The Great Mayan Barrier

The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and second in the world. It spans across 1,000 kilometers of the clear waters of the Caribbean, from the Bay Islands (Honduras) to the island of Contoy, (Mexico). Some segments of the reef are up to 4 million years old. This is the habitat of more than 65 species of hard corals, 350 species of mollusks and 500 species of fish. It is also a vital refuge for many endangered and protected species, among which are sea turtles (green turtles, hawksbills, loggerheads and leatherbacks), the queen conch, the Caribbean manatee, the American crocodile, the Morelet’s crocodile, the elkhorn coral and the black coral.

Between Punta Herrero and Xcalak stretches a section known as Costa Maya. It is one of the best preserved, since its small and sparse population poses a very low environmental pressure. The Mexican government regularly conducts campaigns to raise awareness among fishermen of the importance of protecting the reef by using non aggressive fishing practices. On the other hand, the scuba diving just started in the area during the past decade and its incidence is very low. Thus, the health of the reef is optimal.

In any given dive you are likely to see turtles, moray eels, nurse sharks, rays, lobsters, barracudas, groupers and a rich display of Caribbean tropical fish: angelfish, butterfly, parrot, wrasse, hogfish, damsel, surgeon, blue tangs… swimming in schools, approaching curious or playing hide and seek among the coral gardens. Molluscs and nudibranch enthusiasts won’t be disappointed, as some colorful specimens are often found feeding in large reef sponges and gorgonians. The dreamlike underwater scenery is made by a large number of coral species, soft and hard, as brain coral, mushroom, lettuce, elkhorn, fan, cactus and precious black coral, among many others. However, certain animals, such as octopus, the honeycomb moray eel, lobsters and other crustaceans are inactive during the day, waiting for darkness to come out. Thus, night dives provide a totally different and complementary sight of the reef.

The barrier at the front of Majahual is composed by two corridors that run parallel, but at different depths. The shallower causes the surf that can be seen from the shore. It falls from the surface to a depth of 15-18 meters (50-60 ft) following a 45⁰ slope. Then, there is a sandy bottom that stretches around 50 meters (160 ft) in length, until the second corridor. Starting from 15 meters (50 ft), this outer barrier scarred by canyons, descends to 30 meters (100 ft) to a sand and stone platform than , gradually, gets the 40 meters (130 ft) where a drop-off reachs abyssal depths. In this second barrier it’s common to find a gentle current that normally heads north, although sometimes can be southbound and stronger.

Most sites do not present technical difficulties for the less experienced divers and they are great to start the adventure of diving with the Open Water Course.