Brain Coral- There are many species of brain coral, but they all have the distinctive ridges that look uncannily like a brain. A type of stony coral, this order makes up the building blocks of the reef.
Sea Fans- These gorgonians look just like their namesake. They wave elegantly in the current and are fragile and at risk by errant fins while snorkeling or diving.
Elkhorn Coral- These colonies form spreading flattened branches, reminiscent of an elk’s antler. The large, structural formations are quite impressive.
Pillar Coral- The large pillar formations are visually stunning and just uncommon enough that when you do see them, they are memorable.
Fire Coral- No touching! These types of hydro corals will burn on contact, via stinging polyps. Not to mention the damage to the coral structures you will do by brushing up on it. Their distinctive orange coloring makes them easily identifiable.
Sergeant Major- These small yellow fish with vertical black stripes are cheery little denizens of the reef and shallow water. You can even see them swimming around the docks on Ambergris Caye.
Butterfly Fish- Always found in pairs, they are named for the large spots on their backs, reminiscent of a butterfly’s patterning of eyes on their wings.
Nurse Shark- These sharks are found in the shallow water surrounding the reef and can be easily seen at Shark Ray Alley. They can grow to 14 feet in length!
Lionfish- While beautiful, these red striped fish are an invasive species in the Caribbean. Happily, they are delicious fish and are often found on local menus. Click here for more information on them, and why you should order it next time you see it in a restaurant!
Queen Parrotfish- The brightly-colored Queen Parrotfish is named for the bright “crown” spot on its head, and its beak-like mouth, which it uses to feed on algae growing on the coral.
Eagle Ray- These rays have triangular “wings” and white spots. They can be seen in large groups near the reef.
Southern Sting Ray- These stingrays are common on the reef, and can also be seen cruising the shallows in the evenings. Their waving movements can be mesmerizing to watch. They also like to bury in the sand, and sometimes can only be seen by just their eyes or tail visible through the sand.
Caribbean Spiny Lobster- An important fisheries species, the lobster is a highly-prized shellfish. Read more about them, here. They do not have large front claws like those found further north off the coast of Maine but instead have two hard spines. Look for them hiding under crevices on the seafloor.
Queen Conch- Another species that is largely harvested for the fisheries industry. The beautiful shells can reach 12 inches in length.
Octopus- The intelligent octopi are masters at disguise and evasion. Watch them closely and you may see subtle or drastic color changes. They are most often seen on night snorkels, as they are largely nocturnal. The most common species to see is the Caribbean Reef Octopus.
Barrel Sponge- These simple animals can be quite impressive to see. Varying from under a foot to over six feet long, there are many species of barrel sponge. They come in a range of colors and add a bright pop to an already dynamic reef system.
Jellyfish- You can see a few species of jellies on the reef. Do keep your distance if you see one, as their stinging nematocysts are quite painful when touched. Ask your guide to point out the unique Mangrove Upside-down Jelly.
Christmas Tree Worm- A type of tubeworm found in living coral formations. As the name suggests, the shape is festive! They are sensitive to movement and will quickly retract their crowns. Look closely in the nooks and crannies of coral and you are sure to spot these.
Green Sea Turtle- These docile sea turtles are a highlight for any dive or snorkel. Watch the light play off their shells as they swim or feed on the turtle grass growing in the shallows.
West Indian Manatee- The magic of seeing a manatee in the wild is something that not everyone gets to experience. Belize is lucky to still have a population in the coastal waters and has ongoing efforts to conserve this species.
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin- Watch for dolphins playing in the wake of your dive boat, swimming near the coast at sunset, or even hunting fish on the reef. The delight of seeing dolphins frolicking can cheer up any bad mood.
For ideas on where to do the best snorkeling, click here. Always remember to use good etiquette when snorkeling and diving. Our best tips for being a benevolent visitor under the sea, here. Remember to go slow and look at all the tiny details. You’ll be amazed at the many creatures you’ll see!