The Hol Chan Marine Reserve And Sharks Ray Alley
Its name in the Mayan language means “Little Channel” because it is a natural cut in the reef that is used by marine creatures to cross from the inner and outer portions of the reef. Measuring just 75 feet (23 meters) wide, and only 30 feet (nine meters) deep, this channel is kind of like an ocean highway, making it the ideal place to do some snorkeling or scuba diving.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is located just four miles (6.4 km) south of Ambergris Caye, making it easily accessible. Originally used primarily by commercial fishermen, Hol Chan has been a protected conservation area since 1987 and is now primarily visited by tourists.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve measures approximately three square miles (7.8 square km) in size and is divided into three zones, each clearly marked by buoys. Zone A is the reef. Zone B is an area of seagrass. Zone C is an area of mangrove forests which fish and other marine life use as a spawning area or to hide from predators. And Zone D is the famous Shark Ray Alley where large numbers of stingrays and (harmless) nurse sharks congregate.
Back in the days when the area was used for fishing, local fishermen would clean their catches at Shark Ray Alley before heading back to Ambergris Caye. As a result, stingrays and nurse sharks learned to hang out in this area. Today, tour guides will throw chum into the water in order to attract them.
Besides the sharks and rays, there are a lot of different kinds of fish that can be spotted in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, including fairy basslets, moray eels, and gigantic parrotfish. Some of these fish are very friendly and may even “kiss” your diving mask, but be very careful not to try and touch an eel as they can deliver a very painful bite. There is also a sunken “wreck” (a 30-foot barge) inside the Reserve that is great for divers to explore.