There are billionaires – not many but the number is growing. Some inherited their wealth. Others created their wealth but their life stories have become more annoying than inspiring (we’re looking at you – Jeff and Elon). Then there’s Sir Richard Branson. The owner of the Virgin Group of over 400 assorted companies, he’s always been an adventurer who’s now in the process of preparing for his first space flight. However, Sir Richard also travels in the opposite direction and in December 2018 he joined up with Fabien Cousteau to dive to the bottom of the mysterious Great Blue Hole in the Belize Barrier Reef. The submarine dive was broadcast live on the Discovery Channel and vessels remained at the hole for a few more weeks collecting data. Much of that data was made available this week and what Branson observed on the bottom of the Great Blue Hole sheds new light on the deepest, darkest sinkhole on the planet. What did he see?
“One of the top five scuba diving sites in the world.”
While the Great Blue Hole in the Caribbean off the coast of Belize has long been known about by local fishermen, it was exposed to the world in 1971 by Calypso Captain Jacques Cousteau on his famous television show. (You can watch the episode here.) While divers agree with Cousteau’s description, at 410 feet (125 meters), the sinkhole is too deep for scuba divers to see the bottom. In December 2018, Richard Branson joined Cousteau’s grandson Fabien and a team of scientists in two submarines and descended to the bottom of the hole with cameras, sonar and 3D mapping equipment. Erika Bergman was the chief pilot, oceanographer and operations manager. (See pictures from the expedition here.) While that descent was broadcast on the Discovery Channel, it has taken until now to create the map, which Bergman revealed to CNN Travel.
"We did our complete 360 sonar map and that map is now almost complete. It looks really cool, it's this mesh-layered, sonar scan of the entire thousand-foot diameter hole."
Bergman gave new details on the expedition. The team encountered never-before-seen stalactites at 407 feet near the bottom – which makes sense because it’s believed the Great Blue Hole was once a great big cave on dry land before the area became the Caribbean. Passing through the hydrogen sulfide layer at 300 feet, all surface light is gone, along with any oxygen that could support fish or other life forms. However, they found remains of dead sea creatures on the bottom. Unfortunately, they also found evidence of humans.
"There were basically two or three little pieces of plastic -- and other than that, it was really, really clear.”
And something else. On the bottom of the Great Blue Hole, Bergman reveals that the team found some tracks. Of what?
“(That remains) open to interpretation."
Tracks! That alone should generate enough interest to fund another expedition, right?
“It’s neat that there are spaces on our planet — and most of them in the oceans — that are exactly the way they were thousands of years ago and will remain exactly the way they are thousands of years in the future.”
It sounds like Sir Richard has already moved on in the opposite direction to infinity and beyond while Captain Bergman says she's already planning for a similar expedition to the depths around the Virgin Islands. That leaves Fabien Cousteau to go back and look at the tracks.
What would Grandpa Jacques do, Fabien?