Seismic profiles and drilling show that the Quaternary (late Pleistocene and Holocene) lagoon reefs in the south-central Belize Lagoon have grown on topographic highs constructed by fluvial, deltaic, and/or marine processes.

The basic pattern of the Quaternary reefs was determined in the early Pleistocene when the entire Belize Shelf was exposed. The levees of the rivers that flowed across the exposed shelf produced topographic highs which became major sites for late Pleistocene coral colonization. The Holocene reefs have grown on these carbonate mounds, atop deltaic sediments deposited during latest Pleistocene to earliest Holocene and on marine sand bars in the near coastal lagoon area.

The unique (rhomboidal and long-sinuous) reefs are derived from the underlying early Pleistocene river morphology (Victoria River) rather than from a fault-dominated karst morphology. The swarm of reefs in the coastal lagoon area reflects the differences in their foundations and geologic history. This study supports a model of lagoonal reef formation and/or modification of reef foundation controlled by alternating sea level fluctuation and coastal plain fluvial processes.

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