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Education, Enjoyment and Exploration…

Conservation and Exploration – NACD Journal 2nd Quarter, 2005

I’d just finished up on one of my regular work days filling tanks, selling equipment, helping people with their gear and chatting about diving, and as usual was heading off cave diving to relax and unwind. It happened to be one of those perfect North Florida evenings, the river flowing gently by, the sun heading down for the night, the weather was just plain comfortable and they’re weren’t even any mosquitoes around! After saying “Hi” to the usual suspects, I started to gear up, threw my stage and O2 bottles in the water and then walked back up to the ambulance to grab my scooter. Slipping into the water, I pulled my mask down and let the cool 72 degree water wash away my troubles. Scootering down the run, the usual sense of calm descended over me, and I barrel rolled down into the cave, dropped my O2 at the sign, locked in the cruise control and headed into the system.

It’s a great time of day to be diving, most of the daytime divers have already left, the night guys aren’t here yet and of course the water’s crystal clear. Usually I just go with the flow, so it’s definitely going to be a different evening for me, as I actually have a specific destination in mind…tonight I’m going to check out one of the more pristine rooms I’ve found, since I know that some divers had been digging around back there, but no worries ‘cause I’m thinking to myself how bad could it be? I reach my distance, make the jump, hang the SS on the jump line to keep it off the floor and start off on a peaceful swim. I reach somewhere near the midpoint of the line and make another jump and almost spit out my regulator in disbelief…..I’ve been here quite a few times before and I’m expecting to see a really pretty little room with a PVC stake in the middle of the floor that is usually covered with lots of bacterial growth (or “orange snot” to the locals!) but instead I’m greeted by huge gashes in the floor and walls, destroyed clay banks, some scattered, very sparse remnants of bacterial growth, chipped rocks and a general feeling of mayhem and destruction. How could this have happened?

In these government-controlled regulatory times, one of the more peaceful places I like to escape to is some of the more “off the beaten track” rooms and tunnels in one of my favorite underwater caves. As someone who dives the caves daily, I see more of the signs of divers’ presence in our underwater churches than maybe most, the occasional new markings in the soft floor, brilliant white rock chips laying around that weren’t there a week ago and that sort of thing, but on a general basis it’s within the first 1500ft of cave. To reach the previously mentioned room, one must scooter back 1900 ft, jump off the mainline, swim up a line and take a jump, in other words a dive that is not within the scope of your average “recreational” cave diver.

This of course brings us to the question of who would do something like this, and while I do know the people involved, that’s outside the scope of this article. What I do know is that these experienced cave divers were back there digging out a beautiful, pristine room thinking they’d found “going tunnel” and in doing so lowered the visibility dramatically in the front half of a very popular system on a weekend, as well as destroying one of the more beautiful rooms in the system!! The real tragedy here is unfortunately after it had all been done, the “lead” was discovered to be false! It’s not my place to judge as the parties involved have far more experience than I do, but it does bring up a number of questions in my mind such as…When is it okay to dig? Is it ever? Should you consult with others?  As this was in a “public” cave, is it okay to do what you want?

All I know is how I felt when I saw that room. I almost wanted to cry, and I remember being overwhelmed by a feeling of despair that something so pretty could have been abused like that, which slowly turned into a feeling of anger, quietly seeping into rage. Thinking about it later, I also find it disheartening that one of the more untouched rooms in the system has been ruined for others to enjoy in the future. We’ve had incidents of vandalism over the years, and while I understand that there may have been a lead, the after effects were the same as that of deliberate vandalism. I hope that reading about this gets to you as much as it got to me, and hopefully people will realize that it is up to each individual cave diver to make a responsible decision about how their actions within a system will affect it and also other divers.

It is one thing to complain about something, but something entirely different to act upon it. We were all taught about cave conservation in class, but too many times I’ve seen stages sitting on a soft, silty floor, empty stages clipped off on a waist ring and left to hang straight up banging into the cave ceiling, scooter shroud imprints in the clay, people breaking off rocks while pulling and gliding or just plowing through passages they could easily do cleanly if they’d just taken the time to work on their technique. So please, next time you’re out cave diving, take a moment to place your stages properly, take the time to hang your scooter where is does not impact the cave and most importantly, realize that everything you do in the cave has an impact on others and the cave environment itself. Remember that what you might enjoy doing for whatever reason could just be what others might consider to be environmental cave terrorism.

In conclusion, thank you for taking the time to read this and hopefully if you see things like this occurring, you’ll take a moment to chat with the people involved. I doubt too many people reading this would walk into a church and spit on the floor or carve their name in the walls!! Please be aware that you don’t have to be abrasive about it, a lot of times people are just not aware of their actions, they don’t realize that it’s not okay to leave your scooter lying on a rock or the floor when there’s an option of hanging it on a line, simply because they’ve seen other cave divers doing it and have assumed that it’s kosher. Anyways, try to slow down and think a little bit before you act, keep your cave diving safe and please take good care of our underwater cathedrals.

  1. Bobby Said,

    This was sad and quite profound to read. I remember reading this in 2005 and pondering these same questions. Here we are 4/12 years later; cave diving has grown by leaps and bounds, with more cave divers being certified every day. What used to be “crazy”, has now become “cool”, bringing a different breed of divers to the caves.

    I was trained to respect the cave and to leave no trace. I work very hard to do that, and pride myself on my conservation efforts. I see these “new” divers with their sloppy technique and it just makes me cringe. Recently I was diving a popular “public” cave with a friend, and though I consider myself very conscientious, with a strong focus on conservation, in my excitement I clipped my scooter off to the line and let it rest in the sand, completely oblivious! My buddy called me out on it, pointing out my mistake and offering a solution to help prevent this type of carelessness in the future. Thank you for that…. 🙂

    I take cave diving and cave conservation VERY seriously and will continue to work to be a better cave diver. Thank you for the reminder….and the wake-up call.

    B

  2. Rich Said,

    I know what you mean, Bobby. Seems all we can do is just be the best we can be, and encourage others to do the same…..

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