In the sing-song words of The Little Mermaid’s beloved talking crab: “Under the sea; Darling it’s better; Down where it’s wetter.” But what does that say about things that are mysteriously jutting halfway out of the sea?
Both locals and travelers visiting a coastal city in Norway have been perplexed by what amounts to a fat grey box sticking out of the ocean. Those left scratching their heads at the structure can’t help but wonder if it might be better off completely under the sea…
Located in the dramatic, ever-changing waters of Lindesnes, Norway, the grey box peaks out where the land meets the sea. From a distance — perhaps even up close — you might mistake it for a whale hanging out on the shore.
But anyone who happens to stumble upon this structure can’t help but ask the same questions: what the heck is it? And where did it come from?
Built right into the water, the 111-foot concrete barge was designed to become part of the existing seascape. Eventually, barnacles, kelp, and various oceanic critters will attach themselves to the exterior, calling the shell their home. But what is it?
Well, it has two functions: it’s primary function fulfills any Atlantis fantasies you’ve dreamed up: this architectural anomaly is “Under,” the largest underwater restaurant in existence and an example of ground- and sea-breaking construction…
The Norwegian translation for “under” has the dual meaning of both “below” and “wonder,” which perfectly encapsulates this undersea attraction. When guests walk in the door, they descend step by step into the steely seabed.
Once inside, the view does not disappoint. Panoramic windows provide a vantage point to the ocean floor. Unlike other restaurants boasting sea windows or walkways, Under is the only sunken eatery with a view of the North Atlantic.
Every inch of the space was intentionally designed to complement the soothing setting. Upper ceiling panels and furniture share the warm hues, intended to mimic the palette of the setting sun on the surface of the water.
Inger Marie Grini
Further down into the dining room, the sturdy textures of wood and stone replicate the flood of green sea life pouring in from the window wall. It’s all about mirroring the interior to the sensation of gazing out into the open ocean.
After all, you’re there to eat. Under offers an obviously spectacular experience, but also a menu focused on showcasing lesser loved sustainable seafood dishes. Head chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard helms the kitchen.
His menu focuses on ingredients plucked right from Under’s surroundings. The chef and his staff go out and forage delicacies in the waters surrounding the restaurant.
Food and Wine
On the restaurant’s website, Nicolai’s menu ideology reads, “Fresh ingredients and pure naked flavors are of the utmost importance to us. At the same time, we want to provide a unique dining experience that ushers out guests beyond their comfort zones.”
Guests lucky enough to catch a table sit down to a secret prefixed menu. For the several-course meal and wine pairings, visitors look at a price tag of 700 Norwegian kroner, or roughly 83 US dollars.
Nicolai Ellitsgaard / Instagram
Besides fulfilling a craving for seafood fare, Under’s creators invite guests to come with open expectations, “You may find yourself underwater, over the seabed, between land and sea. This will offer you new perspectives and ways of seeing the world, both beyond and beneath the waterline.”
Under Lindesnes / Instagram
Hoteliers Stig and Gaute Ubostad hatched the idea for the vessel, conveniently located next door to their own Lindesnes Hav Hotel, and worked with renowned architecture firm Snøhetta.
Snøhetta’s other projects include other equally impressive designs, like the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt and the Oslo Opera House. For the sunken restaurant, the architecture company went in a different direction from their usual builds.
Sky Scraper City
Initially, the clients suggested a calmer build site. Snohetta architects, however, chose a location with choppier waves and rough conditions to set it apart from similar attractions that occupy tropical tranquil waters.
Drafting plans for the project, the architects scraped elaborate sketch after sketch. Until a more keep-it-simple method was suggested — creating a basic tube shape that led down into the water was a no-brainer.
On completion, the Under allowed guests to recline and fine dine even on the stormiest days. The thick concrete walls prevent rough chop or weather from swaying the frame, rivaled only in illustrations of Atlantis (or the Krusty Krab).
Before you start planning your private submarine-themed banger, Under is a highly exclusive spot. The dining room seats 40 guests, and snagging a table for two means you’re looking at a six-month waiting list.
One of the coolest parts about Under is it isn’t just using its prime location to lure in luxury tourism. Tucked out of sight of diners is a working marine research facility.
Using cameras fitted to the exterior, and other state-of-the-art fish behavioral monitoring technologies, researchers at Under can track the progress of marine life over time.
Victoria University Wellington
Combining the lure of undersea adventures with the progression of biological research is a match made is oceanic heaven. People will shell out the money for the experience, which, in turn, works to save the environment.
For instance, located some 40 miles off the coast of Belize City, the Great Blue Hole has marveled those who’ve skirted its crystal-blue waters for over the last half-century. At over 1,000 feet across, this massive cavern was long considered the biggest of its kind.
The hole is at the center of the Lighthouse Reef, one of the many small atolls that make up the world’s second-largest coral reef system, the Belize Barrier Reef.
As such, the Great Blue Hole is protected as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Chabil Mar Villas
But although the hole itself has been known to researchers since the mid 20th century, it wasn’t until a famed marine explorer finally visited the site that anyone fully appreciated it.
When Jacques Cousteau visited the site in 1971, the world finally began to take notice of its magnificence. Using the mobile lab aboard his ship Calypso, Cousteau was the first to measure the depth of the hole — a remarkable 407 feet.
National Geographic Society
A 1991 expedition led by the Cambrian Foundation sought to confirm Cousteau’s original measurement, and to their surprise, they found that the French adventurer was nearly spot on.
Though the title of the world’s largest marine sinkhole now belongs to China’s Dragon Hole, the Great Blue Hole is still big enough to fit two Boeing 724 airplanes with room to spare.
Michael Wass / Flickr
Following Cousteau’s exploration, the site has since become a popular scuba spot among professional divers, with some citing it as one of the best in the world.
Palau Dive Adventures
But despite all the attention that the Great Blue Hole has gained over the years, little was truly known about the massive cavern and what it contained… until now.
Fueled by his adventurous spirit and fervent support for marine conservation, English entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson sought to unveil the mysteries of the Great Blue Hole once and for all.
Yet even with years of adventures and discoveries to his credit, Branson needed the help of one important individual to truly make the expedition worthwhile.
That’s right: he enlisted the help of Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the very same man that had put the Great Blue Hole on the map almost 50 years earlier. Together, the two explorers hoped to pick up right where Jacques had left off.
More specifically, the men wanted to use state-of-the-art 3D imaging technology to create a comprehensive map of the interior of the sinkhole. This would provide never-before-seen insight.
They were also looking to test the water quality and oxygen levels within the Great Blue Hole to get a sense of what kind of aquatic life could survive there.
Additionally, Branson and Cousteau were adamant about exploring what they believed to be an oxygen-depleted area at the base of the hole. Why the interest in this so-called dead zone?
Well, if their hunch was correct, this discovery could hold clues to the fall of the Mayan civilization between 800 and 1,000 AD! Yeah, who saw that one coming?
“We’ve heard that in the Blue Hole there is an anoxic area [or dead zone] near the bottom,” said one of the expedition’s crew members. “This is really interesting because things don’t degrade in anoxic areas so we could find preserved life.”
But even as visions of this vast undersea adventure danced in their heads, the men still had one glaring issue to overcome before they could even think about venturing below the surface: how would they do it?
Being that most humans can’t dive more than 130 feet without being crushed by water pressure, scuba diving was completely out of the question. They needed to think outside the box.
Dive Training Magazine
Luckily, they found captain Erika Bergman. Aboard her high-tech STINGRAY 500, the team would be able to dive at depths of up to 500 feet while simultaneously capturing HD recordings of the entire adventure.
Cause of a Kind
And so, on December 2nd, Branson, Cousteau, and Bergman – along with a team of cinematographers from the Discovery Channel – made the journey to Lighthouse Reef to begin their exploration.
With their live stream being broadcast to viewers all over the world, the three adventurers submerged in the waters of the Great Blue Hole.
Though the surface of the massive cavern looked almost clear blue from above, the depths below were anything but. Darkness met the team head on as they dove deeper and deeper into the hole, unaware of what treasures – or horrors – awaited them at its bottom.
Along the way, a variety of fish kept pace alongside the team, ranging from common ocean dwellers to the likes of the exotic Midnight Parrotfish.
But for every unassuming fin or tail that flitted by, they couldn’t help but keep their eyes peeled for the hammerhead and aggressive bull sharks that were known to prowl the area.
When the vessel arrived at the floor of the cavern the team immediately went to work mapping the dimensions of the hole. After only a few minutes of scanning, however, Branson and the others noticed a strange opening…
Curious, the team approached the opening, and inside they found the real treasure of the exploration: stalactites! This discovery would’ve meant little if stumbled upon in a typical cave system, but the fact that the find was made at such a depth underwater was unprecedented.
Discovery / Twitter
According to tests run on the rock formations, these stalactites were an astonishing 150,000 years old. Usually, stalactites only form in dry caves!
That means that the Great Blue Hole was once part of a larger cave system that formed on dry land. As remarkable as this was, though, this discovery actually points to a much larger issue.
With the Great Blue Hole now completely submerged under hundreds of feet of water, it’s a clear indication that the gradual warming of the earth is directly responsible for rising sea levels. As global warming continues to affect our planet, could this be a sign of things to come?
Richard Branson and his team seem to think so, and he’s pledged to aid in the effort to protect at least 30% of world oceans by the year 2030. With sea life covering over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, now seems as good a time as ever to make sure that it stays that way.