Great Blue Hole - click for info
The Blue Hole is located in the center of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. It's 1000' across and about 480' at its deepest - in other words, it has about the same volume as three New Orleans Superdomes! For millions of years the Blue Hole was a dry cave and for this period, huge stalactites and stalagmites slowly formed. When the last ice age ended thousands of years ago, sea levels rose about 300' covering the cave. At sometime the ceiling collapsed leaving the hole you can see today. When diving the Blue Hole, you swim under what is left of the old ceiling to view the remaining stalactites and stalagmites.
A feature attraction of Diving in Belize, Especially for divers with a appreciation of geographical phenomena, is the opportunity to explore the famed Blue Hole. Part of the Lighthouse Reef System, it lies approximately 60 miles off the mainland out of Belize City.
It is one of the most astounding dive sites to be found anywhere on earth, right in the center of Lighthouse Reef is a large, almost perfectly circular hole approximately one quarter of a mile(.4 km) across. Inside this hole the water is 480 feet (145 m) deep and it is the depth of water which gives the deep blue color that causes such structures throughout the world to be known as "blue holes."
Like a giant pupil in a sea of turquoise, The Blue Hole is a perfectly circular limestone sinkhole more than 300 feet across and 412 feet deep. The array of bizarre stalactites and limestone formations which mould its walls seem to become more intricate and intense the deeper one dives. Near to The Blue Hole, one of Belize's largest protected areas, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, encompasses 10,000 acres of the atoll and 15 square miles of surrounding waters.
The diameter of the circular reef area stretches for about 1,000 feet and provides an ideal habitat for corals to attach and flourish. The coral actually breaks the surface in many sections at low tide. Except for two narrow channels, the reef surrounds the hole. The hole itself is the opening to a system of caves and passageway that penetrate this undersea mountain. In various places, massive limestone stalactites hang down from what was once the ceiling of air-filled caves before the end of the last Ice Age. When the ice melted the sea level rose, flooding the caves.
The temperature in the Blue Hole at 130ft is about 76F with hardly any change throughout the year at that depth.
For all the practical purposes the over 400-foot depth makes the Blue Hole a bottomless pit. The walls are sheer from the surface until a depth of approximately 110 feet where you will begin to encounter stalactite formtions which actually angle back, allowing you to dive underneath monstrous overhangs. Hovering amongst the stalactites, you can't help but feel humbled by the knowledge that the massive formation before you once stood high and dry above the surface of the sea eons ago. The feeling is enhanced by the dizzying effect of nitrogen breathed at depths. The water is motionless and the visibility often approaches 200 feet as you break a very noticeable thermocline.
In the deeper waters of the Blue Hole itself, you might see a curious blacktip tiger or hammerhead shark, but on most dives you won't see anyone except your dive buddy. Little light reaches the depths of the Hole and water does not circulate freely. As a result, the deeper areas inside the Blue Hole don't have the profusion of life associated with most drop-offs. But as you venture into the shallows around the rim of the Blue Hole to off-gas after your dive, you will discover a wonderful area filled with life.
Pederson's cleaning shrimp are everywhere inhabiting the ringed and knobby anemones. With the frantic waving of their antennae, these shrimp invite you, along with passing fishes, to be cleaned. Neon gobies also advertise their cleaning setvices from the various coral heads. Angelfish, butterflyfish hamnlets and small groupers are also commonly seen. Elkhorn coral grows to the surface and purple seafans, resplendent of their rich hues, sweep at the calm surface waters. If you look up, you will double your pleasure as you catch the reflections of sea fans in the aquamarine mirror of the calm water.
Dive boats leave very early in the morning - most guides bring sweet buns for those who can't find any place to eat in the early moring hours. Bring your own coffee, however.
One can get mildly narked in back-set caves 150' down in clear, still water, filled with 25 to 50 foot long stalactites.
Guides pole the group and chum in sharks on a majority vote. Bull, Reef and Hammer Head sharks found here, that look enormous, even from behind the protection of a handy stalagmite.
A rare - wonderful dive. However this is truly a techical category decompression dive, not recommended for newbys or resort dive qualified divers. (The bottom of Blue Hole is over 400 feet down and the wall slopes back, such that one must have absolute buoyancy control rather than to depend on something to grasp if starting to plummet while descending. Likewise - ballooning is equally deadly to ones health when coming up from 150 plus feet and requires excellent buoyancy control. Decompression times are around 10 to 15 minutes at 20 feet.). The best dive guides anchor a spare tank and regulator at your 20 foot deco spot, usually at the permanent mooring anchor located around the rim of the Blue Hole, which your boat moors too.
The rim of the hole starts about 30-35 feet, just a rock wall until you get down to the stalagtites.
For anyone who wants to dive into the geologic past, exploring the Blue Hole is guaranteed to be a rewarding experience.
In 1972, Jacques Cousteau took his famous research ship, Calypso into the Blue Hole, pioneering a route that is still used by the dive trade today. There were two popular rumors that sprang up regarding Cousteau's visit. The first was that Cousteau used explosives to blast a path through the atoll to reach the Blue Hole. This is not true. The second rumor was that Philippe Cousteau lost his life in the Blue Hole during that trip. This is nonsense. Philippe was killed when his aircraft-a converted Catalina - came in to land in Lisbon, Portugal a few years later.
Almost all the divers who visit Belize are keen to add this splendid dive site to their list of conquests. When they understand what the hole is and how it was formed, it makes the dive all the more exciting. The Blue Hole is a "karst- eroded sinkhole." It was once a cave at the center of an underground tunnel complex whose ceiling collapsed. Some of the tunnels are thought to be linked right through to the mainland, though this has never been conclusively proved. The mainland itself has many water-filled sinkholes that are connected to caves and tunnels.
At some time many millions of years ago, two distinct events occurred. First, there was a major earthquake and this probably caused the cave ceiling to collapse forming the sinkhole. The upheaval, however, had the effect of tilting Lighthouse Reef to an angle of around 12 degrees. All along the walls of this former cavern are overhangs and ledges, housing pleistocene stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Some of the stalactites now hang at an angle, yet we know they cannot develop at any angle other than perfectly perpendicular. In addition, there are those stalactites which were formed after the earthquake and others which were formed both before and after that cataclysmic event-the top of the stalactite being at an angle and the bottom being perpendicular.
At that time the sea levels were much lower than today and the second major event was to change all this. At the end of the Great Ice Age the glaciers melted and sea levels throughout the world rose considerably. This process occurred in stages. Evidence for this are the shelves and ledges, carved into the limestone by the sea, which run the complete interior circumference of the Blue Hole at various depths. The first of these ledges is found between 150 and 165 feet (45-50m) and is best visited on the south side. The base of the ledge is perfectly flat and cuts back into the rock some 15 to 20 feet (5-6 m). This creates an ever-narrowing cavern until the roof reaches the floor right at the back. Here in the V-shaped ledges, cut into solid limestone, are stalactites, stalagmites and columns (where stalactites and stalagmites have joined) which do not exist in the shallower waters of the Blue Hole.
There is very little marine life in the hole, and the walls are of bare rock largeiy due to the scarcity of direct sunlight on the walls, but this hardly matters. Occasionally a lone hammerhead
shark is seen, but the general lack of fish, and therefore food, suggests that the creature was simply passing through. The only other fish I have seen were four pompano, but other species have
been seen, especially on the south side. Lemon and blacktip sharks, and horse-eyed jacks are
spotted with some regularity.
Diving the Blue Hole is not for beginners, although anyone can complete a shallow dive and claim to have dived this marvelous wonder of nature. The deeper one dives into the Blue Hole, the clearer the water and the more breathtaking the scenery. But diving deeper than sport diving depths is for specialists only and cave diving requires even more training and equipment. This type of diving is not generally available in Belize, but a few groups have visited the Blue Hole in order to explore the tunnels and caves which extend from within. On the western side at a depth of 230 feet (70 m), there is an entrance through a narrow tunnel into a large cavern. In total darkness the stalactites, stalagmites and columns exist in an undisturbed world. The floor is covered with a'very fine silt which billows into great clouds with the slightest movement from a passing diver. In the farthest corner, another narrow tunnel leads upwards into a second cavern and then another leads finally to a third cavern. Here are the skeletal remains of turtles which found their way in but never found their way out. This is the very danger which faces a diver. Now at a depth of only 100 feet (30 m) he must find his way back by the same route down to 230 feet (70 m) before he can commence his surfacing and decompression schedule. if he, his buddy or even a turtle have stirred up the silt, the chances are he will never find his way out again. For those qualified cave divers, this is a very rewarding dive.
The Great Blue Hole is not marked on Admiralty Charts-the task of a survey ship is to map that portion of reef which represents a danger to shipping. The hole is found almost exactly in the center of the reef on a course of 3300 from Harrier Wreck. An entire diving trip to Belize is worth the effort and expense for this single dive.
Contrary to rumors, although Cousteau did explore the depths of the Blue Hole with his minisubmersibles in the 60's, he did not lose his son Philippe here, he died elsewhere in a helicopter accident. Neither did Cousteau randomly use explosives to destroy the patch reefs while navigating the Calypso in the Blue Hole. He did selectively remove, by limited blasting, a very small area to enable the Calypsoto reach the Blue Hole.
Several divers have lost their lives in the Blue Hole for various reasons, and as usual, caution is the rule and divers should be fully aware of safety as cave diving rules will apply when they enter the stalagtite-stalagmite area.
Traditionally, before the 1960's, the Blue Hole, because of its awesomeness, was a place very much respected and feared by all who saw it. Lighthouse Reef, an atoll approximately 25 miles long and 10 to 12 miles wide, has a typical enclosed lagoon. The depths in this lagoon vary from 5 to 25 ft., and in it there are many scattered coral formations known as patchreefs. In the northeastern section of this otherwise shallow lagoon a mariner will come across this indigo blue apparent abyss. Up to the 60's old timers would claim that this hole was bottomless. Because such a blue hole was so striking against a background of tranquil pastel greens of the shallow atoll lagoon, one may be reminded poetically of Homer's accounts in the "Odyssey" of the whirlpool Charybdis that gave one a choice of two dangers. IN THE BLUE HOLE THERE ARE NO WHIRLPOOL LIKE
CURRENTS, SO DIVERS NEED NOT FEAR THIS.
The Blue Hole is the result of the repeated collapses of a cave system formed during lower sea level stands. The reason that the hole is 475 deep instead of the shallower 390 foot depth is that this atoll is on a geological fault block that has been subsiding into the basin through geologic time.
First Blue Hole Diving Expedition
In the early 60's, Al Giddings, noted underwater cinematographer and pioneer, first dove in the Blue Hole. Al Giddings chartered a boat called The Geek (a 40 ft. U.S. Navy surplus Captain's Gig").
The Geek was owned by an ex-U.S. Navy frogman, Richard Moore, who started one of the earliest SCUBA diving businesses in Cuba in 1959. Because at the political climate in Cuba, Dick moved to
the coast of Yucatan and participated in diving the shipwreck off Matanceros. This was a Spanish galleon apparently coming from the Old World to the New World as mentioned in the prior shipwreck section as Nuestra Senora de los Milagros and was carrying trade items to deliver to the New World. A vessel like this probably would not be carrying large amounts of gold and silver, but Dick& expressed that some of the divers found about 9 lbs of gold leaf. Dick, the first real underwater SCUBA diving pioneer in Belize, subsequently moved to Ambergris Caye and bought some property in the Bacalar Chico area. Subsequently "Dick" sold his property and moved to southern Belize off Punta Gorda, to an island called Frenchman's or Peter's Caye, and continued his diving explorations in southern Belize. When he died, his request was to be buried on his island, and his request was granted.