The Great Blue Hole

The unofficial national pastime in Belize is enjoying the often secluded and always intriguing natural environment that not only captivates the minds of visitors on the sandy peninsula of Placencia, but in Cayo where impressive ancient Mayan ruins tickle the imagination with mystery and art.

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is the home of exquisite waterfalls and natural pools. They are surrounded by lush vegetation and the notorious jungle cats. Belize is also the home of the second largest barrier reef in the world. The Lighthouse Reef System was made famous by the explorations of Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s. Jacques and the crew didn’t know what to expect in terms of marine life and underwater formations, so when divers discovered what is now call the Great Blue Hole they came up dripping with excitement.

Cousteau’s team started to do some research, and it wasn’t long before this 300 ft in diameter and 412 ft deep sinkhole, which is sixty miles off the coast of Belize City, was identified as an ancient underwater cave with a collapsed ceiling. The sinkhole is the center of an underwater tunnel system that may lead to the mainland. Millions of years ago a major earthquake caused the ceiling of the cave to collapse creating a sinkhole, and the reef itself was tilted to an angle of around 12 degrees.

The walls of the Great Blue Hole are ledges and overhangs. Those structures are the home of stalagmites and Pleistocene stalactites, and a few fish, but they are rarely spotted on a dive. The spectacular stalactites in the sink hole hang at an angle, but we know they cannot develop at any angle other than perpendicular so they offer divers an incredible geological experience.

At the time of the earthquake sea levels were much lower than they are today. At the end of the great ice age sea levels began to gradually rise, and the Great Blue Hole marks this process with the carved limestone shelves and ledges that occur at different depths. At one time the Great Blue Hole was not completely submerged.

The first ledges come into view at 150 ft and 165 ft and they can be explored at the south side. The base of each ledge is perfectly flat and cuts back into the limestone some 15 to 20 feet, which creates an ever-narrowing cavern until the roof reaches the floor in the back. That’s were the stalagmites and stalactites join and form columns.

The Great Blue Hole dive is one of those ah-ha moments when awareness shakes the cobwebs out of the mind and visions of unity abound, but an underwater trip around the reef would not be complete unless Half Moon Caye was part of the experience. Half Moon Caye is the home of the red feet booby birds that are only found on the Caye and in the Galapagos Islands.

The Half Moon Caye wall is covered with soft coral and huge barrel sponges, tube sponges, fans, and gorgonians. The wall drops 3,000 ft so the blue hue on ground of the shallow area makes this a movie-set experience of epic proportions, especially when lonesome sea turtles wander by, and garden eels try to camouflage themselves in the shallow bottom.

Like a giant pupil in a sea of tranquil turquoise, the Great Blue Hole sits near a 10,000 acre atoll waiting be experienced. It’s part of an open air aquarium renowned for its crystal clear water, abundant marine life, and thriving coral reef.