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Divers Find a Dark Secret at the Bottom of "The Great Blue Hole"

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

No matter how long we’ve existed or how far we’ve come since the beginning of time, there are still mysterious places in our world that we haven’t explored. Thanks to technological advancements, we can now uncover the secrets that these places hold.

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One of the biggest mysterious places in the world lies just 70 kilometers off the coast of Belize. After many years of stirring people’s curiosities, scientists have finally explored what lies beneath this baffling site and discovered the chilling truth behind it.


The Great Blue Hole

Aptly named "The Great Blue Hole", this underwater abyss located in Central America has never ceased to amaze people from all over the world. Its deep blue hue is truly a sight to see, especially for wandering tourists. No matter how amazing it looks, there’s a mystery that lies beneath it.

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Scientists have been haunted by what they would discover in the Great Blue Hole for many years. With a depth of 400 feet and a width of 1000 feet, there’s surely a lot of new things that can be found at the bottom.


A Challenging Feat

Even though scientists are itching to know what they will find at the very bottom of this underwater hole, they still weren’t able to conduct a thorough investigation of it. Being as deep as it is, diving here can be quite a challenge.

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For one, it’s depth meant that the pressure underneath might be different, which can be risky even for experienced divers. Only the best divers will be able to reach the bottom of the Great Blue Hole safely.


The Cousteau Divers

When talking about great divers, the Costeau family is what many divers have in mind. Jacques Cousteau, the family’s patriarch, was one of the world's top marine explorers and greatest divers.

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His skill in diving was passed on to his grandson, Fabien. Because of his reputation, he planned on diving deep within the Great Blue Hole and unearth its secrets. No one else has accomplished such a feat, and he would be in for a big surprise once he does so.


The Void In the Middle of the Ocean

For the longest time, the Belize Blue Hole has been sitting on the Belize Barrier Reef. The entire reef is a part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and is considered one of the world's biggest reef networks in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

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If you look at it from a bird’s eye view, the Belize Blue Hole seems like a small pinhole on the face of the Belize Barrier Reef. It’s a different story though once you get closer to its mouth. The sheer depth and darkness of the abyss can make any person feel both amazed and scared at the same time.


Uncharted Territory

Looking at this gaping blue hole in the middle of the sea can attract many divers to explore its depths. However, no one has even dared to explore the very bottom of the oceanic pit due to the uncertainties that lie ahead.

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In the past, divers have only gone so far as to explore its surface. Only the Cousteau family were brave enough to probe the very depths of the hole, hoping to discover something that would help scientists understand marine life better.


The Great Blue Hole’s Appeal

Despite their decision to dive to the bottom of the Belize Blue Hole, they still needed a lot of time to prepare for their expedition. But the Cousteau’s couldn’t deny how exciting it was to be the first people to explore the depths of the blue hole.

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Although it was easily accessible to any daring diver, no one really knew what would be waiting for them upon their descent. They were sure though that they needed to find out more about the abyss, and they could only do so by diving all the way down.


Cousteau Family Interest

The Cousteau family didn’t decide on diving to the bottom of the Belize Blue Hole overnight though. Their interest in exploring this gigantic marvel dates back to 1971 when Jacques Cousteau first visited the site. It was declared as one of the world’s top diving spots.

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Unfortunately for divers, the equipment they used wasn’t so advanced yet and they were only able to explore the hole’s rim. Even Jacques was unable to dive all the way in despite his expertise in diving.


Passing On the Dream

Even though he was unable to explore the depths of the Belize Blue Hole himself, he was able to pass on the interest to his children and even to his grandchildren. As time went by, the equipment that divers used became more and more advanced until finally, they were advanced enough to allow any experienced diver to explore the bottom of the Great Blue Hole.

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This was the moment that Fabien Cousteau has been waiting for. Finally, his lifelong dream to explore the underwater pit will finally come true.


The Team

If Fabien would want to get anywhere near to fulfilling his dreams though, he needed to form a team to help him with his journey. He enlisted the help of a team of experts, starting with legendary billionaire, environmentalist, and adventurer, Sir Richard Branson.

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Sir Richard Branson was especially interested in exploring marine life. Thanks to his wealth and influence, he was able to bring in a fleet of submersible vehicles to help them with their exploration of the Belize Blue Hole. Fabien also invited Erika Bergman, an oceanographer, to be the submarine’s pilot.


The Great Adventurer

Sir Richard Branson is known for his fame, power, and influence. Like other successful businessmen, he started his career by establishing his very own magazine in the early ‘70s.

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Once he succeeded in this field, he started entering almost every other industry he could get his hands on, including shipping, music, retail, and even space exploration. He is sometimes referred to as the real-life Indiana Jones due to his thirst for adventure and his expeditions in land, air, and sea.


Nature Lover

Not only was Sir Richard Branson extremely wealthy and popular, but he was also a nature lover. His love for nature is what made him interested in conservation projects. He is also one of the few wealthy people to have a genuine interest in preventing global warming.

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Over the years, he has also donated a huge sum of money to several environmentalist organizations with a mission to save the planet. It’s not surprising that he took an interest in the Cousteau expedition since it gave him the opportunity to understand marine life.


Excitement Turned to Fear

Like any team that is ready to embark on a life-changing journey, Fabien and his team also felt excited to dive deep into the Belize Blue Hole.

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However, just as they were finishing up with planning their descent into the depths of the ocean, they naturally felt afraid of what they might discover in the abyss. Since they would be the very first people to venture deep into the hole, they knew that they would find something that would shock them to the core.


Final Preparations

Once the team was complete, they started planning out how they would conduct the expedition. Aside from deciding what they were going to do once they dive into the Belize Blue Hole, they also had to gather the underwater equipment they were going to need in order to carry out their mission successfully.

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They even have special cameras set up that would broadcast their dive on the Discovery Channel. This was truly a historical milestone that deserved to be witnessed by people from all over the world.


The Submarine

The most important part of their mission though was the submarine they were going to use. Unlike common submarines that can easily explore shallow depths, their submarine was specially designed to withstand immense oceanic pressure without caving in or breaking.

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Their submarine, which they named the Aquatica, has a round dome made with glass so the team can easily see their surroundings. The underwater vessel was also intentionally designed to have a see-through portion so they could get a clearer recording of their findings.


D Day

Once everything was ready, they only had to wait for the day they would dive into the blue hole. The day they have been waiting for has finally arrived on December 8, 2018.

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Aquatica and the crew started their descent to the depths of the Belize Blue Hole. As expected, they had a difficult time seeing what lies ahead of them due to the sediments from their launch. As they went deeper into the abyss, they were finally able to see the marvels of the blue hole.


First Sight

Once they got deep enough into the hole, they saw hundreds of caves around them. They noticed that each cave was filled with stalactites, which didn’t make any sense for them.

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First, it’s almost impossible for stalactites to form underwater since these can only be formed above ground when different minerals drop from a cave’s ceiling. So what they saw was a mystery to them. Although they all found it magnificent, they wondered how those stalactites got there in the first place.


Solving The Puzzle

It was a good thing that they all had science and years of experience with marine habitat on their side. All they had to do was put their heads together to figure out what could have caused the formation of the stalactites.

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They reviewed their history and realized that the underwater cave wasn’t always underwater. After the Ice Age, the water level started to rise due to the melting of the ice caps. The caves were then submerged and the stalactites were able to survive after so many years submerged in seawater.


Not the First

While the Cousteau crew was the first team to ever reach the bottom of the Great Blue Hole, they were definitely not the first people to probe it. Other scientists were able to study the surface of the underwater pit.

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A team of researchers from Rice University and Louisiana State University had earlier conducted studies along the rim of the hole. During their time there, they collected a few samples to examine that would hopefully help them with their other studies.


The End Of A Great Empire

The samples these researchers collected were used to find a link between the mystery of the Great Blue Hole and the end of the Mayan civilization in Central America.

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The end of the Mayans is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the world, which is why many scientists are doing their best to look for a probable cause for their disappearance. These people were known for their use of advanced technology ahead of the other tribes which existed alongside them.


Possible Cause

Since then, many researchers and scientists considered the possibility that the Belize Blue Hole and the end of the Mayan civilization might indeed be linked to one another. The samples that the scientists collected were examined to see what could be the possible link between the two mysteries.

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They found out that the substance they gathered on the hole’s wall had extremely low levels of titanium and aluminum, which meant a tropical storm occurred before it was submerged underwater. This also meant that the Mayans could have met their demise due to a terrible drought that might have resulted in their demise.


The First Great Danger

Now that the Cousteau crew are the ones conducting their studies inside the Belize Blue Hole, they were able to uncover new secrets that other divers weren’t able to obtain. Upon their descent, they found a floating barrier beneath them which consisted of a layer of toxic water, filled with hydrogen sulfide.

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They discovered that the substance was toxic enough to corrode metal and harm any living thing that would come into contact with it. The remains of sea creatures in the caves of the hole were proof of what the barrier can do.


All The Way Down

Luckily, they were able to predict that there would be toxic substances in the hole, which is why they equipped the Aquatica with a protective layer that would allow them to go further down the bottom of the pit. After a few moments of descending, they were finally able to reach the floor of the Great Blue Hole.

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For the first time in history, they were the very first people to see what the bottom looked like. None of them was happier than Fabien though, since it wasn’t only his lifelong dream to reach the bottom of the Belize Blue Hole but also his family’s.


Mapping Out the Area

Once there, the entire team geared up and set out to do what they came there for. Aside from showing the world what they would discover within the Great Blue Hole, they also had to map out the entire area for future explorations.

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Next, they had to collect samples that would help other scientists to learn more about marine life and what could have possibly caused the existence of this pit. The samples they will collect would greatly help future scientists with their research.


Plastic Graveyard

While they were there, they found something more disturbing than what they had intended to find though. After collecting samples and mapping the entire area, they discovered what appeared to be countless trash bags, plastic bottles, and other types of human waste.

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Again, they were puzzled as to how these could have gotten there since the entire place hasn’t been explored by any human aside from them. Finding human waste was the last thing the divers expected to see, and this prompted them to worry.


Taking Action

Their original mission, which was to collect samples and show the world what the bottom of the hole looked like, suddenly changed when they saw trash all around them. Suddenly, they felt alarmed that man-made waste could reach even the deepest parts of the ocean.

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Once they saw the accumulated trash at the bottom of the blue hole, they knew they needed to act quickly in order to prevent things from getting worse. When they were back on land, the team immediately contacted conservationist conglomerates to help them with their problem.


Creating a New Tomorrow

One of the groups they reached out to was Ocean Unite. Ocean Unite’s number one goal was to declare at least 30 percent of the ocean as protected areas by the year 2030.

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By doing this, certain parts of the ocean will be legally protected from further destruction caused by other humans. The team thought of partnering up with them to help clean the Belize Blue Hole, especially since Branson’s main goal is to prevent sea pollution as much as he can.


Making a Difference

Because of Branson’s mission, he enlisted the help of Belize's prime minister to declare 10% of Belize's territorial waters as protected areas and to ban industrial products that are known to damage the ocean. But he didn’t stop there.

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As a business owner, he also knew that he had to be responsible for the things his companies are creating. After he saw the state of the Great Blue Hole, he started to ban single-use plastics on his airline business to become a catalyst for change if he truly wanted to save all lives in the ocean.


Change For the Better

Aside from banning single-use plastics, he also bought an entire island in the Caribbean in 2010 and turned it into a sanctuary for ring-tailed lemurs from Madagascar.

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On top of that, he also started using renewable energy sources for his transport companies, offered a $25 million reward for any person who could come up with a way to capture greenhouse gases, and even formed the Ocean Elders leadership group together with Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu to help solve the world’s problems.


Facing New Challenges

Although alarming, we’re all faced with the problem of environmental change. Compared to the past, changes are happening in nature at an alarmingly rapid rate now more than ever.

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Some of the challenges we’re currently facing include water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, and the extinction of animals. While there are environmental advocates out there such as Sir Richard Branson and Fabien Cousteau, it would take a lot more people to participate in the initiative to help save the environment.


The Egyptian Blue Hole

In fact, we shouldn’t just worry about the Belize Blue Hole. There are other Blue Holes all over the world that need our utmost attention. One such hole is the Egyptian Blue Hole located at the Red Sea.

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Unlike the Blue Hole in Belize, the Egyptian Blue Hole and its surrounding areas are home to an abundance of coral and reef fish, and other marine animals. This makes the area a unique ecological environment that should be protected and looked after.


Another World Just a Short Swim Away

The Egyptian Blue Hole truly is a one of a kind gem. It varies greatly with the Belize Blue Hole, starting with its accessibility. While the blue hole in Belize is quite hard to access and is extremely dangerous for any living species, the blue hole found in the Red Sea is a famous freediving spot and attracts many tourists from all over the world.

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It’s also located near the shore and can be reached just by swimming. Still, it can be just as dangerous as the Belize Blue Hole if one doesn’t take proper precautions.


The Arch

While the Egyptian Blue Hole is as equally captivating as the Belize Blue Hole, it also poses a great risk for those who try to explore it. The hole has claimed the lives of many divers throughout the years.

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One of the areas that divers are so eager to reach in the Egyptian Blue Hole is an underwater tunnel called “The Arch.” The Arch runs beneath the reef and connects the hole with the open ocean. It is located 180 feet under water and is 85 feet long. Amateur divers who attempt to swim the length of the Arch end up failing.


Adventurous Risk

Even though professional divers can navigate through this narrow underwater corridor, it is still a bit tricky to accomplish. Despite all the advanced equipment that divers use to reach this part of the Egyptian Blue Hole, many of them end up disoriented and even experience hallucinations due to the water’s pressure.

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Most divers who take the plunge in this underwater pit aren’t fully aware that it would take more than one air tank to swim from one end of the Arch to the other.


The Pollution is Spreading

Then again, no matter how hazardous it is to swim in the blue holes, the biggest threat of all is watching them lay to waste due to human carelessness. It’s true that both the Red Sea and Belize Blue holes are facing the threat of pollution, but other parts of the ocean, such as the Mariana Trench, are also facing the same problem.

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In 2016, a high amount of man-made toxins was found across the Mariana Trench during a research expedition conducted there.


Documenting the Damage

The data they were able to gather was so alarming that the researchers worked hand in hand with global leaders to prevent any further damage to the Mariana Trench. The Mariana Trench holds great importance to the world’s ecosystem since it is home to various species of marine life and many other living organisms.

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To come up with a plan on how to save the Mariana Trench, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology founded the Deep-Sea Debris Database to keep track of and analyze data on ocean waste in order to identify the source of the pollution.


Finding the Source

Once they were able to document the damage on the Mariana Trench, various expeditions were conducted by The United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to assess just how great the damage to the marine habitat is.

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They took numerous photos using underwater vessels since the trench wasn’t particularly easy to reach. Once they were able to retrieve the images, they discovered that a lot of the aquatic organisms living in the trench were either entangled or engaging with plastic waste.


More Pollution

Even if it is home to a vast number of aquatic species, the Mariana Trench is considered one of the most polluted spots in the ocean, even more polluted than some rivers in China even though it’s far from the shore where humans could easily throw their waste in.

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This means that trash accumulated from the shores can easily be swept away by the changing sea current and can drift for thousands of miles in oceans across the globe. What’s more alarming is the fact that they end up at the bottom of the sea where the trash can easily be accessed by aquatic life.


Floating Plastic Islands

But it isn’t just the sea we should be looking at. Other bodies of water, such as lakes, which are directly connected to oceans, can also greatly contribute to water pollution. Plastic that accumulates from different sources doesn’t always end up at the bottom of the ocean.

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Some of them just float on the surface and form plastic islands. Plastic substances that stay on the surface of the water can easily be consumed by both water-borne and air-borne animals that get their meals from the sea.


Toxic Plastic

Plastic, although useful to humans, can be dangerous for animals. Years of studies have shown that plastic waste ends up not just in the stomachs of fishes and other sea creatures but also in their bloodstream.

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The very same fishes end up on our plates, which means that we’re also at risk from the very same toxic substances we throw into the sea. That’s why many companies across the world are making an effort to reduce their use of plastic.


Part of Our World

We must always remember that the ocean plays a huge role in our world. The ocean is, first and foremost, our source of sustenance. Without these oceans, life wouldn’t even exist on the planet in the first place.

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The ocean also produces over half of the world's oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere, so the next time you plan on throwing your waste into the sea, you might want to stop and think about how important the sea is.


Drifting Plastic

Whether we like it or not, plastic waste is the biggest threat to our oceans. Since more than half of the people in the world use plastic products, it’s no surprise that most of these end up in the water.

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Seventy percent of our planet is covered by water and plastic that drifts far into the middle of the sea will be hard to get back. At present time, researchers have found out that the plastic we’ve thrown into the sea has already reached our tap water, table salt and other daily products.


Not Getting Better

Despite this, many people still don’t seem to be aware of the dangers of using plastic, which is why our problems with plastic waste aren’t getting any better. Currently, around eight million tons of plastic are being dumped into the ocean per year.

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According to researchers, if we continue with this trend, there will be more plastic in the sea than fishes by the year 2050. Meanwhile, studies conducted by Greenpeace UK show that there’s around 51 trillion microplastic particles in the oceans.


Solving the Problem

Even though it seems that it’s too late for us to save our oceans, in reality, there’s still plenty of time left. Solving our problem with plastic waste is easier than we think it is.

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If we work hand in hand, then we could easily prevent more damages from occurring. It’s not an overnight process though. The progress will be slow, but if we act now, we can see results in only a few year’s time. Though it won’t be easy, it also won’t be impossible.


The Plan

There are a number of things we can do to save our planet and our oceans. The first step is prevention. Reducing the amount of single-use plastic is the very first step we need to take to rehabilitate the seas.

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In a bid to lessen the amount of plastic products going into the sea, many countries have already successfully prohibited the use of plastic. Second, we need to be mindful of where we place our trash. Starting as early as now can give the future generations a cleaner and better world to live in.


Future Explorations

As we mentioned earlier, the blue holes in Belize and the Red Sea aren’t the only ones of their kind. There are other underwater holes in different parts of the world that require attention and preservation.

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Just like the Belize and Egyptian Blue Holes, other blue holes are facing the same threats as the other two. While these Blue Holes aren’t as well explored as the Great Blue Hole in Belize, we most likely will find the same things there based on what scientists discovered in their other journeys.


Not Just Trash

While they did focus on the trash they found at the bottom of the Belize Blue Hole, they did stumble upon other discoveries. Underneath the toxic layer of hydrogen sulfide, they also found hundreds of conchs and marks where divers had tried to escape.

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They also discovered a GoPro with the recorded footage still intact. In an interview, Erika Bergman said, "There were...these odd tracks, crisscrossing circles right around the center of the hole with no indication of what had made them."


More Chilling Finds

While exploring the hole’s mysteries, the Cousteau crew found the remains of not just marine life but also human life. They stumbled upon the bodies of two divers who might have gone too deep into the Belize Blue Hole.

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Although they only found two bodies, there’s no telling just how many humans have succumbed to the underwater pit. However, there were reportedly three divers exploring the Belize Blue Hole who went missing. The divers were caught by surprise when they found the two human remains.


Deep-Sea Graveyard

Once they found the bodies, they notified the authorities of their whereabouts hoping that they would be retrieved. However, the authorities cautioned them against getting back the bodies due to the threats they found underneath the hole.

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"Mostly it was quiet and dark down there. We also encountered the resting place for two of the divers who've been lost in the hole. We notified the local authorities, and everyone agreed to leave them undisturbed. They are at peace," Bergman shared in an interview.


Not Around Forever

While efforts are being made to save the Belize Blue Hole, many scientists predict that it won’t be around forever. Based on the studies they’ve conducted, they discovered that underwater falls, or sand falls, commonly occur in the pit.

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Although there is no telling when the hole will be completely sealed up and consumed by sand, environmentalists are still doing their part by helping clean up the ocean in the hope of setting a good example and influencing the next generation to do the same.




 

By Phil Tortoroli

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