Oil workers drill in the wrong place, cause a lake to vanish
Come to think of it, we’d think people in neighbouring Louisiana would also be used to the landscape swallowing itself – especially after this 1980 episode which caused a 500-hectare lake several feet deep to temporarily vanish.
It seems an oil exploration team drilling in the lake miscalculated their trajectory and punctured a shaft of an underground salt mine beneath the lake. The trickle of freshwater dissolved several salt pillars in one of the shafts that were deliberately left unmined as roof supports.
When they gave way and the shaft collapsed, the entire above-ground derrick fell over and vanished into a huge whirlpool, and onlookers watched as the lake levels dropped drastically.
The water dropped so much that a canal leading from the lake to the Gulf of Mexico was reversed, and seawater began to tumble into the crater in a 50 m waterfall that at the time was one of the tallest in the state. Swept into the abyss were 11 barges that had been travelling on the canal.
A couple of days later, a shallow freshwater lake had become a deep seawater one, but incredibly, no one was seriously injured or killed, and nine of the 11 sunken barges floated back to the surface eventually.
As for the damage to the ecosystem … well, it seems nature finds a way. This source says several plant and wildlife species happily settled into some new digs.
The Cave of Swallows is deep enough for base jumping
Moving on from man-made boo-boos to the wonders of the natural world, we’d like you to take a look at this shot from the floor of Mexico’s Cave of Swallows.
See that tiny spec against the distant, sunny sky? That’s an abseiler, and he’s descending around 376 m from the sinkhole rim down to its wide-bottomed floor. This caving site says it takes around 20 minutes to reach the bottom, and another 40 minutes to scale the rope back topside, using clamps.
While you’re down there, try to avoid stepping on the scorpions, centipedes and legions of other creepy-crawlies that live in an environment featuring metres-deep fields of guano. The toxic air is so thick down there, anyone intending to actually explore the three-football-field wide floor is supposed to take a breath mask, or risk coming down with a fungal lung infection.
If you fancy a faster route to the bottom, the cave is super popular with base jumpers. It boasts the second deepest entrance drop in the world, allowing daredevils several seconds of freefall before pulling their chutes (the cave was featured in the popular documentary series Planet Earth).
But even before it became an extreme sports Mecca, the cave attracted onlookers eager to glimpse the thick flocks of birds (mostly white collared swifts and green parakeets) that swarm in and out of the cave at dawn and dusk.
There are thousands upon thousands of them, even after running the gauntlet of the occasional bird of prey that hovers above the sinkhole hoping for an easy meal.