Underwater360 scours the earth for the most extreme dives on the planet and locate the spots where the most endangered species of marine animals can be found.
The World of Extreme Dives
A. VALHALLA MISSILE SILO, TEXAS, USA
Get your nuke on: Drop into a 40-metre-deep pool of 14ºC water that used to be a storage facility for nuclear-tipped Atlas missiles.
B. CENOTE ESQUELETO, “TEMPLE OF DOOM”, MEXICO
Extreme even for a cenote, with no ladder, entry is a jump into a dark, seven-metre-wide hole, and a potentially disorientating mix of salt and fresh water.
C. BLUE HOLE, LIGHTHOUSE REEF, BELIZE
The famous, perfectly circular, inky blue hole drops to more than 140 metres, like a portal to another world.
D. LAKE TITICACA, PERU
Dive at the top of the world, at 3,810 metres above sea level. This is practically the highest altitude dive on the planet that is accessible to recreational divers.
E. Y-40 MONTEGROTTO TERME, PADUA, ITALY
The deepest pool in the world, at 40 metres, stole the title from Belgium’s Nemo-33. Immerse yourself in in deep water from underground thermal springs!
F. PRINCESS ALICE BANK, AZORES, PORTUGAL
Powerful deep-sea currents meet at this remote seamount. Stunning visibility and megafauna await experienced divers.
G. WHITE SEA, RUSSIA
Highly saline water that can hit temperatures of minus 2ºC, and currents that can sculpt ice into magical forms, green water and alien-like life forms make this a unique destination.
H. HE DEAD SEA, ISRAEL
Feel like you are on another planet, diving hot and dense water, with ice-like salt deposits. This is possibly the lowest (over 400m below sea-level) and saltiest place you could dive.
I. LUE HOLE, DAHAB, EGYPT
More than 100 people have died in attempts to traverse the tunnel between the hole and the open water at this infamous dive site.
J. MCMURDO SOUND, ANTARCTICA
A trip to the world’s coldest and most remote dive destination will set you back many thousands of dollars. But breaking through the thick ice is rewarded with stunning visibility and unique marine life.
K. SAN FRANCISCO MARU, TRUK LAGOON, MICRONESIA
As extreme as wrecks get here, this passenger cargo ship rests in 64 metres of water, one of dozens of Japanese ships sunk by U.S. forces during Operation Hailstone. This is an advanced dive that needs serious training.
L. OLWOLGIN CAVE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
A “muddy pool” in the middle of nowhere hides bizarre underwater topography. A mixture of salt and fresh water means the visibility is poor, and, in a maze of passages this makes for one extreme cave dive.
Eleven Ocean Species On the Brink
1. MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL
Monachus monachus, with a population of just 350–450, are the most endangered pinnipeds in the world. Once hunted for skins, and despite being able to dive up to 100 metres, depleted food sources are just one of many threats they face today.
2. RIVER SHARK
River sharks of the genus Glyphis are possibly the most critically endangered of all shark species, with their habitats directly and regularly affected by human activity. Most have barely been studied before they are disappearing.
With fewer than 100 left, these tiny porpoises, Phocoena sinus, are some of the world’s most endangered cetaceans. Found exclusively in the Gulf of California, they were only described by science in 1958.
4. KEMP’S RIDLEY TURTLE
One of the smallest and most endangered of all the turtles (which is really saying something), Lepidochelys kempii populations are slowly recovering from an estimated low of just 1,000 nesting females in the mid-1980s.
5. BELUGA STURGEON
Critically endangered due to demand for their “roe”, which is eaten as caviar, the Huso huso is also the largest European freshwater fish – the largest one ever caught measured over seven metres long, unsurprising when you consider they can live for more than 100 years.
6. BLUEFIN TUNA
Commercial fishing has driven tuna populations to the brink of collapse, with Thunnus maccoyii, southern bluefin, listed as critically endangered. These fish grow to an average of two metres long, and reach speeds of up to 70km/hour.
The nocturnal Pristidae family comprises seven species of ray, some of which are recorded to grow up to seven metres long. They are adapted to live in rivers, estuaries and the ocean: Their eyesight is relatively poor but their “saw” is highly sensitive.
8. ORNATE SLEEPER RAY
All we know about these electric rays. Electrolux addisoni comes from just a handful of sightings and specimens. They are endemic to a 300km-long strip of South African coast and their conspicuous colours advertise their “shocking” defense mechanism.
9. AMSTERDAM ALBATROSS
Nesting only on the tiny Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean, Diomedea amsterdamensis has a wingspan of almost 3.5 metres. Pairs mate for life but only produce one chick per season. There are likely fewer than 100 left.
10. CHINESE PADDLEFISH
There is a chance that the huge (up to seven-metre) Psephurus gladius is already extinct. As a result of the Gezhouba Dam and overfishing, none of these filter-feeding “elephant fish” have been seen in the Yangzte River since 2003.
11. GIANT SEA BASS
Jewfish or black bass, Stereolepis gigas, are now critically endangered due to overfishing, vulnerable due to their massive spawning aggregations that make them an easy target. It is thought they might be able to change their patterns of spots at will.