Despite the extensive explorations that took place throughout the 19th and the 20th century, new sites of scientific and historical importance continue to be discovered. The latest is the largest underwater cave in the world.
“Caves are whimsical things, and geology on a local scale is random and unpredictable.” — William Stone
The site is close to the Mexican city of Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula. The discovery of this cave is important for different reasons. On the one hand, the newly discovered cave contains well-preserved biodiversity. But the cave is also of archaeological importance.
A Recent Amazing Discovery
The underwater cave was discovered only days ago, as recent as on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. But it was the result of an exploration that lasted about 10 months. The team responsible for the discovery was the Underwater Exploration Group. This group belongs to the Great Maya Aquifer Project or GAM.
“I was born in Mexico, I grew up in Mexico, and along the way, I learned to love Mexico. I think anyone who has stepped foot on this land – not to mention all Mexican people – will agree that it’s not difficult to love Mexico.” — Emiliano Salinas
On January 10, the team found out that there is a connection between the already known cavern systems of Dos Ojos and Sac Actun. These two cavern systems are known for being the largest underwater cavern systems on our planet. The fact that there is a connection between the two, means that they actually form one underwater cave, which with a length of 215 miles (about 346 kilometers).
The underwater exploration part of the aquifer project began back in March last year. The first part of the exploration project was managed by the director of exploration Robert Schmitter who oversaw a diving team as they explored the caves and mapped them out adding hitherto unknown galleries and tunnels.
But there was an extensive previous work stretching back about 14 years in which Schmitter and his team of specialized divers explored the area.
Before this discovery, it was believed that the largest underwater cave in the world was no far from that area. The Ox Bel Ha System, stretching about 167 miles (268 kilometers) is now the second underwater cave in the world as the newly-discovered Sac Actun system is larger for about 163 miles (262 kilometers). The Ox Bel Ha System is located south of the city of Tulum, Mexico, while the new system is northeast of the city.
The formerly second and now the third underwater system is the Koal Baal System, which is 57 miles (91 kilometers) large. Before it was discovered that the Dos Ojos System was, in fact, part of the Sac Actun System, thus forming the largest underwater system in the world, Dos Ojos located northeast of Tulum, Mexico was considered to be the fourth largest flooded cave on Earth.
What Is The Name of The (New) Largest Cave?
The newly discovered cave is actually the result of what was previously believed to be two flooded caves, actually being joined. The two caves were Sac Actun and Dos Ojos. Now that they have been discovered to form a new system, a new name is necessary.
But explorers of caving have a very clear rule for naming systems that result from the discovery of the connection between two already known (and, therefore, already named) systems. In such cases, there is no possible discussion: the largest system absorbs the smaller one, which also affects the naming.
So, in this case, because Sac Actun was larger than Dos Ojos, the newly discovered flooded cave that they both are now known to form is named Sac Antun. This means that the name Dos Ojos will no longer be used. Sac Actun is not the only large flooded cave system near Tulum. There are other three flooded cave systems. So now the next exploration challenge is to find the connection between Sac Actun and the other three systems.
The city of Tulum and most of the Yucatan Peninsula in which it is located is in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is known that there are as many as 358 underwater cave systems in the state, all of them located in the north. That means that there are 870 miles (1400 kilometers) of underwater passages.
Apart from being containing sites of great archeological importance containing reminders of the Mayan civilization and of the arrival of European to the Americas, the Sac Actun system is also hugely important in terms of biodiversity.
“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” — E.O. Wilson
The newly discovered system is a huge reserve of freshwater that over thousands of years has fostered life in and around the Yucatan Peninsula.
Because of this Sac Actun offers a great possibility to the Great Maya Aquifer Project and other similar projects to further our understanding of the subsoil and all its biodiversity. But not only that but also worthy of close study is the relationship that human beings have had with the plentiful natural resources.
From the Mayan civilization to the Spanish conquistadors to present-day Mexicans, human beings have enjoyed this fruitful environment for thousands of years. So, this new discovery can help us understand more about this. Also, it is expected that this underwater cave will contain new sites of archeological importance.
Discoveries such as this are only possible because of how important Tulum has become for cave divers. The new Sac Actun is an encouraging discovery for explorers, underwater cartographers, and divers. The best thing about it is that are still possibly many new caves and sites to be discovered. The Quintana Roo Speleological Survey is the name of the database that contains the detailed maps of all the underwater cave systems in the Mexican state. The Speleological Survey is an invaluable tool for anyone who works at both protecting and understanding this area of great biodiversity importance.