Belize is fringed by a vibrant expanse of living coral, known as the Mesoamerican Reef System. It’s a Caribbean underwater paradise—a snorkeler’s dream and an endangered sea turtle’s lifeline. Stretching from Mexico to Guatemala, this is the world’s second largest reef system.

© Antonio Busiello/WWF-US

While Belize bestowed strict protections on sea turtles in 2002, they can’t survive without coral and sea grass. Ultimately, conservation that benefits turtles boosts the health of the entire ecosystem. The Belize Barrier Reef became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and today WWF is pushing for better management of this ecological treasure. The atolls, sand cayes, mangroves and coastal lagoons are home to 70 hard corals, 36 soft corals, 500 fish species and three types of nesting sea turtle.

© Anthony B. Rath /WWF

While poaching remains a direct threat, turtles face an ongoing onslaught from climate change and the uptick in coastal development. But WWF’s persistent pressure for nesting site protection, and cutting-edge reef restoration projects like the coral fragments being planted at Laughing Bird Caye, are working. Belize’s turtle populations are stabilizing—and in some spots, they’re growing. Great hope rises as more egg clutches per female are counted each season. Nest monitoring is a long-haul project, especially as half the country relies on the reef for their livelihoods. But right now, more green turtles, loggerheads and hawksbills are emerging from Belize’s shell of conservation.