“There we were, venturing to the bottom of one of the world’s largest sinkholes, an unexplored legend of the deep filled with Mayan mysteries and myths of monsters and wonder,” Sir Richard Branson muses poetically, of his latest excursion over the weekend, which saw him hop into a submarine and hitch a ride down Belize’s Great Blue Hole where scientists were, for the first time, exploring its vast cavern.
He’s speaking to Telegraph Travel from his home on Necker Island about what the team discovered – an eerie lifeless seabed among other things – what it means for the planet, and what all this has to do with plans for his upcoming cruise line.
Writing on his page, Sir Richard Branson continues: “The Aquatica submarine was perfect for the dive, with a massive dome offering views in front, above, to the side and behind. We travelled about 10 minutes in the submarine into the Blue Hole and then started edging down the wall of the hole. The first thing we came across was a massive wall of giant stalactites, which were breathtakingly beautiful.
“The Blue Hole is made of a complex system of caves that once formed on dry land. It is proof of how oceans can rise quickly and catastrophically. Sea levels were once hundreds of feet lower. 10,000 years ago the sea level rose by about 300 feet when a lot of ice melted around the world. At 300 feet down you could see the change in the rock where it used to be land and turned into sea. It was one of the starkest reminders of the danger of climate change I’ve ever seen.
“We then tried to go through a thick Hydrogen Sulphide layer, which had formed over centuries. It was extremely eerie. We didn’t expect to see any creatures below. But when we got to the bottom we could see crabs, conches and other creatures that had fallen into the hole, arrived on the bottom and then ran out of oxygen and died.
“As for the mythical monsters of the deep? Well, the real monsters facing the ocean are climate change – and plastic. Sadly, we saw plastic bottles at the bottom of the hole, which is a real scourge of the ocean. We’ve all got to get rid of single-use plastic. Virgin Voyages, which kindly sponsored the expedition, is leading the charge. Our team all feel passionately about the environment. With every item we buy, every piece of food we serve, the environmental impact is paramount. There will be no single-use plastic on-board.
“Back on the ship there were teams of renowned scientists and geologists doing fascinating studies, including creating the first three-dimensional rendering of the Blue Hole, which I look forward to seeing. I also wanted to see the reefs up close and personal myself, so went for an exhilarating scuba dive and saw an incredible array of fish and ocean life thriving. Long may it continue. Hopefully by this trip taking place we have raised even more awareness of the need to protect the ocean and tackle climate change now – before it is too late.” – From Telegraph Travel and Virgin.com