While there are a gazillion places to explore on the surface of the earth, under water adventures have its own intrigue and excitement. The thriving marine life, the silence and the bigger- than- us sense of awe that envelopes us is quite an experience. Many underwater wonders, be they man-made or natural, are accessible to humans and have become popular spots for those looking for some offshore adventures. Dive into these spots and be engulfed by the mystery and marine life.
The Great Blue Hole, Belize
Near the centre of the Lighthouse Reef in Belize is the 125 metres deep Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole that attracts divers from all over. Jacques Cousteau, a French naval officer and explorer, made the site popular when he declared it to be one of the top five scuba diving sites around the world.
The hole is 300 metres wide and although the sapphire- blue, circular sinkhole can look inviting, it is best suited for experienced divers. The site is surrounded by coral reefs and is accessible by two narrow channels. If you’re heading to the hole for some snorkelling, then the rim of the hole is an abundance of corals, sea anemones, elk horn and starlets. Plenty of marine life is found in the shallow area- angelfish, butterfly fish, Pederson’s shrimp, gobies and other fish race around in groups.
Inside the blue hole is crystal clear water. The water may be clear, but very little light penetrates deeper into the hole. Heading further into the hole requires you to stay calm. There will be very little light, the temperature of the water will be extremely low, and you will feel sensory deprivation. The walls will be laid with sea plants, worms and algae.
Since the hole is accessible only through two narrow channels, the weather will decide your diving spot- either from the north or south side. Underwater, there are stalactites and stalagmites. There are caves, tunnels and caverns. You’ll encounter plenty of marine animals like blacktip sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, bull sharks, hammerheads, nurse sharks and parrotfish. Further at the bottom is sand and an accumulation of debris over the years. Once you’re done exploring the deep, a slow ascent to the rim is the best way to offload the nitrogen that you absorbed during the dive.
The Great Blue Hole is accessible by boat from Ambergris Caye (around 3 hours) and Placencia (around 4 hours). You’ll always be accompanied by a guide for exploring.
Cancun Underwater Museum, Mexico
Nestled in between the islands of Cancun and Isla Mejeres is the Cancun Underwater Museum or Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA). This unique project was started to preserve the nearby coral reefs from the divers and currently, there are 500 life-sized statues scattered on the ocean floor.
The idea of an underwater museum started taking root when Jaime Gonzalez Canto, Director of the Cancun National Marine Park, noticed the damage caused to the coral reefs of Cancun by divers, snorkelers and anchors. The damage to the coral reefs subsequently affected marine life. Upon extensive research, he came across the British artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Taylor had created the sculptors for the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park in the Caribbean Sea. Creating concrete sculptors and placing them on the ocean floor to create artificial reefs was exactly what Canto was looking for, and Taylor was contracted to create almost 500 sculptors. Other international artists include Karen Salinas Martinez (Mexican), Rodrigo Quiñones Reyes (Mexican), Jessica Miles (English) and Nelson Gamboa (Columbian). Together with a team of local workers, the museum began to take shape.
The first few sculptors were lowered into the ocean in 2009. Towards the end of 2010, many of Taylor’s sculptors were installed and on November 27th 2010, Museo Subacuático de Arte officially opened. By the end of 2013, 500 statues had been installed. Each of the statues depicts some sort of message- all to do with humans and their interactions, effects and relationship with nature. You might be wondering how concrete statues lowered onto the ocean floor will help preserve natural coral reefs. Well, the statues are made of pH- neutral marine cement, so seaweed, algae and coral are able to grow. Moreover, apart from the growth of coral, the statues have holes in them to enable the colonization of marine life and feed off the corals. Tourists have the option of diving and snorkelling into the ocean to gaze at the sculptors. For those who wish to enjoy the sculptors without having to get into the water, there are guided tours on glass-bottomed boats.
The museum is accessible by ferry. You can board a ferry at four different spots: Punta Sam, Cancun Hotel Zone, Puerto Juarez and Gran Puerto Cancun.
Orda Cave, Russia
Beneath the innocent looking grassy foothills of the Ural Mountains in the village of Orda, Perm Krai, Russia, lies one of the most dazzling spots for divers. The Orda Cave is made of gypsum and stretches for more than 5 km. Most of it is underwater. The gypsum rock lining the walls of the cave is white and light and the water is extremely clear, making it beautiful for divers.
The cave is made of gypsum and anhydrite rocks. Both these are extremely soluble in water, so it’s not surprising that parts of these rocks break away from time to time. Old passages become blocked while new passages are opened. The cave has never stopped structurally changing and rearranging itself.
Geological activities like shifting of tectonic plates and deepening of rivers caused the gypsum to crack. The rivers dissolved the gypsum in the long run and formed sinkholes and pits, which was how the entrance to the underground wonderland was discovered. The cave opened up in the 1970s. Initially, expert divers had to explore the cave’s then narrow passages to predict the cave’s size and the temperature of the water. By the 2000s, Orda Cave was accessible and open to tourists for diving and exploration.
You can get to the cave by first landing in Perm via flight. It takes around two hours to reach Orda Village and the entrance to the opening of the cave is 1. 5 km north- west of the village.
Christ of the Abyss, Italy
Plenty of Jesus Christ’s statues adorn the earth above ground, but the Christ of the Abyss in San Fruttuoso, Italy, is the first underwater statue. The statue is made of bronze and depicts Jesus with his face and arms upraised, offering a benediction of peace.
The statue was installed in the sea on August 22, 1954. Standing 2.5 metres tall, it was Guido Galleti who sculptured it on the order of Duilio Marcante, an Italian diving instructor. Marcante wanted to honour his friend, Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use scuba gear. Gonzatti died in 1947 during a diving expedition, and the statue is placed at the spot where Gonzatti died. Later, the statue was dedicated in memory of Marcante. To preserve the statue, cleaning and restoration is done occasionally. Each year, on the last Sunday of July, a ceremony is held on the San Fruttuoso beach to honour those who lost their lives at sea. A torch light mass is held and divers place flowers at the feet of Jesus underwater. After the original statue, a couple of other versions were made. One exists in Grenada, while another in the U.S.
The Christ of Abyss has become quite a popular spot for diving and encountering marine life. Diving here is unproblematic since it is in shallow waters. You will be greeted by Christ’s open arms and the marine life surrounding it.
To get to the spot, there are boats leaving the harbour at Santa Margherita Ligure.
The Sweepstakes Shipwrecks, Canada
Amongst many other shipwrecks, there are two shipwrecks lying in Big Tub Harbour in Canada frequented by people for diving and snorkelling.
The Sweepstakes is a massive schooner wreck lying at the bottom of Lake Huron. The vessel was built in Ontario, Canada in 1867. It was 119 feet long and 20 feet in depth, with two masts. Less than two decades later, on August 23, 1885, the schooner crashed into a rock near Cove Island and sank into shallow waters, near the Big Tub Light House. The hull was irreparably damaged. On September 3rd, a tug boat towed the wreck to Big Tub Harbour. All useful equipment was removed from the ship and the wreck sank to the bottom, where it lies to this day. Though diving and snorkelling is allowed, entering the ship isn’t, for both safety and conservation issues. The air exhaled by the scuba divers can get trapped inside the wreck, causing rapid corrosion.
The second shipwreck, City of Grand Rapids, sank in 1907. It was a double decked steamer which caught fire on October 29th, 1907, when at the docks of Little Tub Harbour. The Captain gave orders to tug the burning steamer away from the harbour and when it was done, the vessel drifted into Big Tub Harbour. After burning for a few days, the steamer came to rest at the end of the harbour where it sank.
The shipwrecks lie in the Fathom Five National Marine Park, where you can dive, snorkel or go on glass- bottomed tour boats.
Under Water Museum, Ukraine
At the western end of the Crimean Peninsula, at Cape Tarkhankut in Ukraine, lies an underwater museum, showcasing the busts of former Soviet leaders and small replicas of famous landmarks. Dive into the Black Sea and be greeted by the stern gaze of the former leaders.
This museum, also known as the Alley of Leaders, was formed in 1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Crowds of people had pulled down statues off their pedestals. Vladimir Broumenskyy, a scuba diver and native of Donetsk, took the bust of Lenin and placed it on the shore of the cape, much to the annoyance of the local residents. This prompted him to move the bust to the bottom of the Black Sea. Since its original creation, the museum has been growing in size. Divers are always looking to expand the collection and currently, there are around fifty statues. It includes busts of Stalin, Marx, Voroshilov, Dzerzhinsky and Gagarin, along with replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the London Bridge. Many other statues were taken to Moscow and turned into the Park of Fallen Heroes.
The museum is around a hundred metres off the coast of Cape Tarkhankut and is accessible by boat.
Sites in the Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea has more than its share of diving spots scattered around. Be it sunken vessels, coral reefs or the teeming marine life, it’s quite a treat to go diving here. Here are a few of them.
The Zenobia wreck is considered to be one of the best diving sites in the world. The Zenobia was a ferry that sank to the bottom of the sea during its maiden voyage in 1980. The massive wreck lies in the Larnaka Harbour in Cyprus and has much to offer to divers- the doors, the decks, propellers, the lorries the ferry was carrying at the time, a bridge, the cafeteria and marine life.
In Malta, there are two scenic sites in one place. Next to the fallen Azure Window in Dwejra in the west coast of Gozo, Malta is the Blue Hole, an enchanting spot for diving. Like the Great Blue Hole in Belize, diving here will introduce you to a dazzling array of marine life.
The Dragonisi Island, off the coast of Mykonos, has some of the most stunning rock formations. Dive into the sea and encounter the cavern walls and group of yellow sea anemones, seals and glassfish scuttling around.
The World Wars’ debris of sunken submarines and plane wrecks lie at the bottom of the sea at Cote d’Azur, France. The ruins and the marine life are something to dive for here!