Richard Branson Expiration of Beleze’s Blue HoleSimon Vetterli
With the historic scientific expedition to Belize’s Blue Hole fast approaching, Aquatica Submarines has announced Discovery Inc. as the Expedition media partner. Discovery will be conducting a live broadcast of the Expedition, which will be televised globally from 4pm-6pm EST on Sunday, December 2ndthrough the Discovery Channel.
The live broadcast will profile the Expedition team and follow them from the surface to the bottom of the Blue Hole. Aquatica’s Chief Pilot and Oceanographer, Erika Bergman, will be joined by Sir Richard Branson and Fabien Cousteau for this unique and truly historic event.
As they descend into the Blue Hole, there will be a discussion included on the live broadcast about ocean conservation and preservation. These topics are a key focus of the Expedition for all parties involved, and the live broadcast will help ensure that this vital message reaches viewers around the globe.
The Great Blue Hole is a large underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, a small atoll 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the mainland of Belize City.
The hole is circular in shape, over 300 metres (984 ft.) across and 125 metres (410 ft.) deep. The world’s largest natural formation of its kind, the Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Glyn Collinson, a NASA scientist who recently dived the Great Blue Hole described it thus:
“It was the deepest, deep blue hole imaginable; A chasm that fell away deep into the deep, dark blue. It had been forged out of solid rock as caverns, hundreds of thousands of years ago during the last ice age. For eons, water filtered through the rock and into these great stone cathedrals, breeding multicolored stalactites and stalagmites. Then, one by one they collapsed in on each other, creating a chasm four hundred feet deep. As Earth’s swollen polar ice-caps receded, the warm Caribbean ocean swept in to fill the chasm with boiling white hands, the last rays of sunlight struck the chasm’s floor. Then, as the limestone broke down, it began to rain tiny fragments of rock, which slowly began to fill the great Blue Hole.”
“Alright,” the dive master said, jolting me back to reality. “Welcome to the Blue Hole. This one is real deep, starting with a drop off from forty feet that goes right the way down to the bottom past 400 feet.” The man held up a detailed custom drawn map of the site and pointed as he talked. “We will go down fast to one hundred and thirty feet where stalactites come down from this overhang. We will stay there for a maximum of twelve minutes, starting from the time that the first pair gets there. We all need to keep together and watch each other. To make sure that you all keep an eye on your depth, the dive pair who goes the deepest will buy a round of drinks for everyone back at the Island.” ‘Great’, I thought, ‘so much for pushing our depth limits.’
Noted SCUBA diver, writer and photographer Rick Frehsee wrote the following account of his research on the Great Blue Hole:
Origin of the Belize Atolls
“Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef and the Turneffe Islands are all distinct anomalies in the Caribbean. Nothing else in the Western Hemisphere resembles a true coral atoll, except perhaps Chinchorro Reef, off Mexico’s southern Yucatan Peninsula (just above the Belize atolls). According to geologists they are even more unusual in that the origin of their formation does not seem to mirror the atolls of the Pacific Ocean, where rings of coral are better known.
“The ancient processes contributing to Belize atoll development may have begun as many as 70 million years ago and the atolls did not develop around subsiding volcanoes. Instead, they originated atop giant fault blocks; limestone covered ridges that settled in steps, providing a series of offshore platforms for coral growth. After the last ice age, with the slow rise of sea level, coral growth continued upward, creating the precipitous outer walls and the shallow inside lagoon that typifies these distinct formations. Many drop-offs surrounding the Belize atolls are thousands of feet deep, while depths in the shallow lagoons average 10 to 30 feet.”
Recent History: Belize Atolls and Great Blue Hole First Explored By Jacques Cousteau
“The sense of isolation and remoteness that accompanies a visit to the atolls, belies a rich history. Although only archaeological traces remain, it appears the ancient Maya inhabited at least a few of the atoll islands for more than 1,000 years. The recorded history of the atolls begins in the early 16th century with the arrival of the Europeans. From 1528 to 1532 Spanish explorers researched and and charted the coastline and offshore reefs of Belize and the Yucatan.
“Original names known to the indigenous inhabitants or given by the first Spanish explorers are now obscured. The only names that have survived are published on charts discovered decades after their making. It appears that Turneffe used to be called Terre Nef; Lighthouse Reef, Quattro Cayas (four cayes) or Eastern Reef; and Glover’s Reef, Longorif. The present names evolved with English discovery and occupation in the 1750s. Glover’s Reef was named for the English pirate John Glover, who used this particular atoll as a hideout. Lighthouse Reef was renamed after a navigational light was permanently established on Half Moon Caye.”
In 1836 the famous biologist-evolutionist Charles Darwin paid homage to these remarkable formations when he said the Belize atolls and the Belize Barrier Reef constitute “..the richest and most remarkable coral reefs in the entire western Caribbean.”
In the mid 1970s Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso made its famous investigation of the Great Blue Hole and the Belize atolls, which corresponds to the arrival of dive travel to the region. In 2018 a team headed by Sir Richard Branson announced plans to dive and map in 3D the Great Belize Blue Hole.