Atolls Turneffe

Sandy Lane


Sandy Lane is located on the northwest side of the Turneffe atoll protecting it from the winds. It is about 50 minutes by boat from Belize City on the mainland. The starting depth for this dive is near 40ft ending between 80 and 100 ft along a series of sandy ledges. Even though there is very little current here this is generally done as a drift dive.


As you swim over the gently sloping reef you will notice a variety of healthy hard corals with branching gorgonians growing amid them. Hurricane Keith in 2000 did some slight damage to this site, which is why you will find small amounts of algae growth. Keep your eyes open for large lobsters, crabs, shrimp and other invertebrates under the overhangs and in the many nooks and crannies of this reef. The purple tipped sea anemones are the homes for small porcelain crabs and Pederson cleaning shrimp.


Moving south along the reef the slope is greater and there is large tube sponges found here. The fish life here is very active with a large variety of species even the occasional large pelagics.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 40-100ft(12-30m)

Location: West of Northern Lagoon

Access: boat

 


Black Coral Wall


Don’t let this sites name have you expecting to find large amounts of black coral growing here; the jewelry business has long since made this scarce. This site is just south of Sandy Lane so you will find a lot of similarities in its landscape. Some of the differences are the large spurs and more dramatic wall. The sponge and coral growth is pretty much the same.


Marine life in this area is thriving, you will find all the usual reef fish as you work your way down the wall at between 50 and 60 ft look for large shoals of schoolmasters cruising the area. The macro life on the reeftop is extensive; you will find giant anemones with cleaner shrimp and the diamond blennies hiding among its branches along with the grazing nudibranches and flat worms. On this site you will spot numerous trunk and box fish including the buffalo trunkfish. These fish tend to cruise the reef in pairs and you can often find small remoras hitching a ride.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 30-130ft(9-40m)

Location: West of Northern Lagoon

Access: boat

 


Mini Elbow


This dive is generally done as a drift dive even though moorings mark this site. As you descend you will find a sandy bottom with scattered coral heads. Moving towards the wall the coral becomes thicker and starting to form a continuous reef with deep cuts running west. Swimming west through one of the cuts the wall appears at 80-100 ft.


Now swim south and you will find the large ridge that gave this site its name. Here the currents can be turbulent which attracts the jacks and tarpon and in amongst the coral and sponges at the edge of the wall keep a look out for large green moray eels. Along the drop off you will find sponges and gorgonians growing profusely and then as you descend deeper along the wall you will find extremely large sea fans.


Turtles are a common sight here especially in the summer as the females come to the shoreline here to lay their eggs. At the top of the reef schools of Creole wrasses cruise the area descending into the depths to feed.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 30-100ft(9-30m)

Location: West of Northern Lagoon

Access: boat

 


Triple Anchors


As you might guess this site is named for three 18th century anchors that can be found here. The first on is easy to spot because it is right near the mooring in about 45 ft of water. You will probably need the dive master to help you find the other two since they are so encrusted with coral. The bottom here is sandy with patches of large reef along the slop that leads to the wall at about 100 ft. In this area you find especially large yellow tube and barrel sponges. Check under the coral overhangs for spiny lobster and trumpet fish hiding in the branching gorgonians. At the edge of the wall be sure to check below you and out into the deep for pairs of eagle rays swimming along.


During your safety stop near the reeftop one or several large barracuda may smile at you to show off their teeth. If you happen to be diving here at night keep you eyes open for the occasional tarpon that zooms in to grab a bait fish that is attracted to the lights of the boat.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 45-100ft(14-30m)

Location: SW side of atoll

Access: boat

 


Sayonara


The Sayonara is a sunken shuttle that used to serve Turneffe Island Lodge as a passenger and cargo ship. It was deliberately sunk here in 1985 but has since broken up. The bottom here is sand with broken coral at about 50ft, you can still distinguish the shape of the ship if you us a little imagination.


Inside the wreck you will find many schools of small reef fish. In the sand surrounding it you will find many yellow jawfish burrows with them hovering above them until you get to close. An interesting fact about the jawfish is that the male incubates the female’s eggs in his mouth.


Follow the sloping sand to the wall at about 100ft or more. There is a large variety of gorgonians, rope and barrel sponges growing on the large coral heads. The fish you are likely to see on the reef are schools of jacks, yellow snapper along with the lone barracuda. In amongst the soft branching corals you can spot pairs of tiny slender filefish.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 30-100+ft (9-30+m)

Location: SW side of atoll

Access: boat

West Point Wall


Although the mooring for this dive is set at only 25ft it is at the edge of the wall that it drops sharply. The reeftop here is beautiful but save it for the end of your dive after you have explored the wall and all it has to offer.


As you begin your exploration of the wall you will find barrel, vase and rope sponges in abundance. Next you will encounter stands of black coral followed by deepwater sea fans. Out in the blue keep a lookout for spadefish, barracuda and eagle rays while in the crevasses of the wall you will find black groupers hanging out.


On your way back up find one of the gullies and follow it to the shallow water. The coral here is so abundant it almost forms tunnels along the gullies. Sheltered in this area you will find lobster, silversides and the rare toadfish. The reef ends on large sand patches with scattered coral heads where you can search out southern stingrays, peacock flounders, yellow jawfish and the garden eel colonies.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 25-130ft (8-40m)

Location: NW of Big Caye Bokel

Access: boat

 


The Elbow

 

This site is farther south than any of the other sites on the atoll. It is also the most exposed since it is where the currents from each side of the atoll converge. You can only dive here on calm days because the winds create sizable swells. The Elbow should only be done as a drift dive since it is easy to get swept away especially on your safety stop.


As you enter the water you will find the reeftop at about 60ft and will continue down the wall to your maximum depth. This tends to be a deep and short dive but well worth you time and effort.


The turbulence of this site attracts a variety of schools of fish like crevalle and horse-eye jacks. Barracuda, cubera snapper, Atlantic spadefish and several species of sharks can also be found. As you swim through the depths keep your eyes and ears open for pods of dolphins that frequent this area.


Experience Rating: Advanced

Depth: 60-130ft (18-40m)

Location: South of Big Caye Bokel

Access: boat

 


Black Beauty


Here you are just slightly east and north of The Elbow so again you will need calm weather to enjoy this site. If the winds are up the swell and surge can break the moorings. Not to discourage you this is and excellent dive where you can often see sharks and large pelagics.


Here you start your dive a top the coral in about 50ft of water but it slopes sharply with many gullies. It is the most fun to follow one of these sand chutes to emerge on the wall at around 100ft. The currents along this wall can be very strong so it is best to start your exploration against the current making your return easier. Deepwater sea fans and sponges are spectacular here because of the rich nutrients in the water. Black coral was once very prevalent here but like most sites is rare now due to the jewelry trade. Your dive will end on the reeftop enjoying the many species of life in this environment.


Experience Rating: Intermediate

Depth: 50-130ft (15-40m)

Location: SE of Big Caye Bokel

Access: boat