11 Truly Incredible Underwater Discoveries

Image: Ruslan Eliseev

Earth is a water planet. Oceans envelop over 70 percent of its surface, yet the overwhelming majority of their reaches remain unchartered territory. The sections that have been explored, though, have thrown up some truly remarkable discoveries. From sunken ships to lost cities, these eleven submerged sightings will blow your mind.

Image: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

11. Heracleion

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From ominous 16-foot effigies to a vast temple dedicated to ancient Egypt’s most important god, Amun-Gereb, the ancient port of Heracleion has yielded a wealth of mysterious treasures. The city, once believed to have been mythical, was hidden under the seabed for over a millennium.

Image: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Once a hugely important Mediterranean port, Heracleion was actually founded approximately 14,000 years ago. Its watery remains, which harbored gold coins, hieroglyphs and sarcophagi, were discovered in 2000 by French archaeologist Franck Goddio.

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Image: Ruslan Eliseev

10. Mar Sem Fim

In 2012 Brazilian research vessel Mar Sem Fim was transformed into a ghostly wreck by the Antarctic Sea’s bitter waters. After getting stuck in ice, it was battered by 40-knot winds which, in the words of one crew member, tossed it “like a bucking bronco in a rodeo.”

Image: Ruslan Eliseev

The vessel finally sunk to the bottom of Maxwell Bay when the water taken on board froze, expanded and caused her hull to split. Fortunately, the onboard team were rescued by the Chilean Navy before they succumbed to a watery grave.

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Image: Chinese National Geography

9. Shi Cheng

The wondrous sunken settlement of Shi Cheng, or “Lion City,” features ornate masonry and spectacular sculptures depicting Chinese dragons and, you guessed it, lions. It’s punctuated by more than 200 arches as well as five remarkable city gateways and towers.

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Image: Chinese National Geography

Believed to be around 600 years old, the ancient city is often referred to as the “Atlantis of the East.” In 1959 it was essentially “undiscovered” when the construction of a dam on the Xin’an River saw it intentionally submerged by a reservoir.

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Image: gh0stdot/Flickr

8. Chuuk Lagoon

The atolls of Chuuk Lagoon hide a dark and violent history. Beneath these calm turquoise waters lie decaying shipwrecks, planes, tanks, motorcycles, bulldozers and railway carriages – an entire convoy of military vehicles known as the “Ghost Fleet of Chuuk Lagoon.”

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Image: gh0stdot/Flickr

Located in the central Pacific Ocean, Chuuk’s islands – which form part of the Federated States of Micronesia – served as a Japanese naval base in the Second World War. Overwhelming American aerial attacks were launched in February 1944, and today the leftover “ghost fleet” includes a submarine that played a role in the Pearl Harbor attack.

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Image: Anatoly Beloschin

7. Cenote Angelita

The ancient Mayas believed that cenotes – watery underground sinkholes formed from the vast, flat limestone shelf of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula – were portals to another world. It’s easy to see why.

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Image: Anatoly Beloschin

The spectacle of an “underwater river” flowing through Cenote Angelita is certainly otherworldly. The “river” is actually a layer of salty groundwater that’s much denser than the freshwater above it. A three-foot blanket of hydrogen sulfide, which divides the two, creates a weird mist effect.

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Image: Jetlife2

6. Zenobia

Some $300 million of cargo, stored in more than 100 containers, was on board Swedish-built ferry the MS Zenobia when it sank on its first sailing near the Cypriot coast in 1980. Now the vessel’s submerged hull is a hugely popular dive site.

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Image: Jetlife2

The 584-foot-long “Titanic of the Med” accommodated military equipment, telecommunication systems and around a million or so chicken eggs – which have amazingly remained intact – when it sank on its way to Syria.

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Image: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

5. Cleopatra’s Palace

Having been built on the island of Antirhodos, the legendary palace of Queen Cleopatra sunk beneath the waves after an earthquake and tsunami rocked Egypt around 1,400 years ago. What’s more, it took the lighthouse of Alexandria, one of great the wonders of the ancient world, with it.

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Image: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Cleopatra, the Greek-blooded pharaoh and lover of Mark Antony, committed suicide in the palace when she thought a Roman invasion was underway. The sunken remains of her residence include vast red granite pillars that formed part of an opulent royal gateway.

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Image: Serena Livingston

4. Sweepstakes

The brooding hulk of Sweepstakes – a 19th-century, coal-carrying schooner – lurks just 20 feet beneath the surface of Lake Huron in Big Tub Harbour, Ontario. It is one of the most intact and well-preserved Great Lakes wreck of its kind.

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Image: Serena Livingston

The ship was seriously damaged while sailing near Cove Island in 1885. It was tugged to harbor, but before it could be repaired it sank; it’s since become one of the most visited wrecks in Canada’s Fathom Five National Marine Park.

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Image: BBC Nature

3. Brinicles

Like fingers of death, they kill everything they touch. Brinicles are a haunting, beautiful and deadly natural phenomenon that occur when pockets of super-cooled brine escape through cracks in the polar seas’ frozen surface, sink and subsequently freeze the water around them.

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Image: BBC Nature

Rare time-lapse videos from the BBC’s Frozen Planet series show the structures creeping downwards to the seabed like ethereal underwater whirlwinds. Any starfish, urchins and other scrabbling sea creatures unfortunate enough to wander into them are rapidly frozen and unable to escape.

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Image: Vincent Lou

2. Yonaguni

Dubbed the “Japanese Atlantis,” the ruins of Yonaguni, in Okinawa prefecture, include an 82-foot-high pyramid, a celebratory arch, a stadium, temples and a king-resembling rock sculpture – according to some scholars, at least. Sceptics, on the other hand, tend to believe that the site was formed by natural geological processes.

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Image: Vincent Lou

Encompassing an area of almost 1,000 feet by 500 feet, Yonaguni, if manmade, could be up to 5,000 years old. The Okinawa government has not yet recognized the cultural value of the site, but it remains an unsolved enigma.

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Image: Javi Pérez

1. SS Thistlegorm

Crumpled on the bed of the Red Sea, the SS Thistlegorm bears the scars of a World War II Luftwaffe bombing raid. The British Merchant Navy ship was virtually broken in half by two targeted blasts near its stern, and thus it sank in September 1941 with a cargo of locomotives and military equipment bound for Egypt.

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Image: Hagainativ

The massive hole gouged from the vessel’s deck, which can be seen from its relatively shallow depth of 100 feet, invites easy exploration of the darkened interior. What’s more, jeeps, motorcycles, plane parts, radio kit and munitions – all cloaked in decades of rust and barnacles – are among the remains visible to scuba divers.

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