Hole in the Heart of the Ocean

A mysterious hole in the ocean turns out to be not so mysterious.

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The Great Blue Hole in Belize appears as a perfectly round void in the otherwise dotted seascape of the shallow waters of Lighthouse Reef.  Nearly a thousand feet across, it imposes itself on the dive boats which move through.  At over four hundred feet deep, even with the crystal clear waters, it is impossible to see the bottom.

Just beyond Belize’s barrier reef system, (it’s the world’s second longest), this natural wonder is about forty nautical miles offshore.  Stretching 28 miles north to south, Lighthouse Reef has six islands, complete with palm trees, beaches and iguanas.  The surreal geometric oddity is near the center, a dark circle in a turquoise dream.  Divers have discovered corals, sharks and clues to its origin.

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Up until the 70’s, this sinkhole was unnamed and mostly unknown.  Famous explorer Jacques Cousteau descended into the abyss to find ledges, a cave and large stalactites which can only form above water.  Carbon dating tells us that these were formed as early as 150,000 years ago, when the Great Blue Hole formed as a limestone cave — on land!  At that time this area was above sea level, covered in forests as mega glaciers had locked up much of the world’s water.  The sinkhole formed in four stages, forming ledges before finally the water overcame it about 12,000 years ago.

In 1996, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected by the Belize Audubon Society, named Blue Hole Natural Monument.  While there are very little living things to be protected in the hole, the undisturbed bottom is valuable to science.  Acting as a sediment trap, falling dust particles fall in convenient layers, recording the history of the planet.

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The Great Blue Hole enjoys its relatively new life as a tourist spot;  regular trips depart from Belize, taking a few hours to reach the reef.  Snorkeling and kayaking are average ways to enjoy the area, but experienced divers would do well to join or organize a special scuba trip.  Planes and helicopters are able to be chartered for those who would appreciate it from the air.

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