Solving the Mystery of Blue Holes
By: Kyle Grammatica
You’ve heard of black holes in the universe, but what about blue holes in our oceans? Florida researchers are hoping to learn more about these unique formations found in the Gulf of Mexico. Blue holes are thought to be ancient sinkholes created 10,000 years ago when the Florida landmass extended farther into the Gulf. Over time, the Gulf expanded and the sinkholes submerged. One of the blue holes, nicknamed “Green Banana,” sits about 50 miles southwest of Sarasota. Researchers from Mote Marine Laboratory, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and other institutions will be conducting new research to unravel their mysteries.
“They’ve been known for a long time, just never described really,” said Jim Culter, a scientist at Mote Marine. “It’s totally an exploration project because we don’t know the answers. Are they valuable, necessary habitat? Do they affect the area around them, or are they just these isolated areas?”
Some scientists believe the holes may connect to the Florida aquifer, possibly contributing to saltwater intrusion in the drinking supply. Others have hypothesized that they were once freshwater springs, but there has been no evidence of active spring water flow yet. Some researchers wonder if the blue holes in the Gulf are connected with animals swimming between them. One thing is known: blue holes are home to marine biodiversity and renowned fishing spots. In fact, commercial fishers are typically the ones to first identify blue holes.
A Benthic lander will accompany researchers on their daily trips to Green Banana. The device weighs hundreds of pounds and contains numerous scientific instruments the expert divers will navigate into the 425 ft. deep blue hole to take water and sediment samples. With weather and pandemic permitting, the researchers should begin exploring Green Banana soon and hopefully discover new information about these magnificent mysteries.
Protecting Marine Habitat
While researchers are learning more about blue holes, other experts are working tirelessly to save another piece of unique marine habitat: the Florida reef tract. Since 2014, stony coral species across the Florida reef tract have been decimated by a disease called stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). Corals form the literal and ecological backbone of reefs and hundreds of marine species depend on them for food and habitat. With corals gone, the entire ocean ecosystem suffers. The Foundation has been working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA, and others to restore Florida’s reefs and ensure they can thrive for generations to come. We have provided over $500,000 to support coral rescues and research on stony corals and SCTLD. With your support, we can continue to support these critical efforts.