A blue hole is a large marine cavern or sinkhole, which is open to the surface and has developed in a bank or island composed of a carbonate bedrock (limestone or coral reef). Their existence was first discovered in the late 20th century by fishermen and recreational divers. Blue holes typically contain tidally influenced water of fresh, marine, or mixed chemistry. They extend below sea level for most of their depth and may provide access to submerged cave passages. Well-known examples are the Dragon Hole (in the South China Sea) and, in the Caribbean, the Great Blue Hole and Dean's Blue Hole.
Blue holes are distinguished from cenotes in that the latter are inland voids usually containing fresh groundwater rather than seawater.
Blue holes are roughly circular, steep-walled depressions, and so named for the dramatic contrast between the dark blue, deep waters of their depths and the lighter blue of the shallows around them. Their water circulation is poor, and they are commonly anoxic below a certain depth; this environment is unfavorable for most sea life, but nonetheless can support large numbers of bacteria. The deep blue color is caused by the high transparency of water and bright white carbonate sand.