Chinese researchers have confirmed the world's deepest underwater sinkhole, or blue hole, lies at a site in the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea.
The blue hole was found to just over 300 meters deep, easily surpassing the previous record of 202 meters, the researchers confirmed on Friday (local time)
Traditionally known as Longdong, or "Dragon Hole", the natural marvel is located at 16.31 degrees north latitude and 111.46 degrees east longitude in Yongle, a major coral reef of the Xisha Islands.
Locals call the phenomenon the "eye" of the South China Sea. Some local fishermen's interpretation of the 16th-century classic novel, Journey to the West, point towards the sinkhole being the site where the hero's weapon, a golden cudgel, originates.
The latest exploration project, which lasted from August 2015 until June this year, found the hole to be 300.89 meters deep with a 130-meter-diameter-wide entrance, said Fu Liang, head of the Sansha Ship Course Research Institute for Coral Protection, at a press conference on Friday.
Supported by the Sansha City Government on south China's island province of Hainan, the institute explored the sinkhole using an underwater robot fitted with a depth sensor.
Researchers from the institute have also detected more than 20 fish species and other marine organisms present in the upper levels of the sinkhole. The blue hole is almost oxygen free below 100 meters, meaning life is unlikely at its deepest extremities.
The findings have been recognized by an expert panel headed by Meng Wei, a leading academic with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
A blue hole is a roughly circular sinkhole, with the name reflecting the color contrast between the dark blue inside the hole compared with the light blue water surrounding it.
Prior to the new findings, the 202-meter-deep Dean's Blue Hole on Long Island in the Bahamas was considered the world's deepest known blue hole with an underwater entrance.
Panel leader Meng said blue holes are peculiar marine landforms that are important for marine research and the construction of marine projects.
The panel has also advised authorities to take measures to protect and exploit the unique blue hole in the future.