Akumal Cave Project 2004 – 26th March Update

Friday 26th March 2004

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

Something old is something new again. 

The entire group went to Nohoch Nah Chich today.  Nohoch is one of the longest underwater caves in the world.  It is a remarkable system with three ocean vents and over 200,000 feet/62,000 meters of surveyed passage.  There are numerous cenotes in the system.  We were operating out of the main entrance.  Nohoch Nah Chich is Maya for Big Bird House.

Terrence guided the students on a tour of the cavern zone.  The students were not allowed to use fins.  This is a step that has been taken by the landowner to help preserve the cave.  Bob shot video while Renee lit for him.  I helped light and shot stills.  The students were treated to a tour by one of the original explorers of the system.  Terrence participated in some of the early expedition work at Nohoch.  Plus, the students had five 18 W HID lights with video reflectors and diffusers lighting their way through the cave.  It was a sight to see.

The students finally got to see what the divers had been seeing for the last two weeks.  Nohoch has a massive cavern zone that is open to the surface for a long distance in the cavern zone.  At this stage in the students’ experience, they were all gung ho to go take a look.  What an evolution from where they were just a week ago. 

Sistema Camilo does not have a large cavern zone that is open to the surface.   Only Cenote Camilo has any cavern zone at all, really.  So, Nohoch is a better choice to let the students see the cave environment up close.  Nohoch is also remarkably white.  It is whiter than any other cave yet discovered in the Yucatan. 

The students were shown various cave formations and structures.  Nohoch has almost every speleothem type there is in a very small area.  The students were divided up into teams of two.  These buddy teams then followed Terrence one after the other.  Amy brought up the rear of the pack.  Terrence showed them around the whole of the cavern zone that was easily accessible.  Bob got some great shots for his show and I got some great images as well.   

The students exited the water with big smiles on their faces.  They were really surprised by how beautiful the cave is.  I do not think they grasped what we had seen and done for the last two weeks until that moment.  It was a special time for everyone involved. 

After the students were out of the water, Renee, Bob and I went on a dive up the main line of the cave.  I had not been up the main line in Nohoch proper since 1997.  I was worried that the cave may have been damaged now that unguided diving has been allowed.  The cave is in great shape.   I wanted Renee and Bob to see the famous giant double column formation.  It was made famous by a photograph taken at the formation years ago that was used to promote Nohoch. 

I had forgotten just how huge and utterly beautiful Nohoch main is.  It is just so white, so spread out, so shallow (20 feet/6 meters), so decorated, so big, so beautiful and so awe inspiring.  I kept thinking how incredible it must have been to be the first person through the passage.   I had trouble imagining how you would even be able to run the line with all that there is to see.  I would have to stop and look at all of the amazing formations and decorations there are in this cave in only the first 1,000 feet/300 meters. 

I have been lucky enough to be able to explore other areas of Nohoch downstream of the main passage.  They do not look like the main passage.   They are much less decorated and much deeper.  The work I did get to do out of the main was basic task list items.  It was my first time diving with the team.  As a new member of the team, you usually serve in a support role until you understand the system that the team is using and show you are capable enough to be used for exploration.  This is a very important role on any expedition.  The true exploration I was able to participate in was all out of Mike’s Promise and Blood Drop.

Mike’s Promise is located just off the road to Nohoch about half way up.   It is named Mike’s Promise because Mike Madden the original leaseholder and team leader of Nohoch had promised the lead to a person on a very early expedition.  That person never showed back up on expedition.  Finally, after ten years Mike decided to work that lead.  It led to huge gains in the system.  What was once thought of as a dead lead became the focus of the expedition for years to come.  Blood Drop was named that because when Chuck Stevens climbed out of that cenote and climbed a tree to call for the surface support, he cut himself.  The blood fell to the ground in drops, thus the name was born.

It is a privilege to be able to dive here.  What I thought of as old became new to me again.  To be able to share that with others only made it even more special. 

On our trip back out of the system, we shut down our lights once we entered the cavern zone.  It is very cool to be able to swim that far without lights directed solely by the glow of the entrance. 

Once we all cleared out of Nohoch, we made our way to Casa Cenote for lunch.   Casa Cenote is the first discovered vent to the sea of Nohoch.  It is also home to a pretty good Mexican restaurant.  After fueling up, we headed to Tulum, so the students could learn more about the Maya people and the Mayan culture.   

Tulum is an archaeological site that sits on the beach.  Leave it to the Maya to pick such a great site for a city.  A local guide guided the students.  They learned about the site and what went on there.  They topped off their day by taking lots of photos and exploring the ruins. 

The opportunity for these students to be able to participate in such a great experience will change their lives forever.  They have worked very hard, been able to do things that no one else has done and have a lot of fun in the process.  There is just nothing better than learning to do things in the real world with all of the real pressures of having to produce that they will all face once they leave school.  It just does not get any more practical than that. 

It has been a growth and learning experience for all of us.  It is the first time the Cambrian Foundation has been able to integrate students into a real world expedition out of the United States and for the students, it is a once in a lifetime chance to be exposed to that.  There is nothing artificial or constructed, just the real life daily workings of a scientific expedition.  It has been incredible to watch as these young adults have really changed as human beings. 

For detailed daily updates checkout www.cambrianfoundation.org.

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