Whale Shark Snorkeling
and Diving Regulations
- Dive and snorkel boats will be limited to 1.5 hour time slots, reduced from 2 hours
- NO CAMERA FLASHES MAY BE USED!!!!!!
- Dive and snorkel boats must be out of the whale shark zone by 5:00 PM
- Only 6 dive and/or snorkel boats will be permitted inside the whale shark interaction area.
- Time slots for dive and snorkel boats are determined by a public lottery
- Boat captains must attend whale shark certification courses as well as guides and dive masters
- Dive and snorkel guides must brief tourists on regulations before entering the whale shark zone
- Each boat in the whale shark interaction area may carry a maximum of 12 divers and/or snorkelers
- The whale shark conservation fee is US$15 per person for non-Belizean nationals.
- Whale shark boats must have ratio of at least 1 dive master for every 8 scuba divers and 1 snorkel guide for every 8 snorkelers. If a boat carries a mix of snorkelers and divers, the tour operator must have a dive master AND a snorkeling guide on-board. The captain may NOT count as a guide/dive master.
- Boats carrying whale shark divers and snorkelers must have a special license at a cost of BZ$100 per year.
- A minimum distance of 10 feet must be maintained between whale sharks and divers/snorkelers.
- Whale sharks must be approached by boats at idle speed (not exceeding 10 knots), with idle speed maintained in the vicinity of the sharks
- Minimum distance between whale sharks and boats is 50 feet.
- Persons conducting whale shark tours must have a valid Belize tour guide license, dive master certification for scuba diving or skin diver certification for snorkeling.
- Boats used for whale shark tours must be between 23' and 48' in length
- Any person violating any whale shark regulation may be fined up to BZ$2,000 and/or be subject to imprisonment for up to 6 months. In addition, tour guides are subject to revocation of their whale shark licenses.
- In addition to the above sanctions, anyone intentionally touching a whale shark is subject to a fine of up to BZ$10,000
- Also, any person who damages corals is subject to a fine of up to BZ$10,000 OR value of damage to the coral in an amount not exceeding BZ$1,000,000
- Maximum depth for divers of any certification is 80 feet to avoid disturbing fish aggregations and for safety considerations
- All boats must fly a "divers down" flag when divers from the boat are in the water
Responsible Whale Shark Tourism
The regulation requiring dive and snorkel boats to be out of the whale shark area by 5:00 PM was enacted to prevent interference with spawning Cubera snappers as much as possible.
The continued presence of the whale sharks in this area depends on the snappers, so it's not good to disturb them when they're trying to reproduce. Also, the spawning attracts sharks OTHER than whale sharks, such as Bull Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Caribbean Reef Sharks, Nurse Sharks, etc., etc., etc. With the whale sharks and other sharks trying to feed and the snapper trying to spawn, there's too much going on out there for diving/snorkeling at that time to be completely safe. Plus, diving at that time could interfere with the Cubera Snapper spawning, resulting in NO whale sharks.
Park rangers are at Gladden Spit. However, they are simply not equipped to deal with dive and snorkel operators who won't voluntarily comply with what the park rangers are trying to get them to do.
So, please, be a responsible diver. or snorkeler. DON'T go with a shop that takes you out to dive or snorkel late in the day. And, if you inadvertently do, or see a diving or snorkeling operator who does, PLEASE report them IN WRITING to the Placencia Tourist Center, or email the Tourist Center at firstname.lastname@example.org