What is the Great Blue Hole of Belize?

Instead of its roaring waves and scary storms, the calm ocean often offers amazing natural wonders below its otherwise uncertain surface. The Great Blue Hole of Belize, which is located off the coast of Belize, on the eastern coast of Central America, is one of such existing wonders.

Researchers say this giant underwater sinkhole was made by the collapse of a cavern formed during the glacial ages tens of thousands of years ago. Located less than a hundred kilometres away from the city of Belize, this swallow hole is one of the world’s most famous diving zones now.

The Hole forms a perfect circle in the midst of a coral reef, known as the Lighthouse Reef and also a section of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which is one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites.

The Great Blue Hole of Belize features more than 300 meters (984 ft) across and 125 meters (410 ft) deep. Researchers consider Great Blue Hole to be the largest of its kind and discovered huge stalactites, dripstone sheets as well as columns inside the blue hole.

Water levels in the surrounding areas of the sinkhole are so shallow, where the coral often breaks the surface at low tide. The watercolour of the swallow hole is deep blue in contrast with the aquamarine colour of the water neighbouring it.

The Hole has got a great fan following in the world and the Belize locals have a keen desire to have the Hole anointed with the title of being one of the world’ seven wonders. The Discovery Channel, in 2012, announced the Great Blue Hole as number one on its list of “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth”.

Great blue hole

History of the Great Blue Hole of Belize

Researchers have suggested that this massive submarine sinkhole was originally formed during the last glacial period as a limestone cave when the sea levels were lower. However, the cave was later flooded when the sea began to rise, eventually resulting in the formation of a circular hole.

Because of the increasing water levels and the consequent rise in the ocean level, the roof of the cavern was brought down while the inner portion remained intact, albeit submerged under the deluge of the water.

A plethora of analyses have claimed that the period of formation of the Blue Hole was 153000, 66000, 60000 and 15000 years ago. And, the name “The Great Blue Hole” was given to the hole by British diver and author Ned Middleton in his book “Ten Years Underwater.”

The uniqueness of the Belize Hole came to light first when the world-renowned explorer of that time Jacques Yves-Cousteau made a pioneering discovery about its in-depth coffers with the help of his vessel – The Calypso – in the early 1970s. The French explorer had revealed the secrets of the marvellous Blue Hole to the world through a television series called “The Undersea World of Jaques-Cousteau”.

In addition, the studies were undertaken by the explorer and his crew initially suggested that the Blue Hole in Belize was a limestone cavern of the glacial era formed due to the shallowness of the water.

Underneath the surface of the Belize Blue Hole, the explorers and researchers found evidence of the cavernous interior filled with stalactites.

These stalactites acted as veritable proof for the explorers to conclude that the Hole was indeed a swallow hole. The depth of the Great Blue Hole was initially measured as 125 m (410 ft), while another expedition conducted by the Cambrian Foundation claimed the depth as 124 m (407 ft) in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Blue Hole also offered researchers with evidence that helped them understand the mystery of the fall of the Mayan civilization.

Researchers from Rice and Louisiana State Universities, in a study published in 2015, have presented the evidence found in the cave, supporting the role of climate conditions that ended the civilization.

The sediment and lagoon samples from the cave helped them to support theories that suggest there were fewer tropical cyclones and longer droughts than normal during the era of the Mayan decline.

The scuba dive site and marine life

The Blue Hole in Belize is unlike any other swallow hole in the world and is regarded to be the world’s biggest such marvel. Mr Cousteau accorded the swallow hole the honour of being one of the world’s top 10 zones for scuba diving enthusiasts.

The moderate temperatures of the country allow potential divers to penetrate the depths of the Belize Hole all year round. Likewise, the complete absence of water currents and acute temperature changes in the swallow hole allows divers to try and make a foray all year round.

The normal temperature in the Blue Hole is reportedly about 76F at 130ft with not much difference throughout the year. The descriptions of the divers pointed to the amazing beauty underneath the waters with those geological formations and also suggested that the water becomes clearer when one goes deeper.

On account of the intense depth of the Hole, only experienced divers are advised to enter it. This is because only experienced divers can stabilize their bodies while deep diving and bringing themselves upwards.

In addition to the crystal clear water that tempts divers, the reef surrounding the Hole is home to many exotic fishes like the nurse tip shark, reef shark native to the Caribbean and various other marine creatures.

Despite these, there have been reported sightings of several other species, including Midnight Parrotfish, the bull shark, hammerheads and other juvenile fish species. However, reports also suggest that the marine life in the hole is relatively low and most of the time species like sharks simply pass through.

Accidents and presence of Monster in Blue Hole

Despite the beauty it offers, the Great Blue Hole of Belize also often witnesses accidents including the death of divers. According to reports, several divers have so far lost their lives in the darkness of the Blue Hole for various reasons.

Even though there are no currents in the Blue Hole, accounts suggest the death occurs due to nitrogen narcosis as they go deeper. When divers cross 135ft or more, according to reports, they start feeling numbing sensation or euphoria, eventually causing death.

Interestingly, there are also stories of monsters in the Great Blue Hole of Belize doing rounds.  A diving expedition from Caye Caulker in the early 1970s claimed the presence of monsters in the waters saying they had witnessed an apparition of a sea serpent. According to the claims, the sighted beast was 20ft-long and has red eyes.

However, the claims couldn’t give any other pieces of evidence rather than creating some apprehension in the minds of the divers, while a few suggested, pointing to the description, that the one they saw must be species like ribbon fish or oarfish.

Ignoring such doubtful claims, thousands of divers visit the Great Blue Hole of Belize every year to explore the brilliance of nature.

Among all the most amazing places on earth, with all the wonders it offers, the Great Blue Hole of Belize is truly a natural marvel. Its existence and influence in contemporary lifestyle equally, is quite impressive making it a worthy topic to be discussed.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

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