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Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve

We're supporting the development of Belize's newest marine reserve through conservation science and ecotourism.

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An aerial image of marine habitats in Turneffe Atoll. © Eric Ramos

Belize's Turneffe Atoll is the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere. Located 25 miles east of Belize City, Turneffe is surrounded by deep oceanic waters that support an outstanding diversity of marine life. It is a part of the broader Mesoamerican Reef ecosystem, which encompasses the second longest barrier reef on Earth stretching more 1,000 kilometers from Mexico to Honduras. Its mangrove forests, wetlands, seagrass beds, lagoons, and sandy beaches provide habitat for more than 500 fish species, 65 stony corals, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, seabirds, and other wildlife. They also sustain human livelihoods throughout the region through fisheries and tourism.

For more than 20 years Oceanic Society has been working with local and international partners to study marine species and habitats in Turneffe Atoll and to advocate for its protection. Our scientific research, ecotourism programs, and advocacy helped lead to the establishment of the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve in late 2012. Now our focus is on assuring that the reserve is successful in protecting this globally important marine habitat into the future.


Turneffe Atoll was declared a marine reserve in 2012, yet much work remains to make the reserve operational and assure its preservation over the long term. Our greatest concern is the need for improved knowledge of key habitats used by threatened megafauna including dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, and other species, so that these areas can be adequately protected. Current threats to marine species and habitats at Turneffe include ship traffic, pollution, fisheries, development, climate change, and tourism activities.

How We Are Helping

Oceanic Society's Blackbird Caye Field Station. © Eric Ramos

Through the Oceanic Society Field Station at Blackbird Caye, we have had a consistent presence in Turneffe Atoll since 2001 and have placed 12 acres of sensitive habitat under permanent protection. The field station serves as a base for undertaking scientific research that is needed for conservation efforts, as well as building international awareness and local support for Turneffe's conservation through our ecotourism and volunteer programs.

With help from international volunteers, our research has helped to shed light on the presence, abundance, distribution, and ecology of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, American crocodiles, Antillean manatees, and birds such as the least tern, roseate tern, and white-crowned pigeon. We have also identified and monitored important and sensitive habitats including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. At the same time our volunteer and ecotourism programs have helped to validate Turneffe's viability as a sustainable tourism destination.

In late 2012 Turneffe Atoll was declared a marine reserve, laying important legal groundwork for its long-term protection. Yet this declaration was just the beginning of a long-term process to fully define and manage the reserve, and much work remains to be done. Our current focus at Turneffe is:


Project Updates

Oceanic Society’s Belize Land Now Under Permanent ProtectionWe are delighted to announce that Oceanic Society’s 12-acre property at Blackbird Caye on Turneffe Atoll, Belize is now under permanent protection against inappropriate land development by the Turneffe Atoll Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Turneffe Atoll. Purchased by Oceanic Society in 2001, Blackbird Caye was home to Oceanic Society’s Belize Oceanic Research Center (also known as…Read More →A Week at the Field Station: A Belizean Student's ExperienceWe had more than 40 groups visit our Belize Field Station in 2015. One of the most rewarding aspects for me was working with the groups of local students. Many Belizeans live near the water but have never looked below the surface nor fully recognized our human footprint. One student, John Bruhier, who visited our field station with Ecology Project…Read More →2015 Belize Field Season in Review On behalf of the Oceanic Society Belize Field Station team, we did it! We wrapped up our 2015 field season in August, and what a fantastic (and exhausting—in a good way) year it has been. We welcomed 33 groups, 7 researchers, and 400 students and citizen scientists. We had 15 manatee sightings, along with hundreds of dolphin sightings, including 2 new…Read More →Life and Death in Turneffe Atoll Being at the Oceanic Society field station, you never know what you may see or learn from day to day. That is the beauty and excitement of field research, and also the very reason why it is so valuable for us to be present here in Turneffe Atoll. Following is my account from an unexpected encounter that took place a…Read More →A New Look at Plastic Pollution in Belize Over the 15 years that we have owned and operated our Blackbird Caye Field Station in Turneffe Atoll, Belize we have seen the volume of plastic pollution along our beachfront grow dramatically. Given that we are in a fairly remote location (30 miles offshore) it is particularly disturbing to see just how much trash is floating around in our oceans…Read More →

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