Over the years, strange happenings have been reported in that part of the Atlantic ocean between the island of Bimini in the straits of Florida, Miami on the American mainland, and San Juan on the island of Puerto Rico. Strange underwater constructions have also been noticed in this area. Even stranger underwater and underground formations exist in the seas around the Bahamas and all the way to the mainland of the Yucatan in Mexico and southern U.S.A. This blog describes the strange world beneath these seas and the lands they touch.
The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is a place steeped in history. Perhaps the most momentous event was the collision with the earth, of a gigantic meteorite about 65 million years ago. The meteorite struck at an oblique angle , hitting what is now the north-west of the Yucatan peninsula and the adjoining sea which forms the gulf of Mexico. The shock waves of searing light and heat swept several continents, dust storms encircled the earth and most life on earth was wiped out. This included the dinosaurs. To this day a bowl in the earth’s crust is discernible in the area where the meteorite struck .
pic: courtesy National Geographic society
Then the ice ages came and the sea levels dropped. Rain water seeping through the porous limestone that forms much of the topography of this part of the planet. It dissolved parts of it, and formed underground tunnels. Underground rivers ran through these tunnels all the way to the sea. The water in these rivers also seeped through the limestone floor of these tunnels and formed caves and tunnels at a still deeper level. Near Austin in Texas , at the Natural bridge caverns, one can walk through some of these tunnels, many of them dry, but still exhibiting the process of rain water seepage and underground water run-off.
Natural Bridge caverns, Texas. pic: Hugh Mascarenhas
I visited the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico by sea, recently. I made landfall at the small port of Progreso on the northern edge of the Yucatan peninsula . A short drive from the port brought me to some of the strangest features of the region – sinkholes in the earth (cenotes) that dot the region. These sinkholes are actually collapsed roofs of underground tunnels and caves. There are over 6000 of these sinkholes in the peninsula, and were indicative of the terrain just below my feet .
Tunnels carved by natural forces – rain and sea water – stretch hundreds of kilometres underground, and often meet up with the Caribbean sea and the gulf of Mexico. Accordingly, the water in these flooded underground tunnels is basically alkaline, topped off with fresh rain water. This water can be seen – in crystal clear pools — where the tunnels break through to the open sky.
Cenote, Yucatan. pic: Hugh Mascarenhas
One would expect the tunnels, running at different levels, to end where the land meets the sea. But apparently they continue running through the sea-bed. To the east of the Yucatan, in the Caribbean sea, lies Cuba, and north-east of Cuba lie the Bahamas. Here the sinkholes are seen again – over 1000 of them on land and in the sea. One can assume that the entire region under the sea and land is riddled with tunnels.
Bahama blue hole. pic.: courtesy National Geographic magazine
On the American mainland , the picture is no different. The geology of the southern states is primarily limestone. Hence the action of rain water on the soluble limestone has produced vast cave systems that are being studied by a few intrepid explorers. Competing with the Natural bridge caverns of Texas are the Iron hoop cavern of Alabama, the Rumbling falls cave of Tennessee, and Ellison’s cave, Georgia. The entire length of Alabama and Tennessee and of northern Georgia is riddled with underground caves , caverns and pools .
Rumbling falls cave , Tennessee. pic: courtesy National Geographic magazine
Perhaps Florida too has similar underground strata since its geology is primarily limestone and was subject to the rise and fall of sea levels during the ice ages . But since this state has an abundance of water – rain , river and sea – most of these structures are flooded, as may be seen in the Florida everglades.
Iron hoop cave, Alabama. pic.: courtesy National Geographic magazine
The vast subterranean cave systems that exist in the extensive region of the western Caribbean, southern United states and the Yucatan peninsula have hardly been explored. Some evidence of human and animal life that once occupied these cave systems, have been found – leading to speculation by some : Does some form of intelligent alien life exist in these labrynths ? And does this partly explain the mysteries of the Bermuda triangle ?
( From the blue holes of the Bahamas and the Yucatan, I will take the reader to the breath-taking deserts and canyons of the western United States, which I had the privilege of visiting some years back . Stay posted . )