Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve is a significant part of the Belize Barrier Reef, situated approximately 28 miles east of Placencia. Spanning across approximately 25,980 acres, this marine reserve provides protection for a diverse range of marine life, including around 24 species of fish.
The establishment of Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes as a Marine Reserve dates back to 8 May 2000. The initiative was championed by an organization called Friends of Nature, which later evolved into the Southern Environmental Association (SEA). In 2003, legislation was enacted to safeguard the marine reserve, primarily due to the spawning activities of Groupers and other fish species in this particular area of the reef. The unique phenomenon of fish aggregation attracts some of the largest fish in the ocean to this location.
The fishing community of Placencia Village has been harvesting conch and fish from the Gladden Spit area since the 1920s. Local fishermen, particularly those from the second and third generations, can recount their encounters with magnificent whale sharks emerging from the depths near their boats.
The Southern Environmental Association, in collaboration with the Belize Fisheries Department, plays a crucial role in the protection and management of the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. They regulate boat entry into the spawning areas, ensuring the conservation of fish populations.
To reach Gladden Spit from mainland Belize, the primary mode of transportation is by boat. Numerous tour operators provide trips to the marine reserve, offering visitors the choice between small skiffs or larger boats and catamarans. The journey from Placencia typically takes approximately one and a half hours (1h:30m).
Each year, between March and June, a remarkable spawning event takes place, involving groupers, snappers, and other fish species. This process attracts whale sharks from hundreds of miles away, creating a spectacle that captivates visitors from around the world. The ability of the largest shark species to sustain itself on microorganisms often astounds onlookers.
To witness these awe-inspiring whale sharks, diving enthusiasts must venture into the blue waters. The sharks can be observed at depths ranging from 30 to 60 feet, where they feed. Snorkelers can also partake in this incredible experience as the whale sharks follow the bubbles of divers, rising from the depths.
The ideal time to visit Gladden Spit and observe whale sharks is during the full moon, which occurs twice a month for approximately five days.
Gladden Spit offers several excellent dive sites, with High Point Travel specializing in snorkeling at the Silk Cayes located at the southern end of the marine reserve. Visitors can embark on snorkel tours organized by dive shops in Placencia, providing opportunities to swim alongside whale sharks when they are present. Another renowned attraction within the Silk Cayes is Turtle Alley, offering snorkelers the chance to encounter Loggerhead Turtles, Nurse sharks, and Rays.
For scuba diving enthusiasts, Placencia Wildside Adventures, Splash Dive Center and Seahorse Dive Shop cater to those seeking to explore the various sites within the marine reserve. Apart from whale shark diving, divers can immerse themselves in the wonders of Turtle Canyon, North Wall, and White Hole.