The Great Blue Hole is located only 60 miles off the coast of Belize's mainland. The site can be found not far from another aquatic attraction, Lighthouse Reef, a miniature atoll that is a mere 12.4 miles from Belize City. The Great Blue Hole is characterized by its unbelievably deep and rich blue colors, as well as its perfectly circular shape. It has been charted as being 984 feet across, and reaches 410 feet in depth. It is believed to have been formed during a series of natural events, known as 'quaternary glaciation', which occur every time sea levels are measured at their lowest. Explorers who have conducted extensive studies of the stalactites found in the Great Blue Hole have concluded that the formation likely occurred some 15,000 years back. Water temperature in the waters at 130 feet are typically around 76oF, and this figure remains fairly constant all year round.
No one other than the famous Jacques Cousteau can be given more credit for making the site hugely as popular as it is today. Cousteau did so by declaring it to be one of the best diving sites in the world. He made this claim in the year 1971 when he took his ship, the Calypso, to the hole with the original intent of charting its depths. Nowadays, the Great Blue Hole is a frequently visited spot for recreational scuba divers, who are keen on meeting such rare sea creatures as the Midnight Parrotfish as well as a host of other unique and interesting fish species to be found within the hole's depths.
It has often been said that the deeper one ventures into the Great Blue Hole, the water becomes even more clear. In these pure deep waters, the wondrous limestone formations and the strange stalactites accompanying them become more intense and pronounced in their features. Charles Darwin paid tribute to these remarkable formations by proclaiming the Belize Barrier Reef constituted “…the richest and most remarkable coral reefs in the entire western Caribbean.” In 2012, the site was declared by the National Geographic Society to be one of the 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth, ranking alongside majestic waterfalls, lost cities, and luxury resorts from all over the world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also declared the Great Blue Hole to be a World Heritage site, as part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.
Like most protected coral reefs, the Great Blue Hole has some of the most diverse aquatic flora and fauna one could ever fathom. Besides the aforementioned Midnight Parrotfish, the sight of which is commonly sought after by divers, Caribbean Reef sharks, Hammerheads, and Bull sharks, as well as the Pederson’s cleaning shrimp, the Angelfish and Elkhorn coral, all thrive within the Great Blue Hole. Alongside them can be found resplendent purple sea fans, all of which one can see at a maximum depth of 90 feet under the surface.
Any experienced diver will tell you that each expedition and every single plunge into the sea will have attached to it its own unique brand of danger to offer. Within the Great Blue Hole, this is further exacerbated by the lack of regulatory bodies governing S.C.U.B.A. Diving in Belize. Maximum depths of dives are neither clearly stated nor stringently enforced, and the U.S. Government Travel Advisory warns that the pieces of rental diving equipment being offered in the country are not always properly inspected or maintained. Anyone interested in snorkeling or diving this site would be well served in double checking the licenses and equipment of any prospective tour operators before any transactions are made final and they place their lives in someone else's hands within the unforgiving Caribbean Sea.