BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

HALF MOON CAYE NATURAL MONUMENT

WHAT TO SEE
The most famous inhabitants of this island are its Red- footed Boobies which nest in the Ziricote thicket at the western end of the caye. Emanating from the colony, which also has nesting Magnificent Frigate Birds, is a rather fishy smell, and a cacophony of screeches and squawks as the birds come and go, feeding chicks and shading them from the intense midday sun. It's the most spectacular site, and' there's - viewing platform in the heart of the colony that lets you enjoy the birds from up close. Somehow they seem too busy parenting to take much notice. For photographs from Half Moon Caye, click here.


The Boobies live on the caye for about 10 months of the year. Nesting starts around mid-December and the young hatch around March. Chicks are full grown in a matter of months and then its off to the open sea. Flying fish are their favourite food, caught at night when the fish are nearer the surface. Half Moon's Boobies are a bit special because most are white, instead of the much more normal brown colour found around the Caribbean. So even though they look so different, they are still the same species, because they can still interbreed and produce fertile off-spring (this is the definition of a species).

Over 120 other types of bird have been seen on the caye. Most are migrants, and the falls of these little birds can be quite spectacular if you're there when there's a winter norther passing through.

Completely different from the birds, there's another group of inhabitants on Half Moon which has only recently been fully examined by ecologists, and up to now has caused a certain amount of confusion. It's the lizard and gecko populations, which have been found to be quite unique! The grey and black Spinytailed Iguana (or wish-willy) is the normal reptile resident of the cayes, and: is on Half Moon in abundance. The Green Iguana though is normally found only on the mainland's river banks. It must have been introduced way back to spice up the menu of lighthouse keepers. Only juveniles and females are actually green though, and males are just orange- brown.

Part of the lizard group but much smaller are the anoles, the most gregarious of which is the Brown Anole, very common on all Belize's coastal areas, and tolerant of human disturbance. It's often seen on fences and house posts in Belize City for instance. Males are sometimes dotted with lighter spots and the females often have a light stripe of zig-zag patterns down their backs.

The next species, the Green Anole is more brightly coloured. Probably of Cuban origin, It is now found in the Bahamas and south-eastern USA, having most likely jumped ship from cargo boats. How it came to Half Moon though is anybody's guess, but it appears only to have arrived during the 1960s. A nice population inhabits the observation tower. Next is the Giant Anole, the largest type in Belize, known to live all over the cayes of Lighthouse Reef. Its also reported from Cuba and Honduras. These giants can change their colour in a matter of seconds, from green to dull brown and back. It's the male that's really spectacular though, with a white throat, blue forehead and forelegs, pink dewflap and green remainder.

Then most important of all is the Belizean Atoll Gecko. So far, it's still not known from nowhere else on the entire planet, and is Belize's only reptilian endemic! Unfortunately, its entirely nocturnal, so seeing one is not very likely.

Plant wise, the orange-flowered Ziricote are all around, one of just over 40 species growing on the caye. Ziricote trees are used to make the carvings that you'll see for sale especially at tourist sites. Half Moon's other very obvious tree is the Coconut. Originally an inhabitant of the Pacific Ocean, It was only introduced to the Caribbean in the 1500s, with the first written record of its presence on Half Moon from 1720.

In the Marine realm, the natural monument is also spectacular, encompassing a dramatic reef wall which drops to almost 1,000 yards deep. You may see any one of three turtle species as all nest on the caye.

GETTING THERE
Half Moon can be reached from Belize City or San Pedro and visited as a day-trip. Tours are run from the larger hotels. Other accommodation options are a live-aboard yacht or On the resort of the Northern Two Cayes, at the extreme north of Lighthouse Reef. Both options are rather expensive. Because of the sensitivity of the area, camping is not allowed. It takes a full day to visit Half Moon Caye.

WHEN TO GO
The Boobies nest from mid-December but young only appear around March. By August they have left.

During Autumn you may be lucky and be on the caye during a major fall of migrants. This gives you a very close look because the warblers especially are so tired they are more reluctant to fly off.

For diving, the calmest weather is around May.

VISITOR FACILITIES
The observation tower is the main facility, but the caye also has a visitor centre and one short trail to the Booby colony. Camping is no longer allowed. The extremely picturesque old lighthouse is unfortunately falling to pieces and is dangerous to climb, so please don't. The Natural Monument is managed by the Belize Audubon Society, who have produced a small pamphlet.

The site has a viewing platform amidst the Red Booby colony, reached by bush trail. A considerable increase in recorded visitors has taken place, and is now approximately 120 a week, mainly from dive boats. Facilities include a dock, observation tower, picnic tables, trails, signs etc. Some mooring buoys have been installed.

ESTABLISHMENT HISTORY
14. 7 acres of the terrestrial section of the site was gazetted as a Crown Reserve in 1928 (under the Crown Land Ordinance), making it Belize's oldest site protected for wildlife. Expansion was recommended by the Waight (1968) and FAO (1978). For an undetermined reason, Half Moon Caye was re-gazetted in 1979 (Gazette Notice 1097/1979), but not expanded. This waited until 1982, when the remaining 4 acres of privately owned land on the 44 acre caye was purchased by the government and the BAS. The Caye was subsequently designated a Natural Monument under the National Parks System Act, together with 10195 acres of its surrounding waters (SI 30). It was the first protected area to be designated under this legislation.

CURRENT AREA
The calculation of the reserve's area is straightforward, with its boundaries simply defined by 4 comer coordinates. In the SI, its area is estimated at 9700 acres, and 9771 acres by GIS.

JUSTIFICATION
Declared to conserve the nesting colony of the Red-footed Booby, unusual in the Caribbean because of the almost complete dominance (98%) of the white, gold, and black adult colour phase. It has since been found to be an important site for reptile conservation, being one of the cayes supporting the endemic Belize Atoll Gecko. The caye's littoral thicket is also in need of protection, following large scale removal for coconut plantations in the 19th century and current increased tourist developments. The reef is also of particular quality, because of the variety of sub-marine topographic and wave energy environments in the area.

HABITATS
Coral rubble and sand caye, cocal, beach thicket, seagrass, reef

ZOOGEOGRAPHICAL AFFINITIES
Caribbean and Marine.

WILDLIFE
The caye's fauna are noteworthy for 2 main reasons. Firstly, the thicket at its western end are used as a the nesting site of the Red-footed Booby, protected in Belize since 1950. Half Moon's colony is unusual in the Caribbean context because of the almost complete dominance (98%) of the white, gold, and black adult colour phase. The majority of the nests are found at the Caye's western end, primarily in Ziricote trees, with a smaller proportion also built in the Busera simaruba and Bumelia retusa bushes. Overall, 85% of the nests are built in these 3 species. The boobies live on the caye for about 10 months. Most start nesting in mid-December. Eggs are laid by January, and incubated for about 7 weeks. The young remain in the nest until about July and have left the caye by late August. From nest counts, the Booby population has been estimated at 1389 in 1958, 1285 in 1975, 1329 in 1978, 1687 in 1979, 1231 nests in 1981, 886 in 1988-89 and 1325 in 1991-92. Bird observations made in 1864 by Salvin recorded Black Catbird on the Caye which no longer is found. This is almost certainly to do with the infestation of rats, which seriously prejudices the survival of most resident fauna. Secondly, the island is significant for lizards, with the work of Moorman (1995) going a substantial way to clarifying the confused records recounted in the literature and held as museum specimens. The caye appears to have 3 species of anole. As well as the ubiquitous Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei), widespread outside Belize and all over the entire coastal zone within, there is a substantial population of the Green Anole (A. carolinensis), probably of Cuban origin but now also recorded in the Bahamas and southeastern USA- It appears to have arrived on Half Moon in the 1960s. The Chant Anole (A. allisoni), recorded on all the large cayes of Lighthouse Reef is known elsewhere from Cuba and Honduras, although this population may represent a distinct form of the species. 2 iguanidae are present, the widespread Spinytailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) and more interestingly the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)- Originally introduced for food during the last of 18th century, it has managed to establish a self-sustaining population, unlike other cayes where it has been introduced . Half Moon also is inhabited by the Belize Atoll Gecko (Phyllodactylus insularis), the only reptilian endemic yet recorded for Belize. To date, it has only been recorded elsewhere on Long Caye of Lighthouse Reef and Long Caye of Glovers Reef. Other reptiles reported are nesting Green Turtles and Loggerheads (Smith et al. 1992), which lay their eggs on the cayes sandy western beach. Reports suggest that this activity has seriously declined in recent years, and there are some reports by tourists that fishermen are still catching turtles within the reserve. Other nesting birds on Half Moon Caye include the Magnificent Frigate Bird, Mangrove Warbler Great-tailed Grackle and a pair of Ospreys. The caye is also an important landfall site for North American avian migrants. In total, roughly 120 species have been. recorded as resident or migrant on the caye. Concerning the vegetation of Half Moon Caye, the eastern half of the caye has only sparse ground level vegetation, growing under mature coconut plantation. The western half, covered by a closed Ziricote forest, has a rich littoral fringe dominated at its southern end by silver-grey Tourniafortia bushes and the White-flowered Spider Lily. In the most recent 2 studies, 43 higher plants were identified, but on comparison. of the plant assemblages, only 28 species (65%) were found in common. This shows a high rate of colonization. and extinction.. In total, 55 species have been tentatively identified for the caye.

Nearby reefs and intertidal zones are very rich in marine species, especially sponges, molluscs, and red and ocean fishes. Scientists have produced a preliminary map of marine habitat and a preliminary study of reef structure has been produced by CEDAM International (1989), who also list coral species identified during a 7 transect survey They identified 4 marine habitat zones namely the Palmata zone, mixed coral and rubble zone, the barren sand flat zone, and the raised coral rim zone.

LOCAL POPULATION
The lighthouse on the eastern end of the caye has 2 staff, and there are a further 12 temporary residents on the island fishing and maintaining the small coconut plantation.

PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
The atoll itself is an asymmetric rimmed carbonate platform, entirely surrounded by a fringing reef rising virtually to the surface. The 4.4 miles of reef within the reserve consist of 4 broad natural zones: a back reef of turtle grass patches and coral rubble; the crest/breaker zone dominated by wave resistant coral species, an outer area of dead coral rock, and an outer coral zone with a well developed spur and groove system. The island itself is a coral sand caye with an accumulation of coral rock along the shore (consequently with very nutrient poor soils), and forms part of Lighthouse Reef (5706 acres), one of only three well, developed atolls in the Caribbean. The back reef is fairly shallow, in the order of a few yards, but part of the reserve does extend to depths in excess of 980 yards. The caye rises to a height of 2.6 yards.

The reserve receives an average of 70 inches of rainfall a year, mainly between June and September. There is a dry season from March to May, and winds are dominantly northeast by east, except for short periods during July to September when cold northerlies reach down from North America. There is a hurricane season, lasting from September to November.

CULTURAL FEATURES
The only cultural resource of the island is the lighthouse. The current one dates from 1930, built on the base of the previous 1848 structure, which itself replaced the first one built in 1820. The lighthouse is however in a bad state of repair. There are also a number of shipwrecks in the caye's vicinity, the most prominent of which is a large freighter.

BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

Belize Parks Home / Bacalar Chico / Bird Sanctuaries / Burdon Canal Nature Reserve / Blue Hole National Park / Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef / Chiquibul National Park and Caracol / Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary / Columbia River Forest Reserve / Community Baboon Sanctuary / Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary / Five Blues Lake National Park / Glover's Reef Marine Reserve / Guanacaste National Park / Half Moon Caye Natural Monument / Hol Chan Marine Reserve / Laughing Bird Caye / Marco Gonzales / Mexico Rocks / Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve / Payne's Creek National Park / Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area / Shark Ray Alley / Shipstern Nature Reserve / Turneffe Atoll /

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