Declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, stretching an impressive 180 miles (290 km) parallel to Belizeís coast in the Caribbean Sea and housing an incredible diversity of marine flora and fauna. Three atolls, a rare occurrence in the Atlantic, are found in Belizean waters, just outside the protective coral of the Barrier Reef.
Gloverís Reef Atoll, the southernmost of these, sits roughly 28 miles (45 km) off the coast of Dangriga, Stann Creek within the Gloverís Reef Marine Reserve, 126.8 miles (204 km) wide and 100 fathoms deep. The atoll is a gigantic cylindrical coral formation, rising from the ocean floor to protrude above the surface of the Caribbean, forming a collar around a lagoon of cobalt blue water. The lagoon is ringed by 5 coral sand islands and boasts some 850 patch reefs, and peripherals reefs, for which it has garnered the reputation as one of the most biologically rich and important coral reef sites in Belize.
A history of conservation activities within the atoll attests to this statement. In 1954 Gloverís became a bird sanctuary because of the large colony of white-capped noddies that nested there. In 1978 it was recommended that the entire atoll be declared an underwater reserve. After the World Conservation Society (formerly the New York Zoological Society) established a research station dedicated to studying the ecology, botany and zoology of Gloverís in the 1980s, the atoll and its surrounding waters were formally recognized as a marine reserve in 1993. This was followed three years later by UNESCOís proclamation.
Though the World Conservation Society (WCS) occupies Middle Caye, the other four islands (Northeast Caye, Long Caye, and Southwest Cayes, which are actually two islands) are privately owned. These islands, surrounded by more shallow beryl aquamarine water, are home to a number of resorts, offering scuba diving and instruction, kayaking, snorkeling, and sport fishing.