Belize has become one of the world’s most biologically diverse nations with the integrity of its natural resources still very much intact. It boasts 93% of its land under forest covers, the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere (second only to Australia’s) , the largest cave system in Central America, over 500 species of birds, thousands of Maya archaeological temples and the only jaguar reserve in the world. With only 8, 867 square miles (22,960 sq.. km) and 250,000 people, the population density is the lowest in the Central American region and one of the lowest in the world.
The northern half of the mainland of Belize supports scrub vegetation and dense hardwood tropical forest. Belize has over 135 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more are being discovered. Among these are the beautiful green red-eyed tree frogs, green iguanas, crocodiles, and numerous snakes. Iguanas are everywhere and are locally in the Belize real estate language called bamboo chickens. The coastal area is neither land nor sea, but a sodden, swampy transition between the two. It consists of mangrove and grasses, and it is bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore where the land separates the water.
The central part of Belize supports large savannas. Approximately thirty miles southwest of Belize City, the land begins to rise dramatically to between 1,500 and 3,680 feet above sea level into the enchanting Mountain Pine Ridge Area and the Maya Mountains. Abundant rainfall runs off the northwest from the highlands in a number of streams which flow into the Macal River. Ultimately, the Macal River and the Mopan River converge to provide the headwaters of the Belize River. Belize has over 145 species of mammals. Among these animals are the five different species of wildcat that can be found in this country. Belize is home to the world’s only jaguar preserve, the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve. The preserve is over 100,000 acres of land set aside to protect this endangered cat.
The southern part of Belize, with its watershed to the southeast from the Maya Mountains, consists of short rivers that rush through slopes combed with overhanging ledges and caves. The rivers, carrying sand, clay and silt, have enriched the coastal belt over the years, allowing Belize to develop significant agricultural products such as citrus and bananas. Along with an annual rainfall of some 170 inches, southern Belize has a true tropical rain forest that is rich with ferns, palms, lianas, and tropical hardwoods. In this lush forestland, you can see some of Belize’s 500 species of amazing birds. The national bird of Belize is the Keel-Billed Toucan, a shy bird typically found in lowland forests and forest borders.
Stretching from the northern Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, south along the borders of Belize and Guatemala, and on to the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the second largest coral reef in the world and is home to some of the richest biodiversity in the wider Caribbean. The reef is a vital natural resource for coastal communities throughout the region, supporting major fisheries and local food supplies, coastal protection from storms, and a robust marine tourism industry. Yet threats to the reef have increased significantly in recent years, including over-fishing, pollution resulting from intensive coastal development and poor watershed management, and rapid growth in marine tourism activities.