Roatan’s reef has four distinct zones — lagoon, reef crest, fore reef, and drop-off.
The lagoon starts from where your toes hit the water and extends to the breakers over the reef crest. As a green carpet spread across the lagoon, fields of turtle grass and other algae act as the lungs for the reef system. This shallow, sun-soaked sanctuary is home to juveniles of many aquatic species — tiny lobsters, barracudas, angelfish, butterfly fish, and reef squids reach maturity in this zone, safe from the competition of bigger fish on the reef. Graceful eagle rays fly over the lagoon in search of a crustacean treat, while sharptailed eels slither through the turtle grass, hoping to ambush an innocent juvenile.
From the surface, the reef crest appears as a rolling line of breakers. Underwater, this complex coral structure rises straight to the surface, where shifting tides and fierce waves make survival a constant battle. Stony corals, such as the staghorn and elkhorn, have adapted branching structures to dissipate the surf, while soft gorgonians such as the sea fans roll with the waves. Heading seaward, the reef crest quickly changes to a series of a sand and rubble patches. This interior wall is home to schools of surface-feeders such as sergeant majors and chubs along with various nimble crustacean life forms.
Large boulder and plate corals form the fore reef. These coral heads merge into prominent ridges. Colonies of staghorn and lettuce corals build structures of intertwined limestone and provide shelter for damselfish, squirrelfish, and fairy basslets. Turtles feed on the sponges in this region. The relatively shallow depths of the fore reef provide ample sunlight for supporting a host of marine life; most of your diving will be in this densely populated, brilliantly illuminated stretch of reef.
At the drop-off, the reef dramatically plunges into the blue abyss. Plate corals extend from the wall in cascading overlapping shelves. Deep-water soft corals such as black gorgonians and wire coral stretch their wiry frames away from the wall. Marine life, while less dense than the fore reef, consists chiefly of larger reef fish and free-swimming pelagics such as groupers, barracudas, ocean triggerfish, and eagle rays.