rolling sharks and sting ray wings as they vie for the scraps.
These creatures have a great tolerance for divers and snorkelers. The rays, which have a ‘wing-span’ of two to four feet, swim directly towards you, mouths often turned up hoping for a hand held bit to be placed near their mouths. You will often find them circling around you, as if performing for food. The docile Nurse Sharks average four to six feet in length and can be a bit more aggressive than the sting rays.