Completing 20 dives, the organization’s Stingray 500 submarine ferried a number of people the Blue Hole’s depths, including Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, and Fabien Costeau, famed aquanaut and grandson of ocean conservation pioneer Jacques-Yves Costeau. Their dive was live-broadcast on The Discovery Channel on December 2, where they discussed the importance of protecting the seas and coral reefs, like those that line the walls of the Blue Hole.
The Belize Blue Hole has been a site of myth and imagination. Significantly deeper than the surrounding water, the location has been a magnet for a myriad of marine life and large underwater creatures that don’t live in the adjacent shallows. Inside the hole is a complex system of caves that once formed on dry land before sea levels rose by about 300 feet during the last Ice Age, which showcase giant stalactites, dripstone sheets, and columns.
Branson was expecting the journey to uncover “Mayan mysteries and myths of monsters and wonder.” Instead the billionaire businessman found plastic bottles and signs of climate change.
“As for the mythical monsters of the deep? Well, the real monsters facing the ocean are climate change—and plastic,” he wrote. “Sadly, we saw plastic bottles at the bottom of the hole, which is a real scourge of the ocean. We’ve all got to get rid of single-use plastic.
“At 300 feet down you could see the change in the rock where it used to be land and turned into sea,” he continues. “It was one of the starkest reminders of the danger of climate change I’ve ever seen. We then tried to go through a thick hydrogen sulphide layer, which had formed over centuries. It was extremely eerie. We didn’t expect to see any creatures below. But when we got to the bottom we could see crabs, conches and other creatures that had fallen into the hole, arrived on the bottom and then ran out of oxygen and died.”
As well as its 3D sonar map, the team gathered information on the water quality and oxygen levels, and recorded high-resolution footage of the interior of the sinkhole.
The trip also aimed to highlight Ocean Unite’s mission to promote conservation awareness and protect at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.
Building on the success of the Blue Hole expedition, Aquatica Submarines hopes to bring its innovative submersibles to other international destinations. Its crafts are piloted by humans, and are currently used for scientific, commercial, and recreational pursuits. The company is aiming to put more researchers inside its submarines to examine previously unstudied underwater phenomena firsthand.
“We’ve got some Caribbean expeditions coming up,” says Harvey Flemming, president of Aquatica Submarines. "We’ve got some southern Pacific expeditions coming up—maybe Asia. We’ve got several that are in planning stages right now. [We’re] taking the model that we put together with Belize…and doing other expeditions where we can again create awareness, explore more parts of the ocean, continue validating the submersible aspect, and taking that further—as far as we can.”
Source: The Georgia Straight