Turneffe Flats History
The history of Turneffe Flats has is roots in the early 1980's when two young professionals from South Dakota first discovered Belize.
TURNEFFE FLATS history
A Recipe for a Great Vacation
Take a dream
A beautiful location
A large pinch of hard work
A few tears
Many good times
Mix together with some wonderful guests and a great staff
Mature for a number of years to produce the best fishing, diving
and snorkeling vacations in the Caribbean
In the late 1970’s, about the time British Honduras became Belize, two young South Dakotans visited a lazy fishing village in Belize named Caye Caulker. After several return visits, Craig Hayes and Doug Moore realized that there might be business opportunities in this beautiful, undeveloped country. They felt others were likely to find Belize as enchanting as they had and they began discussing business opportunities with a local lobster fisherman. Around a table in Sid’s Bar, an agreement was reached and soon thereafter a Belizean company was formed.
Around that time, Craig and Doug began hearing about a ‘far away’ atoll where only the most venturesome lobster fishermen dared to go. After several aborted trips due to weather concerns, they finally made it to Turneffe where they spent two days pulling lobster traps and living in a 10 x 10 fishing shack. Craig, who had recently taken up flyfishing, read an article in Sports Illustrated entitled “There are Ghosts out there Mon” which was about bonefishing on the Turneffe Atoll. They learned that their lobster-fishing friend from Caye Caulker had a brother with a fishing camp near some bonefishing flats at Turneffe, and subsequently made contact with Angel “Juni” Marin and his friend, Joel “Blues” Westby. Joel was one of only a few bonefishing guides in Belize at the time. An exploratory bonefish expedition was arranged during which they stayed at the present location of Turneffe Flats. The Dakotans appreciated that this was perhaps the most magnificent place they had ever visited.
At that time, Juni’s fishing camp was leased from the Government of Belize. Eventually, Craig and Doug reached an agreement with Juni to transfer the lease to the ‘company’ in return for shares of stock. At that time, there was one building on the property and bathroom facilities were located on a sand dock.
Over the next two years, culminating in 1985, two small guest cabins were built and the bathroom facilities were relocated indoors. A small generator was purchased making ‘power’ available for a few hours each day and a cold-water shower (hot water was not to arrive for a couple of years) was considered a huge step forward.
Our first clients visited from Texas in late 1985. Robert McCurdy, the then-owner of the Austin Angler, had previously ventured ‘down to Belize’ for an exploratory visit and helped entice his fellow Texans. Joel Westby, Willie Dyer and Winston “Pops” Cabral, guided the six Texans and they had a great time. One of the initial group members, Howard Oldham, soon became a shareholder in Turneffe Flats and injected some much-needed capital.
In time, Doug ventured out on his own to operate an adventure travel company in Belize and Craig continued to oversee Turneffe Flats’ operations with the assistance of Karen Krietlow, later to be known as Karen Hayes.
A third guest cabin, a duplex, was built in 1988 and subsequently the two original cabins were enlarged. This brought the lodge capacity to 12 and around then, full-time diesel power was added. During ‘89 and ‘90, a large staff dormitory was built and the entire lodge was re-wired.
Major changes occurred in late 1991 with the importation of custom-built Dolphin flats skiffs, the first of their kind in Belize, and new, larger and faster transfer boats. In 1992, a new ‘main lodge’ was built which more than quadrupled the dining room and kitchen. Realizing that Turneffe Flats was located in the midst of some of the best SCUBA diving in the Caribbean, ‘Flats’ decided in 1992 to diversify by adding diving. Hugh Parkey, a well-known Dive Instructor in Belize, was hired as the first Dive Master and Dive Instructor.
In 1995 the existing guest cabins had outlived their usefulness and they were torn down. In their place we built larger air-conditioned guest rooms. Our Explorer Package (now known as the Atoll Adventure Package) was added in the late 1990’s as guests traveling with fishermen and divers asked about activities to do. This has now developed into a popular stand-alone program.
By 1998, things were looking good – the new air-conditioned cabins seemed to be a big hit, Turneffe Flats was being recognized as a top-notch fly fishing destination and the diving program was growing quickly. Hurricane Mitch hit on October 30th, and although Turneffe didn’t experience the full force of Mitch’s eye, the results were devastating. The dock was destroyed, much of the beach was lost and the entire island was a terrible mess. Hurricane Keith hit in October of 2000 with the southern eye wall and winds in excess of 100 MPH passing over the lodge. This storm again altered the landscape significantly with the loss of approximately 120 palm trees and damage to most buildings.
Shortly after Hurricane Keith, a major remodel of the lodge was completed, doubling our dining room space and adding air-conditioning. In 2001, our 48 ft. Custom Dive Boat, ‘Ms. Ellie’ arrived. Craig had coveted this boat for a number of years and named it for his recently deceased mother, Eleanor.
In 2002 and 2003 the dock was once again rebuilt after being damaged by Hurricane Iris. Landscaping has been a priority and a gray water recycling system has been built. Solar and/or wind power are on the drawing board.
Over the years, several investors have contributed much-needed capital as well as valuable expertise, but managing control has stayed with the original shareholders.
Much effort the effort of Turneffe Flats owners these days is related to conservation of Turneffe Atoll. In 2002, we established Turneffe Atoll Trust, a donation-funded, non-profit company, whose mission is to ensure that Turneffe Atoll is sustainable managed and that its unique and fragile environment is protected. Since 2002, Turneffe Flats has donated 1% of all revenue to Turneffe Atoll Trust through 1% For The Planet. Major accomplishments of Turneffe Atoll Trust include leading the effort to pass legislation protecting bonefish, permit and tarpon as catch & release only species and leading efforts to establish the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, which was accomplished in 2012.