A Photo and Its Story

iD magazine - - Contents -

Fas­ci­nat­ing pic­tures and the story be­hind them

Ana­toly Beloshchin checks his equip­ment one last time. Then he slowly slides his body into the azure wa­ter. Cenote An­gelita is one of thou­sands of un­der­wa­ter caves on Mex­ico’s Yu­catán Penin­sula. In to­tal they form a more than 550-mile-long labyrinth, where 350 divers have al­ready lost their way and lost their lives. Of­ten­times their fi­nal fa­tal mis­take will re­main a se­cret for­ever. Beloshchin is aware of the dan­gers. But Cenote An­gelita seems eas­ily ex­plorable. The 42-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher thinks he can al­ready see the ground just a few yards be­low the wa­ter’s sur­face. But the deeper he dives, the clearer it be­comes: What he thought was the bot­tom of the wa­ter-filled hole is not ac­tu­ally solid— it’s fluid. Dead branches and fallen leaves are vis­i­ble in the depths. It looks like Beloshchin is float­ing above a river un­der the wa­ter. What seems like a Pho­to­shop trick is ac­tu­ally one of the world’s most fas­ci­nat­ing nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena. The diver has come across what is known as a halo­cline— a 6-foot layer of sul­fide mark­ing the bor­der be­tween fresh and salt wa­ter, at a depth of 100 feet. Th­ese hor­i­zon­tal lay­ers arise when sea­wa­ter makes its way into a cenote by way of un­der­ground chan­nels. Since salt wa­ter is heav­ier than fresh wa­ter, a milky sep­a­ra­tion layer is formed. Beloshchin gath­ers up his courage and then dives through the un­der­wa­ter river— where he en­coun­ters an en­tirely new world. Hardly any rays of sun­light pen­e­trate the halo­cline— vis­i­bil­ity is lim­ited to just a few yards. About 100 feet be­low this layer, Beloshchin reaches the real “floor” of Cenote An­gelita. He’s now 200 feet be­neath the jun­gles of Yu­catán, in the sea­wa­ter of the Caribbean. Af­ter 20 min­utes un­der the river he heads up­ward: from salt wa­ter to fresh wa­ter, and then he’s back in fresh air. Af­ter all, he doesn’t want to end up like the 350 divers who came to visit this sur­real un­der­wa­ter world but never came out…

A mys­te­ri­ous world be­gins just a few yards be­low the Mex­i­can jun­gle. The cave sys­tem of the Yu­catán Penin­sula is con­sid­ered the most spec­tac­u­lar— and most dan­ger­ous— div­ing re­gion on Earth. Par­tic­u­larly be­cause no one knows ex­actly where it ends…

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