The Sec­ond At­tempt

China Scenic - - Feature -

Af­ter we re­turned from Yon­gle Atoll, we set about col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion and data, look­ing for any­thing that we could find on the for­ma­tion of blue holes. We hoped that such in­for­ma­tion would be use­ful for our next ex­pe­di­tion to Dragon Hole.

Ac­tu­ally, as un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phers, we were no strangers to blue holes. In 2005 we ex­plored Da­hab Blue Hole in Egyp­tian Si­nai, and in 2006 we vis­ited, sev­eral times, Palau Blue Hole. How­ever, our ex­pe­ri­ence in Dragon Hole has wo­ken up in us that very hu­man de­sire to see the un­known, to ex­plore some­thing that no other man has seen be­fore you.

In April 2013 we re­turned to Yon­gle Atoll again, for an­other chance to ex­plore Dragon Hole, but be­cause of time con­straints and is­sues with low tide, we only had one op­por­tu­nity to dive. This time we were

We soon found it, at 35 me­ters. Hav­ing fixed the guid­ing rope, we en­tered the cave, and stay­ing on its left side, we soon reached the end. We turned back, along the other side of the cave. De­spite the large open­ing, the cave was not deep and there was no cave sys­tem, it was just a sin­gle dead end tun­nel. We felt let down, it was not sup­posed to be like that, but, pressed for time, we had to ac­cept our dis­ap­point­ment and hav­ing taken a few ba­sic shots, we called it a day.

Much later, when we were go­ing over the ma­te­rial that we had shot on the two trips to Dragon Hole, we sud­denly re­al­ized that those were ac­tu­ally two com­pletely dif­fer­ent side caves! The ques­tion that arose then was, how many such caves Dragon Hole could con­tain, and what mys­ter­ies might be hid­den in their depths?

depth, the stronger are the ef­fects of nar­co­sis, and just like un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol, the diver’s field of vi­sion nar­rows, judge­ment be­comes clouded and his ac­tions be­come un­co­or­di­nated and clumsy. How­ever, with time, a diver be­comes used to oper­at­ing un­der its ef­fects.

At fifty me­ters the di­am­e­ter of the hole widened a lit­tle, but not as much as we had ex­pected. Karst caves and the many blue holes that we had pre­vi­ously ex­plored, all ex­hibit a rel­a­tively small en­trance with the body of the cave then widen­ing as you go deeper, cre­at­ing a bell-shape. We failed to ob­serve any­thing like that in Dragon Hole, but could it be sim­ply be­cause we have not reached a crit­i­cal point along its depth?

Af­ter spend­ing eigh­teen min­utes ex­plor­ing at the depth of 64 me­ters, we started to slowly go up, but when we reached 37 me­ters we sud­denly no­ticed an en­trance to a cave. Could it be yet an­other one? Still af­fected by ni­tro­gen nar­co­sis, this dis­cov­ery got us very ex­cited. In the lights of our torches we could see that the walls of the cave had the clas­sic “fish scale” struc­ture, and were also cov­ered by a thin layer of white sed­i­ment, which even our faintest move­ment

would dis­lodge and make float around, like strands of white fog in the clear wa­ter. Then, in the in­te­rior of the cave, we spot­ted two en­trances, and a beam of faint light pro­jected out of one of them. Driven by pure in­stinct, we started to swim down, to­wards that light, com­pletely for­get­ting that we were sup­posed to be in the mid­dle of a de­com­pres­sion as­cent. The pas­sage was nar­row, but short, and soon we squeezed our way through it, find­ing our­selves in the main cham­ber of the cave. We were al­ready at 42 me­ters, and so had to im­me­di­ately read­just our sit­u­a­tion ac­cord­ing to the new cir­cum­stances and con­tinue on our de­com­pres­sion as­cent. Fi­nally, af­ter four­teen pauses at dif­fer­ent depths of the to­tal du­ra­tion of 35 min­utes, we safely reached the sun­lit sur­face of the sea.

That cave that we dis­cov­ered dur­ing our third dive had an­other sur­prise up its sleeve — it was later con­firmed that it was the very cave that we had seen dur­ing our first dive in Dragon Hole. We saw it as a lit­tle joke the blue hole played on us.

We were not the only peo­ple who got to ex­plore Dragon Hole. A team of ecol­ogy and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion ex­perts sent by San­sha City un­der­took a se­ries of stud­ies of Dragon Hole be­tween Au­gust 2015 and April 2016. Em­ploy­ing un­der­wa­ter ro­bots, the team mea­sured the max­i­mum depth of Dragon Hole at 300.89 me­ters. In ad­di­tion, they made a scan of the cross-sec­tion of the hole us­ing sonar and took sam­ples of wa­ter, micro­organ­isms and min­er­als for

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