A team of scientists – including billionaire Virgin, Richard Branson – has returned from a revolutionary mission at the bottom of Belize's Great Blue Hole with exciting discoveries.
The Great Blue Hole is the largest pit in the world, measuring 300 meters wide and about 125 meters deep.
The team also included Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, who put the Blue Hole on the map in 1971. The group began their journey in December 2018, determined to discover the secrets at the bottom of the Blue Hole.
With the help of two submarines, the expedition captured new images and new images inside the Blue Hole and created the first 3D map of its interior.
"We made our 360 sonar complete map and this map is now almost complete. It's really cool, it's this layered sonar analysis of the whole thousand-foot-diameter hole, "Erika Bergman, chief pilot, oceanographer and operations manager, told CNN Travel.
Dispatches from the depths
Bergman says that one of the most interesting discoveries is that of stalactites, a type of ice-shaped mineral formations, located about 407 feet in the hole, very near the bottom.
"It was exciting because they had never been mapped before, they had not been discovered before," she says.
Bergman said that the experience of being immersed in the dark depths was rather incredible.
"The hydrogen sulphide layer is one of the craziest aspects of the hole," says Bergman.
The layer drops to about 300 feet, cutting out all the light and plunging the divers into darkness.
"You lose all the Caribbean sunlight and it becomes completely black. It's totally anoxic without any life, "says Bergman.
But thanks to their high resolution sonar, Bergman and his team could see the complex features of the hole.
"You can be 20 or 30 meters away from a stalactite or a large piece of wall and see it in great detail, better than the sight could even provide," she says.
Curiously, everything that the team found could not be identified. They found unidentifiable traces at the bottom of the hole – Bergman says they remain "subject to interpretation".
The team was also pleased to see that the Blue Hole was virtually waste free.
"There were basically two or three small pieces of plastic – and apart from that, it was really very clear," says Bergman, highlighting the work of the Belize Audubon company, which helps protect the hole.
Bergman says that there is very little visible human impact.
"It's nice that there are spaces on our planet – and most of them in the oceans – that are exactly as they were thousands of years ago and that will remain exactly as they will be in the to come up."
Live from the ocean
The "Blue Hole Belize 2018" expedition aired live on the Discovery Channel on Sunday, December 2, 2018.
The original goal was to broadcast live from the bottom of the hole. It turned out to be tricky, but the team still found a way to bring the experience to the home.
"We dipped in the morning before the livestream, and then the film was very open and very clear about the fact that the footage was shot a few hours ago," says Bergman.
Bergman and the rest of the team are enthusiastic in search of other innovative ways to transfer images of the ocean to personal pocket devices.
It names the international space station and how astronauts live from the sky, transmitting people with them.
"Attracting people in that – the way people are fascinated by astronauts – by giving them a chance to relate that to deep ocean exploration, I think it's done through the 39, live interaction, "says Bergman.
Leave no trace
After the December 2 dive, the vessels monitored the site for two weeks to obtain all the data needed to create a 360-degree sonar chart.
"We did not leave any equipment. We only take photos and leave only footprints, "says Bergman.
The team is currently preparing an upcoming expedition to the waters of the British Virgin Islands. They do not plan to broadcast live, but they hope to have images and results equally interesting.