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Into the Blue: Mapping the Best Ocean Scenery on the Planet 22

71% of the surface of our planet is covered by ocean. In total, the five major oceans account for a staggering 97% of the earth's water and it comes as no surprise that the sights in, around and beneath the planet's salty depths are some of its most awe-inspiring. Join us, adding your own breathtaking images, as we take to the seas create the ultimate visual oceanic map, charting and exploring the very best scenery that the deep blue has to offer. The ocean has fascinated humankind for millennia, appearing and interpreted as far back as the earliest African cave paintings. Throughout history, cultures the world over have depended on the ocean for their very existence in the with food they eat, the air they breathe and the means to sail off and trade with others. The deep blue has also transcended human thought, considered to be the realm of the sea gods, thought of as a dark abyss of fear and fantasy filled with bone-chilling mythical creatures and in modern times has even been been used by philosophers and psychologists to interpret dreams. What continues to make the ocean so fascinating, alluring and mysterious is the fact that the vast majority of its salt-encrusted treasures are yet to be discovered and some scientists even joke that our planet should be called 'Water' instead of 'Earth'. Maybe they have a point. From whirlpools and sinkholes to coral reefs, underwater volcanoes and even stars and galaxies seemingly mapped out on the surface of sea, we explore the very best of planet earth's ocean scenery.

Hunga Ha’apai, Tongatapu, Tonga

Mar 17 2009

Located on the Pacific Ocean's infamous Ring of Fire, the Polynesian nation of Tonga is made up of over 150 volcanic islands. In addition, the ocean surrounding Tonga is home to a cluster of roughly 36 underwater volcanoes and around six miles off the coast of its capital, Nuku'Alofa, one of the country's volcanoes completely engulfs the entire island of Hunga Ha’apai. On March 16th, 2009, one of these underwater, or submarine, volcanoes erupted violently, spewing black, grey and white clouds of dust, ash and smoke twenty kilometres into the air.

Hunga Ha’apai, Tongatapu, Tonga

Mar 17 2009

So extreme was the eruption that the ocean turned creator as an entirely new island rose out of the sea, with Hunga Ha’apai completely caked in a thick layer of black ash and local geologists calculated that a series of violent earthquakes in the ocean floor directly below the existing island were responsible for the event. Luckily, nobody was hurt after the eruption as trade winds blew the resulting dust and ash out to sea, but tonnes of pumice stone were washed up on the shores of Tonga as a result and even reached as far as Fiji, 800 kilometres northwest of the Polynesian volcanic kingdom.

Thor's Well, Oregon, USA

May 11 2012

Just over three kilometres south of the coastal town of Yachats, Oregon, in the USA's Pacific Northwest, the rugged headland of Cape Perpetua is home to a natural feature which, curiously, seems to swallow seawater from the Pacific Ocean. Known as the 'Drainpipe of the Pacific', Thor's Well is a gaping and oval-shaped sinkhole which was once an underwater cave before its roof collapsed, leaving openings at the top and bottom through which the ocean surges and sprays.

Thor's Well, Oregon, USA

Jul 5 2013

Named after the Norse god of storms, thunder and lightning, Thor's Well is at its most spectacular and ocean-swallowing best an hour either side of high tide or around or during a storm. Locally referred to as a 'gateway to hell' and understandably treacherous as powerful Pacific waves crash down over into before falling into what seems like a watery maelstrom, Thor's Well may seem like the archetypal 'bottomless hole' in the ocean but in reality, the sinkhole is only around twenty feet deep.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego, USA

Oct 10 2011

In the waters off San Diego's La Jolla Cove, a curious natural phenomenon sees the Pacific Ocean lit up in a haze of neon blue. Known as bioluminescence, the electric blue glow is given off by millions of microscopic creatures known as phytoplankton which converge just offshore. This jaw-dropping sight occurs only after dark in warm coastal waters all over the world, but the snapshot of the moon disappearing over the horizon as the tiny plankton ignite the seawater with electric clusters of neon blue adds yet another element to the Pacific Ocean's mercurial magic, making the bioluminescence when it appears around La Jolla Cove some of the most spectacular on the planet.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego, USA

Oct 10 2011

Occurring completely at random, sometimes years apart, instances of bioluminescence are something of a tidal lottery and those lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the neon blue plankton are treated to almost otherworldly sight. Oceanographers have observed that the natural movement of waves and ocean currents and the blooming of saltwater algae known as 'red tide' act as a stimulants for the phytoplankton, inducing a chemical reaction within the cells of the microorganisms which causes to them to glow fluorescent blue. Amazingly, one La Jolla resident was able to scoop up some of the plankton in a plastic bottle and recreate the effect in his very own tropical reef tank, creating whirlpools of water with his hands to simulate ocean currents and generating the spectacular neon blue glow.

Great Blue Hole, Belize

Sep 1 2005

100 kilometres east of Belize City, off Central America's Caribbean coast, the Belize Barrier Reef is home to one of the most astonishing sights in any of the world's oceans. The colossal 'Great Blue Hole' is a perfectly circular submarine sinkhole which measures a staggering 984 feet across and 410 feet deep, making it one of the largest sinkhole's on the planet. Made famous in 1971 by legendary French diver Jacques Cousteau, the Great Blue Hole sits at the centre of a tropical coral atoll known as Lighthouse Reef and the sinkhole as seen today are the remnants of a collapsed limestone cave which fell in on itself when ocean levels rose during the last age, with oceanographers classifying it as a 'vertical cave'.

Great Blue Hole, Belize

Jan 4 2012

Fascinatingly, Belize's Great Blue Hole may also hold the key to unlocking a mystery which has puzzled historians for centuries. At some point during the end of the ninth century, the majestic capitals of the mighty Mayan city states were mysteriously abandoned. Having achieved some of the most remarkable feats of architecture, science, scripture and astronomy the world has ever seen, the classical Maya civilisation mysteriously collapsed and fell into ruin, consumed by the Mesoamerican jungle. and possible explanations range from war, famine, drought and even cataclysmic natural events. The mystery, however, remains unsolved.

Great Blue Hole, Belize

Feb 23 2015

In 2015, researchers drilled sediment cores from inside Belize's colossal sinkhole. Dating from between 800 and 900AD, when the Maya civilisation collapsed, the cores held drastically lower levels of titanium and aluminium than the periods before and after these dates, indicating alarmingly lower levels of rainfall in the region at the time, supporting the theory that extreme drought caused the Mayan decline. Throughout history, tropical cyclones which passed over the Great Blue Hole also passed over the Maya heartland, including the great capitals of Tikal and Calakmul, and experts believe that the cores drilled from the sinkhole provide some of the most conclusive evidence yet that an abnormally harsh drought was the main factor behind the abrupt and almost apocalyptic fall of the classical Maya civilisation.

La Sorciere, Soufriere, Dominica

Nov 15 2007

On the southwestern edge of the Caribbean island of Dominica, the Soufriere-Scott's Head Marine Reserve is renowned as one of the finest snorkeling and dive sites on the planet. The entire marine reserve is renowned for its spectacular underwater scenery, with La Sorciere, or 'Witches Point', and L’Abym, or 'The Abyss', located off the village of Soufriere as two of the most popular spots. Both spots teem with tropical marine wildlife, with ultra-colourful reef sponges, squid, lobsters, octopus, turtles and seahorses as well as hundreds of multicoloured tropical fish species tempting divers from all over the world.

Champagne Reef, Roseau, Dominica

Jan 18 2012

Stretching from the waters off the village of Pointe Michel at its northernmost point, to Scott's Head on the Cashacrou Peninsula in the south, the marine reserve is also home to Champagne Reef. Another of the marine reserve's most popular and intensely colourful and vivid dive sites, Champagne Reef is a gigantic wall of coral acting as home to hundreds of thousands of tropical fish species before it drops off into the depths of the Caribbean Sea at its westernmost point. The entire marine reserve is the subject of dozens of myths and legends told by Dominica's native Kalinago, or Carib, people, and one such legend tells of an evil ocean spirit residing in a crack in one reef's gigantic rocks. The story goes that this ocean spirit is a kind of Voodoo zombie who uses black magic to curse Dominica's islanders and in centuries gone by, the local Kalinago people would break off pieces of coral from the reef to use as protective charms to ward off the ocean spirit's dark magic.

Champagne Reef, Roseau, Dominica

Jul 19 2012

Despite its thousands of colourful tropical fish and other marine wildlife and its tales of malevolent ocean magic, Champagne Reef's most famous feature is arguably the surreal natural and volcanic phenomenon which lends its name to the reef, its surrounding bay and its main beach. Thousands of tiny air bubbles rise from the ocean floor on Champagne Reef, produced by the volcanic activity which naturally occurs in the surface of the earth directly below the reef. The rising streams of tiny air bubbles also warm the surrounding crystal clear Caribbean waters, with many divers and snorkelers feeling as if they have taken a dip inside a giant volcanic champagne bottle.

Vaadhoo Island, Raa Atoll, Maldives

Dec 11 2013

The paradise islands of the Maldives are one of the world's premier tropical holiday destinations. Lying just over one thousand kilometres southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are an archipelago spread over 26 atolls which together comprise Asia's smallest country. In the shallows of Vaadhoo Beach on the Maldives' Raa Atoll in 2007, a Taiwanese photographer named Will Ho managed to capture the first ever snapshot of a seemingly astronomic natural phenomena.

Vaadhoo Island, Raa Atoll, Maldives

Oct 25 2010

Vaadhoo Beach is one of the most best spots on earth to take a snap of paradise, but after dark the waves of the tropical Indian Ocean lapping on the sand churn up something else. Most prevalent in February, July, late summer and again around the turn of the year, Vaadhoo's shallows become a virtual cosmic mirror, clustered with brilliant flashes of electric blue caused by bioluminescent plankton emitting light which seemingly transforms the ocean into a neon blue star atlas. Equally stunning and curious, the Maldives' 'Sea of Stars' helped director Ang Lee to an Oscar for best visual effects when he used them in his 2012 blockbuster 'Life of Pi'.

Dragon Hole, Xisha Islands, Hainan, China

Jul 23 2016

According to scientists and oceanographers, 95 percent of planet earth's oceans remain unexplored and accordingly, the next milestone oceanic discovery is out there waiting to be made. Never was this more true than at the end of July 2016 when a team of Chinese scientists from Qingdao's Ocean University established that a sinkhole known as Longdong, or 'Dragon Hole', is in fact the world's deepest underwater blue hole. Located in Xisha, a group of coral reef islands in the South China Sea roughly 630 kilometres off the southern coast of China and 500 kilometres off Vietnam's central coast, Dragon Hole is located on an atoll known as Discovery Reef.

Dragon Hole, Xisha Islands, Hainan, China

Jul 23 2016

Resembling nothing more than a colossal tidal rock pool tucked away among the surrounding coral reef, Xisha's Dragon Hole measures, according to the team from Ocean University in Qingdao, a mind-blowing 987 feet deep, by far the deepest blue hole in the world's oceans and over 300 feet deeper than Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas, previously thought to be the record holder. After this history-altering discovery was made, a team of Chinese experts researching coral protection sent a depth-sensing robot into the sinkhole. The results were equally as astounding as over twenty new species of fish were discovered and these experts also believe that the further work at the site could yield revolutionary breakthroughs in research on climate change and the evolution of ecosystems in the South China Sea.

Dragon Hole, Xisha Islands, Hainan, China

Jul 23 2016

Although the true and jaw-dropping extent and depth of Dragon Hole was only properly established in 2016, Longdong has been an enigma for centuries. Local fishermen refer to the sinkhole as 'The Eye of the South China Sea' and Longdong also appears in 'Journey to the West', a sixteenth century novel by iconic Ming Dynasty poet and author Wu Cheng'en. Considered to be one of the four great classical novels of China, the work tells the story of a Chinese monk named Xuánzàng, who travels west to India and Central Asia in search of ancient Buddhist sutras. According to the novel, Xinsha's Dragon Hole is where Sun Wukong, a mythical monkey king chosen to accompany Xuánzàng on his journey, is sent by the mythical Jade Emperor to find a magical staff of solid gold known as Ruyi Jingu Bang. When Sun Wukong arrives at Longdong, he battles Ao Kuang, the 'Dragon King of the East Sea' in Chinese folk religion who also lends his name to the colossal sinkhole.

Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

Dec 14 2010

Shipwrecks often make for some of the most spectacular dive sites on the planet, and in the tropical waters off the Balinese village of Tulamben, on the Indonesian island's northeastern coast, the Liberty Wreck is one of Southeast Asia's most popular. On January 11th, 1942, with war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan less than two months in, an American cargo ship named the USS Liberty was en route from Australia to the Philippines when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Before its inevitable sinking, the Liberty was towed to land by a team of American and Dutch destroyers and the vessel was beached on the shoreline, in the village of Tulamben. In 1963, volcanic tremors caused by the erupting Mount Agung sent the Liberty back into the ocean, where it remains to this day teeming with tropical fish and coral as one of Bali's most popular diving and snorkeling sites.

Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

Nov 28 2016

Directly adjacent to the wreck of the USS Liberty in another popular dive spot known as Suci's Place, man made statues of one of the most iconic spiritual leaders in history infuse the tropical ocean floor with a sense of tranquility and serenity. Starting in the mid-2000s, carved figures of the Buddha himself began appearing on the seabed around Bali as the internet exploded with stories of discoveries of long-lost and ancient underwater temples and shrines. Other dive sites, most notably Pemuteran Bay off Bali's northwest, were decked out with similar Buddha statues and carvings. As opposed to ancient submarine temples, Tulamben's carvings were added in 2012 as part of a divesite project by the nearby Matahari Tulamben Resort and alongside the submerged statues of the Buddha, the site houses carvings of stupas as well as statues of Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Kali as well as other Hindu gods and a carving of Ārya Tārā, the Buddha's mother. Ever since the statues were added, the Suci's Place dive site is one of Bali's most popular as tropical fish, crustaceans and even manta rays and reef sharks glide past coral-encrusted effigies of the Buddha as he reaches the ultimate state of nirvana.

Naruto Whirlpools, Tokushima, Japan

Aug 14 2015

In Japan's Seto Inland Sea, or Setouchi, a stretch of water known as the Naruto Strait, or Naruto-kaikyō, separates the country's largest island, Honshū, from its smallest island, Shikoku. On the western side of the channel is the city of Naruto, with an island known as Awaji-shima nestled on its eastern edge and directly above the strait, an otherwise unassuming suspension bridge by the name of Ōnaruto-kyō links Naruto with another city named Minamiawaji. In the water below the halfway point of the bridge, the Naruto Strait showcases a genuine contender for Japan's most mesmerizing natural feature in the form of a group of turbulent tidal vortexes known as Naruto no Uzushio, or the Naruto Whirlpools.

Naruto Whirlpools, Tokushima, Japan

Jan 1 1900

The Naruto Whirlpools are formed by tidal systems which see large amounts of water shift from the Pacific Ocean and the Seto Inland Sea two times daily, and twice in the opposite direction, with the sheer volume of water which surges through the comparatively narrow Naruto Strait forcing the two tidal systems to crash headlong into one-another to create the vortexes. Occurring roughly every six hours, depending on the changing tides, the Naruto Whirlpools are at their most mesmerizing during a powerful spring tide, when water rushes between the Pacific and the Setouchi at a much faster rate than usual and has been known to create whirlpools over twenty metres wide.

Naruto Whirlpools, Tokushima, Japan

May 14 1856

So iconic are Naruto no Uzushio, that they appear depicted in a traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock print by legendary artist Utagawa Hiroshige, who decided to include the whirlpools in his landmark print series Rokujūyoshū Meisho Zue, created between 1853 and 1856 and showcasing a single famous landmark from each of Edo-era Japan's 68 provinces. Today, the Naruto Whirlpools remain immensely popular with tourists and can be viewed from a ship on a chartered tour or from a glass window on the floor of the Ōnaruto-kyō bridge directly above. Behind Norway's Saltstraumen and Moskenstraumen as well as Canada's Old Sow, Naruto no Uzushio are the fourth fourth fastest whirlpools on the planet.

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