Sistema Sac Actun has just recently been officially named as the world’s largest underwater cave. This is particularly surprising given that people have been exploring the cave system since 1987. Until very recently, explorers believed that the size of Sac Actun was about 263 km in length, whereas it is actually almost 347 km long.
It would not be true to say that explorers had been unable to see almost 84km of Sac Actun, which is located in the Municipality of Tulum, in Mexico. In fact, much of the extra space had been explored for decades. The surprise arose because explorers had believed that space to be a completely different cave system known as Sistema Dos Ojos. Dos Ojos was measured at 83 km in length, but when explorers from the Great Maya Aquifer Project (known as GAM) tunnel connecting the two systems, it meant that the smaller Dos Ojos officially became a part of the larger cave system.
According to National Geographic, the gigantic cave system holds an enormous quantity of freshwater and supports great biodiversity and “Hundreds of archaeological sites exist in the cave, including evidence of America’s first settlers, Mayan culture, and extinct animals“. According to Guillermo de Anda, the director of GAM, “This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, since it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which is evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as the extinct fauna and, of course, of the Maya culture”.
This discovery is significant for learning more about the ancient history of Mexico and the Mayan civilsation. It’s also an incredible opportunity to study an isolated freshwater system of biodiversity and examine lifeforms which have thrived far away from the surface. Perhaps what makes this discovery most exciting is that it is a clear indication that there is still so much we have to discover about our own planet.