Mexico Great Coral Reef The Yucatan South The Great Coral Reef   (Yucatan's Maya Caribbean Coast South)

Reef di corallo grande caraibico del maya                                                      Beach home rentals in Soliman Bay Tulum Mexico the Yucatan

By Maire B Estar

Reef di corallo grande caraibico del mayaThe Great Maya Reef is the largest reef in North America and ranks second in size globally behind the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. It's northern extremity begins off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula at Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres. From there it extends 197 miles south, past Cancun and through the coastal waters of the State of Quintana Roo where it passes alongside the Central American countries of Belize and Honduras.

It is an ecosystem within itself, with diverse and abundant forms of sea life, and yet, it is part of a greater system of rich coral zones that thrive within the Caribbean Sea.

Red Coral:

The rocky coasts of the tropical band of the American continent, and the Caribbean Islands are an ideal habitat for the growth of numerous species of hard corals and other encrusting and building organisms. The constant development of these creatures leads to the formation of fringing barriers that come between the coast and the open sea. The coral reefs develop in waters of incredible clarity where a scarce quantity of nutrients exist. If not for the existence of the reefs, the water would be an enormous "blue desert".

Maya Coral Reef Yucatan a tropical ocean allureThe reefs extend toward the sea until depth or lack of a rocky base make it impossible for them to grow. The Great Maya Reef is one of these "fringing barriers", as are the numerous coral beds that are readily found near the shoreline. These reefs provide shelter for the majority of fish species and crustaceans that inhabit the coastal waters. Their beds are easy to explore, even for those who snorkel, because of the short distance that separates them from the coast. In the calm waters of a bay, you can traverse from beach to coral reef in a matter of minutes. Enroute to the reef you will pass along scattered blocks of coral, which are thriving communities of diverse sea life in the otherwise barren and transparent waters.

The ecosystems with the most abundant forms of life on earth are those ecosystems of the coral reef. While exploring a reef in the Caribbean, you will find that in the areas closest to the surface, where the corals are battered by the waves and affected by the tidal flow there is an abundance of brain coral. These irregular, rounded colonies cover vast areas of the sea bed.

Out nearer the open sea, one will find areas of elkhorn aeciospores. They are named this because their branches are flattened like the horns of the American elk. Reef di corallo grande caraibico del mayaThese colonies exist in turbulent areas that are marked by many fragments of hard coral that cover the sea bed. More delicate corals appear as the waters become deeper, about 4-10 meters. These are bush corals with thin, pointed branches. Because of their fragility, these corals don't dominate an area as the brain or elkhorn corals would.

Coral Reefs

t is these coral reefs that attract millions of visitors to the Caribbean each year. They are home to more than 600 species of fish and almost 100 types of hard coral. Their waters are warm, clear and inviting. As you enjoy their bounty and beauty, it is apparent that they must be protected, along with the life that they foster. The reefs are made of living coral which is very delicate and easily destroyed. Because of this, while diving or snorkeling, please stay at least 3 feet above the coral. Touching it or knocking it with a fin could cause a piece of it to break off, and by keeping at arm's length, you won't disturb the fish.


Beauty of the Coral Reefs   Angelo Mojetta & Andrea and Antonella Ferrari   Chartwell Books, 2000
Laiguana Secrets of the Mexican Caribbean  Winter/Spring 1999
Passport-Cancun   Fall/Winter 2000

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