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#423301 - 11/26/11 10:36 AM Diving at the Blue Hole  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,674
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline
Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef in Belize

The Great Blue Hole… It is like the holy grail of diving spots in Belize.

I’ve been fascinated by this unique diving spot for a long time, even before becoming an advanced open water diver a month ago in Placencia. Actually, diving the Blue Hole was one of my main reasons of becoming an advanced diver, as this certification level is required to dive here.

The Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO site and one of the unique natural wonders Belize has to offer.

The sharp contrast of the 300-meter diameter navy blue sinkhole against the clear turquoise waters and reefs that surround it makes the Blue Hole an interesting and odd natural feature that attracts diving enthusiasts and snorkelers from around the world.

While you can reach to the Blue Hole from almost any part of Belize, the two main departure points are either Caye Caulker or San Pedro in Ambergris Caye.

My trip to the Blue Hole started at 5:30am, when I met with the guys from Big Fish Diving Center in Caye Caulker to pick up the diving equipment I had selected and fitted the day before. Big Fish is a local dive shop, but they are really good and very professional with their dives, plus they are cheaper and the Dive Masters are extremely friendly.

The over two hours boat ride to Lighthouse Reef, where the Blue Hole is located, was mostly uneventful but it was a great opportunity to get to meet the other divers who I shared the experience with. While the ride is a long one, it is well worth is since this dive trip is not just one dive at the hole and return to land; this is a 3-tank dive with the two other sites being Half Moon Wall and Long Caye Aquarium – both also at Lighthouse Reef.

I admit that it gave me chills when the captain said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the Blue Hole.” The reef that surrounds the hole like a ring has two entrances that allow boats to pass in and anchor on top of it. Since the Blue Hole is the main attraction of the trip and the deepest of the three dives, descending to 130ft (40m), it was the first one on the list.

After getting briefed with our dive plan for the day, we suited up and got ready for our step-in entry into the water. As I deflated my BC, I could feel my body descending, the pressure slowly building, the colors fading, the sea life vanishing.

Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef in Belize

While the Blue Hole is the most famous dive site in Belize, it is definitely not the most beautiful in terms of sea life and colors. Since the water inside the hole has a poor circulation, it has an environment that is unfavorable for most sea life. Nonetheless, diving here is still an experience because it IS the Blue Hole.

The most interesting part of the dive started when I reached 100ft (30m) in depth – the point where the stalactites, stalagmites and cave features revealed themselves extended into what seemed like a dark abyss.

Caves don’t form underwater, but there’s a theory that this cave was once above the water and then flooded when the sea level rose thousands of years ago. Eventually, the roof of the cave collapsed in a perfect circular shape, creating the hole we see today.

As we kept descending, we could see below us was a small group of Caribbean Reef Sharks circling the hole unperturbed, as if none of us were invading their space.

Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef in Belize

Once at the maximum depth of 130ft (40m), we swam for eight minutes between the spaces created by the stalactites and stalagmites and the rim of the hole. It felt like if diving in a primitive colonnade of a lost world swollen by the sea. The environment was dark and blue, and the water colder than the one 130 feet above us.

Once the eight minutes were up, we slowly ascended to 70 feet and then 50 feet, spending some time at each level to acclimate to the water pressure and to admire the different environments at each level. The higher we went, the more life and we saw. After our mandatory safety stop, we made it to surface and spent our 1-hour surface time on the boat –on the way to the second dive spot at Half Moon Caye.

Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef in Belize

The second and third dives, even though they are shallower at 70 ft and 50 ft, respectively, they are the best dives of the trip in terms of coral spotting, sea life identification, and colors. The third dive, Long Caye Aquarium, was my favorite since it displayed the biggest and healthiest variety of sea life including nurse sharks, turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lion fish, and many other types of fish and corals.

Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef in Belize

Between the two shallow dives, there was a lunch stop at Half Moon Key, where we had the chance to walk to the bird sanctuary to see the Red Footed Boobies, Ospreys, and Frigate Birds in their natural habitat.

By the end of the day I was so tired, the boat ride back to Caye Caulker was almost non-existent…

#423308 - 11/26/11 12:14 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Jan 2011
Posts: 259
PROBUS Offline
PROBUS  Offline
Good report, but a couple of corrections. I know of no operator in Belize that requires any qualification higher than PADI Open Water to dive the BH, and in fact uncertified divers have been taken there. The minimum should be PADI Deep Diver... And the depth most people dive to is generally about 150ft, not 130. The shelf that the stalagmites stand on is at 150ft.

#423311 - 11/26/11 12:55 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 12,006
elbert Offline
elbert  Offline
I'm sure anywhere you go there are a few jerks that break the rules. The dive is always planned for 130 feet and the Divemasters biggest concern is someone who wasn't paying attention in the orientation, slipping down to a deeper depth, granted PROBUS it seems like this is routinely violated.
Uncertified divers don't get to go. They don't get to sign up unless they show a valid card as a Open Water Diver and they are required to do a local warm up dive first. Again there are always renegades and I'm sure some ass has gone down there that's not certified, but honestly I don't know anyone that allows uncertified divers to go.
If your an Open Water Diver accompanied by a Divemaster the limit for the sport of recreational diving is 130 feet.Its a very chaperoned group dive that thousands have enjoyed safely.
[Linked Image]

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#423317 - 11/26/11 02:51 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Jan 2011
Posts: 259
PROBUS Offline
PROBUS  Offline
Agreed Elbert. But the principal operator here has certainly taken uncertified divers to and down the BH - I've been on the boat with one of them. Maybe not recently, but it has happened in the last few years.

As to the depth, I've always measured the maximum depth achieved by any divers in any groups I've been with, from six different operators. Frequently the 130ft "limit" has been exceeded, though I've never seen any recreational diver go below the shelf. On one such dive I stayed with the group throughout and we were at depth for 11 minutes before commencing our ascent, by which time my computer was a long way into deco. It still showed 20 minutes' deco when we returned to the safety tanks. Since I was the only person on the dive with a computer - the dive leader had a bottom timer and I didn't see any guests or other DMs with computers - only I knew what had really happened. The divers all thought they had been to 130ft whereas most had been to 150.

But as you say the dive is well marshalled. Every person on that dive made it back with no problems and I didn't hear of any delayed DCS in the group. So I'm not that worried, though it isn't good practice.

#423322 - 11/26/11 05:46 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 12,006
elbert Offline
elbert  Offline
Computers seem to be taking over. How deep how long is usually a big guesstamate with out one.
I've started believing in dive computers. The have come of age.

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#423326 - 11/26/11 08:47 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Jan 2011
Posts: 259
PROBUS Offline
PROBUS  Offline
They're tools, nothing more, but very valuable ones. Doing a dive to the limits without one whilst ensuring those limits aren't exceeded means a far more conservative dive. I've done many dives without them, using tables instead, but it's so much easier relying on a computer once you know you can.

#423332 - 11/27/11 07:03 AM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: PROBUS]  
Joined: Nov 2000
Posts: 8,880
seashell Offline
seashell  Offline
I recently met a couple, whose first dive of their trip was the Blue Hole. Apparently taking a local warmup dive before going on the Blue Hole dive day, is NOT a requirement, though it certainly should be.

A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they build their nest?

#423341 - 11/27/11 08:39 AM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 12,006
elbert Offline
elbert  Offline
It is with us,unless the diver can show a log book that documents very recent diving or they have done a warm up dive with us we don't let them sign up.
First dive of a vacation 130 feet down with strangers and breathing from equipment your unfamiliar with is a stupid move...but Yes I'm sure it happens.

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#423372 - 11/27/11 02:41 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Nov 2000
Posts: 5,441
ScubaLdy Offline
ScubaLdy  Offline
I have taken fairly new divers to the Blue Hole – but only if they are certified and have done at least one day of diving the reef here with me. Then I insist that my experienced dive buddy and I stay right with them. We explain narcosis because they will most likely experience it.
Even with all these cautions we almost lost one gal. She broke away from us so quickly and dove straight down. Her husband went after her and got her just before she reached 200 feet. Back on the boat when quizzed she said she just wanted to go down and see the pretty sharks. Of course, once back on board she realized how dumb that was.

One thing I tell everyone - “I won't die for you.” You want to do something stupid and die or get the bends you can do it by yourself.

I can't believe that a dive master would consider doing the hole without a computer. The deco and safety stops are so important.
I still do the Blue Hole occasionally even though I now find it rather boring – The next two dives are what makes the trip worth while. Even better is going out to Long Caye for a few nights. This way we dive Turneff on our way out and way back, are at the hole first thing in the morning before the day boats get there and get to do some of the other really great sites along the west wall of Long Caye.

The east shore in the cove by the dock is where the spotted eagle rays sleep.

Take only pictures leave only bubbles
#423374 - 11/27/11 03:03 PM Re: Diving at the Blue Hole [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Jan 2011
Posts: 259
PROBUS Offline
PROBUS  Offline
Although the best time to dive the Blue Hole is around noon. The crowds have gone and it's so light even at the bottom you could read a book.

It's lucky the husband caught his wife when he did. If she had gone much deeper he would have had to let her go, or risk joining her involuntarily.

In another Blue Hole, this time in Egypt a few years back, a girl did just that, but then for whatever reason carried on down to the bottom. We retrieved her the next day, from just below 400ft. Her tank was still half full.

I used to train suitable divers outside our own reef, taking them down in stages until they reached 150ft. It's much easier and safer there, as you're just over the bottom the whole way down. Then I'd take them to the BH and they would wonder what all the fuss had been about!

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