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Can the Caribbean's Coral Reefs Be Saved?

5/6/2013 3:48:33 PM

I made a sacrifice that night, an offering after my fourth day of being stranded in Punta Gorda, the southernmost town in Belize.

Offshore are the Sapodilla Cayes, a chain of fourteen barrier islands with some of the most pristine coral reefs in the Caribbean. I was supposed to be out there, participating in a science dive, dutifully collecting data on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

But no. Wind covered the Caribbean in whitecaps, making the forty-mile crossing impossible. There was absolutely nothing to do, day after day-nothing but sit in bars while neatly coiffed Rastas mixed gin-'n'-juice cocktails. Nothing to do but walk around in stiff breezes, absorbing the quirky local culture: British diction, Mayan faces, Hindu shrines, Garifuna drummers pounding out the ancient rhythms of their slave ancestors. There was nothing to do but eat garlic shrimp and stay up late, staring gobsmacked at the things that go down on a Belizean dance floor.

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And then on the fourth night, leaving the Reef Bar after a session of pretty much all of the above, I found that the bike I'd rented from my hotel wasn't where I remembered leaving it. It wasn't anywhere else either. In a melancholy mood, I walked a mile to the Blue Belize Guest House and stood in front, silently rehearsing my apologies.

That's when I noticed: The wind wasn't blowing anymore. The bike was a sacrifice to the wind god, and it must have worked.

Ha! I threw sixty dollars at the hotel desk, the replacement fee for the bike, and packed my bags right then and there. At dawn I almost ran that mile back into town and caught the first boat out to the Sapodillas.

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The view from Alabaster Bay, near Governor's Harbour, is as stunning as its offshore life:

A seafront cottage at Francis Ford Coppola's Turtle Inn, in Placencia, Belize, which takes guests on day-trips to the Sapodilla Cayes, fourteen barrier islands with some of the Caribbean's most untouched reefs:

Bonaire's lagoon, on the island's east coast, is an international windsurfing paradise-equipment, lessons, bars:

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