Monday, December 6, 2021

Exploring Florida’s Mysterious “Blue Hole”

Stepping Stones

Periodically we will read in the newspapers about homes that are swallowed up by the Earth. Many residential complexes are built directly, but unknowingly, over sinkholes that honeycomb the state of Florida. These holes have been around for hundreds of years, undetected, and take a toll on both houses and roadways. Did you know that there are holes in the water, just off the Florida coastline as well? There are many and they are called “Blue Holes. 

Many have been found but few explored; in part because of the water depth. Those that have been researched are yielding some amazing results and are even being named ecological hotspots. In 2019, an elite scientific team explored what is known as the Amberjack Hole, located 30 miles off the coast of Sarasota. There the researchers found a variety of unexpected wildlife as well as the remains of two Smalltooth Sawfish, an endangered species. 

Blue Holes are scattered across the continental shelf in the Florida Gulf Coast. They vary in shape, depth and size but most are providing a high diversity of plants and sea animals. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that “Little is known about blue holes due to their lack of accessibility and unknown distribution and abundance. The opening of a Blue Hole can be several hundred feet underwater and, for many holes, the opening is too small for an automated submersible. In fact, first reports of blue holes did not come from scientists or researchers, but from divers.” 

A new hole set to be explored beginning in August is 155 feet below the surface and estimated to be 425 feet deep. Scientists have named this place the Green Banana. A yearlong expedition of Green Banana starts next month and will consist of an elite team of specialists from the U.S. Geological Society, Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida Atlantic University and Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory. 

It is suggested that many of the holes formed about 8,000 to 12,000 years ago when the Florida coastline was about 100 miles further offshore than the beaches we see today. There are no clear discovery dates for these holes since many were first located by fishermen and divers. 

The blue holes appear to host a biodiversity of life that would include sharks, sea turtles, sponges, mollusks and corals. It will be interesting to see if these holes have a relationship to Florida’s groundwater and/or to see what types of nutrients and micro-organisms live there. 

The August expedition should prove to be extremely interesting. The Green Banana hole is 20% deeper than other blue holes that have been explored and the configuration of the hole is shaped like an hourglass. Water samples above and below that thin portion of the hourglass shape could vary and provide very diverse results. 

I’ll continue to follow this research and will report updates as I obtain them. Maybe something new and marvelous will species of life, both plant and animal, will be found! 

Bob is a Naturalist for the 10,000 Island Dolphin Study Program onboard the Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books and an awardwinning columnist for Coastal Breeze News. Bob loves his wife very much! 

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