Dragon’s Lair

Div­ing the World’s Deep­est Blue Hole in the South China Sea

China Scenic - - Contents - By Li Ji­afan, Wu Lixin Pho­to­graphs by Wu Lixin, and as cred­ited

In July 2016, the Dragon Hole on the Jin­qing Is­land of the Xisha Is­lands in San­sha City was de­clared to be the world’s deep­est blue hole, with the depth of 300.89 me­ters. Pho­tog­ra­pher Wu Lixin and his team had started ex­plor­ing this blue hole back in May 2012, and now they bring our read­ers a first-hand ac­count and pho­to­graphs of their work in the South China Sea.

In July 2016, the Dragon Hole on the Jin­qing Is­land of the Xisha Is­lands in San­sha City was de­clared to be the world’s deep­est blue hole, with the depth of 300.89 me­ters. Pho­tog­ra­pher Wu Lixin and his team had started ex­plor­ing this blue hole back in May 2012, and now they bring our read­ers a first-hand ac­count and pho­to­graphs of their work in the South China Sea.

The dive com­puter is al­ready show­ing depth of 64 me­ters, and I know that I can­not go any deeper. This is the limit we had agreed on be­fore the dive. Us­ing my breath­ing I ad­just buoy­ancy and hover. Calm­ness over­come me — I look down, a pitch-black, bot­tom­less dark­ness is be­low me, lur­ing me into its depths; I look up, and a dim yel­low light re­minds me that this is where we need to re­turn to; I also spot two bright beams of head­lamps — this is an­other team of as­sist­ing divers above me, at the depth of 33 me­ters. Around me is an empty, dark void, at this depth the near ver­ti­cal wall of the blue hole is in­vis­i­ble and we use our pow­er­ful lights to bring its sur­face into de­tail.

The time is 10:30 AM on the 22nd of June 2016. Ac­cord­ing to the oxy­gen gauge we have only eigh­teen pre­cious min­utes to learn more about the walls of the blue hole, too short to find out any­thing of note. The dark­ness at this depth eas­ily swal­lows up our lights while the bub­bles re­leased by our breath­ing dis­lodge sed­i­ment from the up­per sec­tions of the walls, and these white pel­lets float down all around us, slowly, like snowflakes on a win­ter evening.

This was our third dive into this blue hole dur­ing the past four years. More than thirty days later the govern­ment of San­sha of­fi­cially named this blue hole San­sha Yon­gle Dragon Hole, and made a press re­lease that an un­manned sub­mersible had reached its max­i­mum depth of 300.89 me­ters, con­firm­ing Yon­gle Dragon Hole as the deep­est blue hole in the world.

In May 2012 the Chi­ne­se­n­a­tion­al­geog­ra­phy magazine team set off for Xisha to ex­plore and con­duct un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy of the Yon­gle Atoll and Xuande Atoll of the Xisha Is­lands. As we were chew­ing the fat with Old Deng, the cap­tain of our boat, he ca­su­ally men­tioned a bot­tom­less hole on a reef which was part of the Yon­gle Atoll. Ap­par­ently, the lo­cal div­ing fish­er­men, how­ever ex­pe­ri­enced, revered and feared it, they called it Dragon’s Hole, and no­body dared to dive there. This piece of news got me very in­ter­ested, from Old Deng’s de­scrip­tion I was sure he was talk­ing about a blue hole, but up to that time there had been no records of blue holes in China.

In Chi­nese “blue hole” is lan­dong (蓝洞) and is a lit­eral trans­la­tion of the English orig­i­nal —蓝 lan means blue, 洞 dong a hole or a cave. A blue hole is the en­trance to an un­der­wa­ter cave lo­cated in the shal­lows close to a shore or on a co­ral reef. Such en­trance is of deep blue color, as the sea wa­ter ab­sorbs all other col­ors in the sun­light spec­trum, and this deep blue stands in great con­trast with the lighter color of the wa­ter in the sur­round­ing shal­lows. It is be­lieved that blue holes are formed by mech­a­nisms sim­i­lar to that of karst shafts and wells on land, namely by ero­sion of lime­stone by fresh­wa­ter.

The wa­ters around Jin­qing Is­land, which is part of the Yon­gle Atoll, de­spite be­ing nav­i­ga­ble, abound in co­ral reefs and our fish­ing boat made its way through it with great cau­tion. Hav­ing cho­sen a se­cure spot, we cast an­chor about three nau­ti­cal miles away from Dragon Hole, and trans­ferred to a smaller boat. At the high tide the wa­ter depth at Jin­qing Is­land is not even two me­ters, and there are reefs ev­ery­where. For this rea­son, we had to time our oper­a­tion care­fully, en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing the reef at the peak of high tide, a de­lay would mean us get­ting stranded.

The trip took around half an hour and there has al­ready been a marked changed in the color of the wa­ter. The brown color of un­der­wa­ter reefs grad­u­ally van­ished, re­placed by the white of co­ral sand and the blue of the wa­ter above. Then a large ex­panse of dark

A Com­par­i­son of the Con­cen­tra­tion of Dis­solved Oxy­gen be­tween the Dragon Hole and its Nearby Seas

mi­cro­gram 6

Photo / Zhou Kun

As we dive deeper, we find our­selves swal­lowed com­pletely by end­less dark­ness. The dim green light above comes from the blue hole at the sur­face of the sea, and at this mo­ment, it is our only light source.

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