Akumal Cave Project 2004 – 19th March Update

Friday 19th March 2004

Links: Check out photos from the expedition here! | Read more on the expedition

Sometimes better is not always better.

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

Equalization in diving is one of the most important things a new diver learns.  In cave diving it can be even more important.  When you swim through passage that defines the path you will take, being able to reverse that course is an important thing.  The ability to equalize when that path is not exactly at a constant depth is critical.  Or you pay the price.  I was feeling better, but clearly not all the way better.  The not so constant depth of the previous day’s dive took its toll.  After almost four hours and many ascents and descents my sinuses where telling me they were unhappy.  The orchestra in my sinuses had an impact.  So, today another day off to let the sinuses rebuild and the last remains of the cold fade away.  Squeeze injuries are not good.  Always remember to equalize before and without any pain.

Terrence and Renee made their way up with five cylinders each to the area we worked yesterday.  After collecting survey data and checking out leads they returned home after four hours of diving.  These dives are so long that many computers actually roll over.  Meaning they begin again at zero counting time again. 

They confirmed all of the survey data and explored three new leads.  One of the leads is waiting for our next return trip to that area of the cave.  The rooms in that section of the cave are very large.  Also, there are multiple breakdown areas.  All of these features give rise to many leads, all of which have to be investigated.  This is a process of methodically check each lead in order to see what might go or what simply ties back into the existing line. 

Thank goodness for the nitrox.  If the team were diving air, the decompression obligations would be long and difficult.  Even after diving for over four hours, they only had a few minutes of decompression to do.  Having this tool makes life very much easier.

A friend just happens to be taking a cave diving course while we are down here.  Visiting them at Cenote Car Wash (less than a mile from Cenote de Muchachos), I got to hear how many times Kathryn had killed Matt in the class, theoretically of course.  That is what cave class is for, so you do not do it in real life.  Andreas, “Matt” Mathes is her instructor.   He is one of Mexico’s best.  He owns ProTek Divers in Playa Del Carmen.  Playa del Carmen is about thirty minutes up the road from Akumal.  He is one of Terrence’s former students and has participated in earlier Cambrian expeditions (Belize Blue Hole and Solomon Islands to name a few). 

Cave diving and training to be a cave diver is one of the biggest challenges in any diver’s life.  No one can prepare you for the experience you will have when you are tested like that.  Cave diving is not for everyone.  The old joke is that either you is or you ain’t a cave diver.   There is very little middle ground.  This is similar to being pregnant, really one way or the other, no in between.

Well, this also means that there are people who may feel they are ready and want to be cave divers that have no business being cave divers.  Matt reaffirmed this today.  He nicely, but firmly, let two people know that they simply were not ready (not Kathryn).  They needed more work.  He also told one of them that their attitude was not inline with being a cave diver.  Apparently, the student had lain on the floor of the cave on top of cave formations during a portion of this dive for the course.  This is unacceptable and Matt in no uncertain terms let him know that.  He refused to continue to train them. 

While this may sound harsh (Matt did it in a very nice way.  He is one of the most patient people in the world), the reality is that the cave environment is very delicate and all cave divers need to have a sense for protecting the environment of the cave.  It is not just the quality of the water flowing through the cave, but the quality of the cave itself that needs to be protected by each and everyone choosing to enter the cave.  Cave conservation is a focal point of any course.  Matt showed just how critical a component of the course it is by refusing the train anyone that would be so reckless with the environment.

Even during exploration we do all that we can to minimize our impact.  You cannot eliminate it completely.  The simple fact of us swimming through the water breathing gas that forms bubbles that are released into the cave has an impact.  But, with everything else we do that we can control, we are always looking to minimize our impact.

Formations in the cave take tens of thousands of years to form.  One reckless fin kick or hand placement can scar or destroy the cave forever.  The very system Matt was teaching in has a room named after this damage.  It is called the Room of Tears.  It was first names that because the formations brought tears to the eyes of the person who discovered the area.  However, now the name remains because of the horrible damage caused there by reckless, improperly trained or inexperienced cave divers. 

It is a double-edged sword every explorer must walk.  We know that by exploring new areas we will expand our understanding and knowledge of the environment.  Yet, we carry with us the knowledge that the work itself will carry increased awareness of the resource and with it increase traffic to the site.  We are seeing that in this system.  It is not uncommon for us to see the general public diving the same cenote we are.  We may be working much further into the system, but they are there.  All of this is possible because of the work we are doing.  It is a good thing for the landowner to be able to have use of such a great resource.  However, it carries with that a responsibility on our part to make sure that the impact on the environment and the divers who enter the site are minimal.

We do this by making sure that line arrows are pointing to the nearest exit, not toward older ones.  We run line through passages to make survey more effective.  Sometimes, once that information is entered into the database the line may be cut back into a jump.  That way navigation is less complex.  We cannot just work without considering the impact on the cave, others, resources, and the public. 

We want to keep the cave looking as incredible as it did the first day we saw it.

None of this would be possible if we did not have the support of our sponsors.  Dive Rite has been kind enough to donate a great deal of the dive gear being used by the divers on this project.  Lamar Hires, owner of Dive Rite, also donated the line being left in the cave as we find new passage.  In fact, almost every inch of line has come from him.  Checkout www.diverite.com.  Sartek Industries HID, High Intensity Discharge, lights have been lighting our way in the cave.  They are fantastic lights and so small you hardly notice you have them on.  They provide a four-hour burn time with the 10W head and the small battery pack.  Checkout www.sarind.com. 

The team would like to give a shout out to Mandy, Martin, Kirk, Tony and the rest of the team in Grand Cayman.  Mandy and Martin are days away from attempting new world records in several freediving disciplines.  They have both broken the existing world records in practice.  Only thing left is to do it on game day.  To learn more about what they are doing checkout, www.performancefreedving.com.  Great work guys and good luck on Sunday, not that you will need it.

For detailed daily updates checkout www.cambrianfoundation.org.

Links: Check out photos from the expedition here! | Read more on the expedition