The Gladden Spit promontory is one of the most beautiful areas of the Belize Barrier Reef. Together with the Silk Cayes (islands), this area measures approximately 40 square miles (105 square km) and is now called the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) which is a protected marine area under Belizean law.
Gladden Spit itself is one of the only three atolls found outside the Pacific Ocean. The “Spit” as it is known by local fisherman is the tapered end of a long atoll that has a steeply sloping shelf that quickly plunges to a depth of 2,000 meters. The Silk Cayes are three nearby islands, each named Silk (North Silk, Middle Silk, and South Silk). The elevation of these land areas and crystal clear water make the GSSCMR one of the most biodiverse regions of the reef.
But it is what happens during the phases of the moon in springtime that make the GSSCMR such a popular destination. Beginning in the 1920s, local fishermen realized that the GSSCMR region is used by millions of fish and other marine life to deposit and hatch their eggs. During the full moon between March and June, enormous schools of predators arrive in the GSSCMR to feast on the fish spawn, including the largest creatures in the world’s oceans — whale sharks.
Whale sharks are not actually whales; their name is derived from their enormous size. And unlike (relatively) smaller sharks with sharp teeth that can sometimes pose a danger to humans, whale sharks are filter feeders. Instead of teeth, they have a complex series of filters in their mouth and thus pose no danger to humans. As whale sharks rise from the deep to feed on plankton and fish spawn, they ingest large quantities of water, using the filters to strain out tons of edible material at a time.
The entire GSSCMR region is a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkeling all year round, but the arrival of the whale sharks in springtime are the star attraction. To protect the whale sharks, only licensed dive operators in allocated time slots are allowed to bring visitors to snorkel or dive with these gentle giants.