The longest of the three atolls in the Belize Barrier Reef, Turneffe Atoll is also the largest island in Belize formed solely from coral. It is about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. Located about 20 miles from the coast of Belize, Turneffe is a common destination for day trips. This diverse atoll is home to some of the most unusual and endangered plant and animal species on Earth. Consequently, it was protected as a marine reserve in 2012. Like the other atolls in the Barrier Reef, Turneffe Atoll's protected status prevents it from sustaining a permanent human population. Instead, humans can explore the atoll through offshore diving centers, low-impact resorts, and waterside bungalows. Scuba diving, snorkeling, fly-fishing, and boating are some of the top tourist attractions on Turneffe.
As one of the larger atolls in the Barrier Reef, Turneffe has historically supported human life. Archaeological remains provide evidence that the island was inhabited by Mayans around 400 A.D. The first settlers most likely relied on fishing and trade for their livelihood. After the Mayans left, the island was largely uninhabited until the 1700s, when it became a hideout for the famous pirate Blackbeard. Blackbeard used the island as a base for many years, and he made Turneffe his home through the winter of 1717. From its shores, Blackbeard launched several large-scale attacks on unsuspecting ships. Today, the upturned hulls and sunken skeletons of trade ships are all that remain of the island's rogue past, and they are one its most popular diving attractions.
Onshore and off, Turneffe's stunning scenery serves an important ecological purpose. The island is made up of several cays, which are covered by pearly white sand and swaying palm trees. This atoll's surface, like that of the surrounding atolls, is dotted with mangrove clusters, narrow islets, and lagoons. Turneffe's sandy shores give way to sparkling blue tidal flats with hundreds of species of fish, lobsters, conch, and crocodiles. The shallow waters quickly transition to dark drop-offs, which are breeding grounds for groupers, sharks, manatees, and dolphins. Turneffe Reef Atoll's coral reefs get their brilliant hues from over 65 types of coral. Along with thick beds of seaweed, the reefs provide food and shelter for over 500 varieties of fish. Turneffe is also home to dozens of bird species, including the brown pelican, tropical mockingbird, royal tern, cormorant, and several kinds of heron.