The Great Blue Hole Of Belize
One of the most unique diving spots on the globe, the Great Blue Hole of Belize is widely considered to be a natural wonder. Also known as the Belize Blue Hole, this nearly perfectly circular underwater sinkhole measures 300 meters (984) feet across and 124 meters (407 feet) deep. Located roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) off the coast of mainland Belize, the Great Blue Hole is in the center of the Lighthouse Reef, a large coral colony measuring approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) long.
Originally formed during the last Ice Age approximately 15,000 years ago, the Great Blue Hole is an underwater cave complete with enormous stalactites. Part of the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef in the world, the Great Blue Hole has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. In 1971, the famous explorer Jacques Cousteau arrived at the Great Blue Hole to conduct investigations, declaring it to be one of the top 10 diving sites on the planet.
Marine life is abundant in and around the Great Blue Hole, and divers can view nurse sharks, reef sharks, and schools of giant grouper fish. Most diving trips to the Great Blue Hole require a full day, and usually consist of two dives in the shallower nearby reefs before attempting the more challenging dive into the Great Blue Hole itself.
NASA scientist Glyn Collinson, an avid diving enthusiast who has explored the Great Blue Hole, described his experience. “I marveled as I descended into the deep sapphire waters, down into a hole of unimaginable depths. We followed a ledge that dropped off into dark, deep blue waters until we reached the caverns, first formed thousands of years ago. During unimaginably long eons, water merged with the rock to build colossal stone cathedrals, growing enormous multicolored stalactites and stalagmites. When the the ice caps melted, the Caribbean Sea filled these caverns with warm tropical waters, hiding the last rays of the sun from sight.”
Diving the Great Blue Hole
Beginning divers are not encouraged to start with the Great Blue Hole, as this area requires a certain level of expertise. Experienced and adventurous divers, however, will begin their exploration of the Great Blue Hole with a descent to approximately 40 feet (12 meters) to reach a limestone shelf that forms the perimeter of the hole. After a brief pause, the dive continues into the dark blue abyss, where the light begins to fade. At around 60 feet down, divers can start to catch glimpses of the numerous Caribbean Reef sharks that call the Great Blue Hole home. After a pause of 10-12 minutes, the dive continues ever downwards until about 100 feet (30 meters), where the gigantic underwater caverns start to come into view. Distinguished by the large stalagmites and stalactites, divers will soon enter a unique underwater realm.
Entering the caverns, divers are now at a depth of about 132 feet (40 meters), experiencing the beatific silence and beauty of the cavern. Threading your way through large stalactites, divers can see nurse sharks and the occasional hammer head shark twist and zoom through the waters. After exploring the caverns, divers will begin their ascent, taking proper precautions to prevent a build-up of nitrogen in their bloodstream. Most dives in the Great Blue Hole last about 25 to 30 minutes, but feel like an eternity, as time passes glacially slow inside the sapphire depths. One thing is for sure – you’ll immediately want to dive again into the blue abyss, as the sights and experience are truly unforgettable.
Modern History of the Great Blue Hole
Only a few archeological remains attest to a small Mayan presence on the atolls near the Great Blue Hole. Starting in 1528, Spanish conquerers mapped the coastline, and drew the first charts showing the Great Blue Hole. Today, no one knows what the original inhabitants of the region called the Great Blue Hole, and maps from the Spanish colonial period show a profusion of names. Starting in the 1750s, the area fell under British control, the period in which the nearby atolls, reefs, islands, and the Great Blue Hole acquired their curent names.
In 1836, the intrepid biologist and explorer Charles Darwin arrived off the coast of Belize, where he and his crew explored the Belize Barrier Reef and the Great Blue Hole. In his writings, Darwin described the area as the “richest and most amazing coral reefs in the entire Caribbean Sea.”
In 1971, the television star and famous marine biologist Jacques Cousteau arrived on his ship Calypso, and began investigating the rich underwater treasures of the Great Blue Hole. After that landmark arrival, divers from around the world began flocking to the area to explore the sapphire depths of the Great Blue Hole.
Interesting Facts about the Great Blue Hole
1.) The Belize Blue hole is known to be one of the most stunning areas located in the Lighthouse Reef and is also considered a diving paradise.
2.) The Belize Blue Hole is not only the most unique area in the world, but is also the only blue hole that may be seen from space.
3.) This blue hole is almost a perfect circle and is over 1,000 feet or 305 meters wide and 480 feet or 146 meters deep.
4.) The Belize Blue Hole is in a cave that was formed above sea level. This may be proved by the fact that Stalagmites and Stalactites are unable to form underwater, and are only able to be formed due to constant dripping that is seen on stalagmites in many cave systems above ground.
5.) The area that holds the Belize Blue Hole is a World Heritage site and is one of many protected areas in Belize.
6.) The best spot for diving or snorkeling is within the first 40 feet of water above the Belize Blue Hole. Anything that is below that point is for experienced divers only.
7.) What people don’t really know is that the Belize Blue Hole only has 2 safe diving areas. You can go to the north side, which is the most popular side for large boats, since it is easier to access from there. The south side only allows small boats access due to specific wind directions. So, in order to dive, it must be done within the holes circumference.
8.) The Blue Hole doesn’t create that much circulation, so very little oxygen tends to reach the deepest part of the hole. This causes very few marine creatures the ability to survive there, even though bacteria seems to thrive.
9.) What makes the Belize Blue Hole so interesting is the fact that over 500 rare plants and animals that are located only in this area.
10.) Because Jacques Cousteau made his famous dive in 1960’s, a large number of scuba divers have started traveling to the Belize Blue Hole.
11.) The blue, deep waters of the Belize Blue Hole are the habitat to many hammerhead and black tip tigers. Although, all that you are likely to come upon is your diving partner during your expedition.
Amazing Photos of the Great Blue Hole