Mexico Cave Exploration Project Report
by Susan Bird
Last month Beto and I went down to the
As part of the tour, we drifted down a long section of the canal in our bathing suits (followed by the boat), and snorkeled at the underwater cave entrances of the 2 caves in the biosphere. At Kaapechen we encountered a large school of snappers and two resident manatees.
In addition to visiting Sian Ka'an, we did several
warm-up dives in Taj Mahal
and NoHoch Nah Chich,
prepared gear, and generally got the 'lay of the land' prior to the project.
David Rhea and Mark Messersmith flew in from
One of the most spectacular sights I have ever witnessed was during one of the NoHoch dives. Our photo team (David, Mark and I) was swimming behind the video team in order to not interfere with their footage. Up ahead, Beto and Anthony carried massive, bright HMI lights, which entirely lit up the huge rooms of this cave system, considered by many to be the most beautifully decorated cave in the world. From our vantage point (50 ft or so behind the video team) we were able to see an amazing panorama: the divers lit the walls of the huge ballroom-sized rooms--clear, blue green water contrasted with the indescribably beautiful and plentiful white decorations, Jarrod's camera lights lit the divers in their colorful drysuits swimming slowly in mid water, and Jarrod with his camera was in silhouette against this dramatic backdrop. I have been in this cave many times before over the past 10 years, and this was by far the most striking and gorgeous view of NoHoch Nah Chich I have seen.
The project ran from Mon- Fri, so on the Sat prior to our start date we had a pre-project meeting at our base of operations, Zero Gravity. This GUE dive shop is located near to Puerto Adventuras, and there is a major fill station (open 24/7) just 5 minutes from the store.
There were at least 16
divers involved in the effort from locations all over the world. Jarrod,
David, Anthony, and Mark flew in from
While several of us arrived a few days early, some of the divers (Per and Sigurd) had been working for the previous 3 weeks to prepare gear-- namely the scooters, for the project. Aside from the scooters, gear requirements included exploration materials, and photo & video equipment. We used 32% for all project dives, as the systems are very shallow.
We wrapped up just as the sun was setting (around 5pm) to get tanks & scooters back to the shop and fill station for refilling & charging. Every evening, the project managers would assess the day's progress and determine the objectives and teams for the following day, depending on resources.
The base cenote of YC is located on private property close to the coastal road heading south past Tulum. It is a lovely starting point, a wide-open lake surrounded by mangrove and jungle foliage stretching about 400 feet across to the cave entrance. As the system continues to the west, the cenotes become less abundant and more jungle-like, filled with cenote-fish, tarpons, turtles, and crocodiles lurking around the perimeters. While there are opportunities to surface during dives in this system, there is great incentive not to linger too long at the surface, for obvious reasons.
For the first 9,000 ft, the cave is dark, so it is very dramatic to see light penetrating down through cracks in the ceilings, and it is a welcome sight to scooter through the cenotes as your eyes readjust to color and light. It was also very striking to see large flashes of animated bright silver against the darkness of the cave walls, when the tarpons ventured farther than usual into the cave system.
In general the first part of the system is relatively narrow from floor to ceiling (not tight, but consistently narrow). Since the dark cave walls absorb so much light, and because we were on scooters, it was necessary to be very alert so as not to lose the line or hit the ceiling or walls. Beyond the 9K safety station, the cave opens up, becomes lighter and more decorated, and is far more visually engaging.
Aside from doing surface work-- which everyone pitched in to accomplish (analyzing tanks, assembling scooters, carrying and staging gear at the cenote, etc.), Beto and I were able to dive every day. We assisted with set-up and clean-up dives, and we supported some of the video work by lighting up sections of the cave with powerful HMI lights. (Jarrod recently acquired a commercial HD video camera with a humongous custom housing, and the results of his filming are truly spectacular.)
Beto's dives were more demanding (than mine), as he has
some history doing projects in
On the last project day I
had the unique opportunity to do a dive with Danny to double-check some survey
data and to clean-up (collect safety bottles) at the farthest safety station at
9K. Since we had enough gas, we toured beyond the safety station to have
a look at the 'good' part of the cave.
During the previous four days I had been doing support dives to the 6K
station, so this was a real privilege. Past 9K, the cave expanded and
became lighter-- it contained large, odd-shaped formations, a significant
halocline, and a large section of the floor looked like it had been finished
with beautiful Italian tile. The dive was more demanding in terms of
required tasks, and it was a total blast!
Another aspect that I
really liked was that every day the teams would change-- divers were
interchangeable among the various roles & teams, as the tasks
required. Naturally, the more experienced explorers did the more
aggressive exploration dives, but the roles on all teams were entirely
interchangeable among divers of similar capacities. For instance, I dove
with eight different buddies (in different groupings) over the five days, doing
a variety of interesting and challenging tasks. All of my buddies were
fabulous-- dialed in, competent, confident, and the dives were fun, productive,
In the meantime, we can
hardly wait for our next trip to
I hope you enjoyed this report.
For more information on the MCEP project please visit here