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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 mi) from the mainland and Belize City. The hole is circular in shape, over 300 metres (984 ft) across and 125 metres (410 ft) deep. It was formed as a limestone cave system during the last glacial period when sea levels were much lower. As the ocean began to rise again, the caves flooded, and the roof collapsed. Believed to be the world’s largest feature of its kind, the Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
On-shore caves of similar formation, as large collapsed sinkholes, are well known in Belize.
This site was made famous by Jacques-Yves Cousteau who declared it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world. In 1971, he brought his ship, the Calypso, to the hole to chart its depths. Investigations by this expedition confirmed the hole’s origin as typical karst limestone formations, formed before rises in sea level in at least four stages, leaving ledges at depths of 21, 49 and 91 meters (69, 161 and 299 ft). Stalactites were retrieved from submerged caves, confirming their previous formation above sea level. Some of these stalactites were also off-vertical by 10°-13° in a consistent orientation, thus indicating that there had also been some past geological shift and tilting of the underlying plateau, followed by a long period in the current plane.
This is a popular spot amongst recreational scuba divers, who are lured by the opportunity to dive in crystal clear water and meet several species of fish, including giant groupers, nurse sharks and several types of reef sharks such as the Caribbean reef shark and the Blacktip shark. Other species of sharks, like the bull shark and hammerheads, have been reported there, but are not regular sightings. Usually, dive trips to the Great Blue Hole are full-day trips, which include one dive in the Blue Hole and two further dives in nearby reefs.
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