The Half Moon Caye Natural Monument (HMCNM) is located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the furthest of Belize’s three atolls from the mainland, and one of only four such atolls in the Western Hemisphere. The atoll is an asymmetric rimmed platform, entirely surrounded by a fringing reef rising to the surface. Inside this fringing reef is a lagoon speckled with hundreds of coral patches which is known for its high density and diversity of corals and fishes.
The History of Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
It all started with the Boobies!
In 1928, the western end of Half Moon Caye was gazetted as a crown reserve bird sanctuary under the Crown Land Ordinance to protect the habitat of the Red-footed Booby (Sula sula), making it Belize’s oldest site for wildlife protection.
In 1971, the Belize Audubon Society successfully lobbied the Government of Belize to expand the Reserve by acquiring five private lots on Half Moon Caye. Dr. Craig MacFarland of Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Enseñanza (CATIE) acquired funding from conservation societies to purchase additional private lots. On October 20, 1979 the Crown Reserve was expanded to include the entire caye and part of the surrounding sea and reef.
Under the National Parks System Act of 1981 Half Moon Caye comprising of 41.5 acres was designated a Natural Monument on March 4, 1982, together with 9,658.5 acres of its surrounding waters. It was the first protected area in Belize to be designated under this legislation.
The United Nations World Heritage Committee formally adopted seven marine protected areas along the Belize Barrier Reef and its adjacent atolls as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at their meeting in Merida, Mexico on December 4, 1996. Half Moon Caye Natural Monument is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site.
Significant Features of Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
The Half Moon Caye Wall is a well known dive site described as “6,000 feet of vertical abyss”. This exquisite wall is unparalleled anywhere else in the world and provides a unique diving opportunity. Divers will be able to see a diversity of marine life in spur-and-groove canyons including corals, garden eels, and some of the most spectacular sponge formations. Larger pelagics such as eagle rays, sea turtles and groupers are often seen swimming in the blue.
The littoral forest primarily made up of the orange-flowered Ziricote tree, found on the western part of HMC, represents a small, endangered and fragile habitat that grows according to soil type and height above sea level. It supports what is considered the only viable breeding Red-footed Booby colony in the western Caribbean. The Booby colony supports the forest’s stability by providing guano as fertilizer. The colony can be viewed from an observation platform located in the littoral forest. The littoral forest also provides valuable habitat for other birds and reptiles. The endemic Island Leaf-toed Gecko (also known as the Belize Atoll Gecko) and Allison’s Anole are two lizard species of special interest because of their very restricted distributions.
The South eastern part of the island is an important sea turtle nesting ground. Every year the Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green turtles, all endangered species, go ashore to lay clutches of eggs. The marine turtle nesting and hatching season commences in May and usually ends in November. During this period the nesting ground is demarcated to prevent nest disturbance.
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument of Lighthouse Reef Atoll is located 55 miles east of Belize City. Several PADI dive operators visit Half Moon Caye Natural Monument out of San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins, or Belize City. There are also charter services throughout the country, live-aboard dive ships, as well as island lodges that provide packages that get you there.
Dive Sites within Half Moon Caye Natural Monument and the Greater Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Half Moon Caye Wall
Refer to “Significant Features of Half Moon Caye”
This dive site got its name from the abundance of Gray Angelfish present in the area. Divers will experience a diversity of marine life such as Parrotfish, Horse-eye jacks, Eagle rays and an occasional shark.
Located south of Half Moon Caye’s western beach beautiful elk horn and lettuce leaf corals grow in the shallows. Here, among the coral formations, you’re likely to find all sorts of colorful fishes. Elkhorn coral is a major builder of Caribbean coral reefs.
Green tube sponges, plate-form star coral, black coral trees, and monster barrel sponges projecting from the many small ledges and lots of fish, including some huge Black Groupers, make this a fabulous dive. Tarpon Caves can be a shallow dive in 30 to 50 feet of water or a deep dive along the wall from 60 to 130 feet. The name comes from the deep notches cut in the top of the reef, exiting at about 80 feet. The sand areas are rich in garden eels, midnight parrot fish, razor fish and southern stingrays. Tarpon patrol the inside edge of the reef.
The southeast tip of Lighthouse Reef Atoll is an ideal place for anyone who wants to enjoy a shallow dive that offers spectacular sights. Tropical reef fish are abundant, as well as Queen Conch and stingrays gliding across the sandy bottom. There are a series of underwater signs, which describe groups of corals, sponges, and gorgonians you’ll encounter along the coral ridge. After passing the ridge you can gaze upon a great vertical wall that drops into the blue abyss.
Mooring locations within Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
GPS Coordinates: Datum 84- Degrees, Minutes, Second
- Lighthouse Wall-N17◦ 12’ 02.8” W87◦32’16.5”
- Half Moon Caye Wall-N17◦ 12’ 11.78 W87◦32’ 31.6”
- Tarpon Cave-N17◦ 12’ 20.3” W87◦ 32’ 46.3”
- Chain Wall-17◦ 12’ 22.5” W87◦ 33’08”
Mooring Capacity: 370 gross ton
Mariners are required to contact Half Moon Caye park rangers prior to hitching onto a mooring or anchoring within the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument. Half Moon Caye personnel can be contacted on marine frequency VHF Channel 16.
Half Moon Caye offers basic overnight accommodations.
Our Miller’s building is located on the beach at Half Moon Caye, boasting an impressive ocean view. It can accommodate fourteen (14) people. Three rooms consist of two (2) bunk beds each, and one (1) room with a double bed.
The Osprey quarters can accommodate eight (8) people. It has two (2) rooms and consists of three bunk beds and one (1) double bed. It has a kitchen furnished with a stove, mini fridge, and basic kitchen utensils.
For campers, there is a designated camp site on Half Moon Caye. Camp facilities include a kitchen equipped with a stove and basic kitchen utensils. There is also a shower house and compost toilet.
Additional amenities include picnic tables and BBQ pit.
All facilities are powered by solar energy.
Reservations can be made at BAS’ main office in Belize City. Contact Us Here.
For RULES, refer to the Best Practices Booklet for Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye Natural Monuments Here.