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January 2004 Vol. 19, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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New Whale Shark Preserve in Belize

from the January, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While we know Utila in Honduras is famous for whale shark sightings, Belize to the north is now getting into the game.

Washington-based Conservation International and Friends of Nature, a Belizean nonprofit organization, have created a new marine protected area in Southern Belize to safeguard what's called the world's only predictable gathering site of whale sharks. The 3,360- acre sanctuary surrounds Little Water Caye, a five-acre island 18 miles off of Belize's southeastern coast. Friends of Nature will own and manage the majority of Little Water Caye, while the minority share of the island will remain in the hands of a private owner who has agreed to prevent development there.

"The local communities that founded Friends of Nature were the first to discover the rare whale sharks that congregate in the area and became determined to do something to protect them," said Costas Christ, Senior Director of Conservation International's Ecotourism Program.

The Oceanic Society (www.oceanic-society.org) offers a seven-day excursion from Belize City to Placencia (close to the preserve), with three days of dolphin and whale shark encounters for $1,790 plus airfare to Belize. Destinations Belize (www.destinationsbelize.com or 011-501-523-4018) will take out groups of four or more for $70 per person, $90 each for three people, and $175 apiece for parties of two. Placencia operations such as Rum Point Inn (www.rumpoint.com or 888-235-4031), The Inn At Roberts Grove (501-523-3565 or www. robertsgrove.com) and Sea Horse Dive Shop (www.belizescuba.com or 800-991-1969) offer two-tank whale shark dives for around $150, plus tax and entrance fee to the preserve (still to be set for 2004, but probably $10-$15). Snorkeling runs about $65. (Undercurrent reviewed a Placencia whale shark trip in June 2000, but our writer saw none.)

Boats and guides conducting whale shark interaction tours must obtain a special license. Divers and snorkelers are required to stay at least 10 feet away from any whale shark. Maximum depth for divers of any certification is 80 feet, to avoid disturbing fish as well as for safety considerations. Boats should remain at least 50 feet from any whale shark and no less than 200 feet from each other.

During the March 1- July 31 season, dive and snorkel tours are limited to two hours, allocated on a first-come, first-served basis by the ranger on duty. No more than six dive and snorkel boats will be allowed into the Whale Shark Zone at one time.

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