There are some people who like football. Others like basketball. Adventurist types may like rock climbing, scuba diving, or even parasailing. Then there are those who like to cave dive.
What on (or under) earth is cave diving? It is exactly as it sounds – diving into underwater caves. This is not to be confused with cavern diving – which is much safer, and considered recreational in contrast to cave diving. In cavern diving, the diver will go as deep as some 100 feet into the water – somewhere between the cave itself and the surface of the water. Their entry point is always visible. With cave diving, however, the diver goes well beyond sight of the entry point, through the cavern, and into the cave. These caves can be as shallow as a thousand feet. Cave diving, therefore, obviously requires some serious precautions, considerations, and equipment.
Hazards, and Keeping Safe Down Under
There are a few general rules that follow good practices of cave diving. The safety precautions that need to be learned are obtained through proper training, and exercised by always having a guideline, properly managing air/gas supplies, and having proper and sufficient lighting.
Training: It is non-negotiable that those desiring to go cave diving require special training. In these caves, there are strong currents. There may be a cave that is actually an inlet for a river that flows into it. Some caves are syphons. Caves with tunnels can have various currents as well – some going out, and some coming in. There are also special considerations to give as respects to buoyancy and navigation – which is not the same as it is in open water. The specialized equipment that cave divers have also require training for use, otherwise it can prove to be just as fatal as not having the equipment at all. Without proper training, a diver cannot expect to be successful.
Guidelines: Many divers who had sufficient training, proper equipment, and sufficient gas to last throughout their dive still did not find themselves successful at returning to the surface where they began. Considering the fact that you are trekking into an unfamiliar, underwater cave with many passages, it becomes quite evident that there is a chance of getting lost. It is extremely important to have a continuous guideline that will lead you back out of the cave, regardless of experience, equipment, or supplies.
Air management: Do not let your supply drop beneath two-thirds before deciding to return to the surface. In order to be prepared for the unforeseen (loss of lighting, possible loss of guideline, needing to share air with another diver, lost/broken apparatus) the rule of “two-thirds” should be followed: use no more than a third of your air supply during penetration, and use the rest for the return. A diver should also be cautious to use the proper breathing media, as some are meant to be used in shallow waters, and others in deeper waters. Improper usage can have physiological effects that result in pulmonary distress and/or failures.
Having proper lighting: Not only should a diver carry the proper lights, but he should also have backup lights. Three lights total: one primary, and two backup. Eventually every diver experiences light failure. The last thing anyone wants to happen is to be blinded in an underwater cave. Carry extra lights, please.
Never go beyond the depth for which you are trained. Gasses react differently in the body, the pressure and circumstances increase chances of complications every 30 feet, and our circulatory and pulmonary systems are not built to naturally withstand large, sudden pressure changes (such as rising too quickly from hundreds of feet below). Apparatuses can break under rising pressure, and bodily movements become different, and more complex. This is a very technical sport that merits certification.
Equipment Required for Survival
The deeper someone decides to go into the water, the more things he will generally need to have a safe return. Depending on the depth, basic scuba gear and some add-ons may suffice. For more serious diving, there will be some additional necessities. For cave diving, a few of the things you need will be along the lines of suits, masks, fins, exposure protection, harnesses (side-mount, back plate, and/or wing), line arrows and guidelines, safety reels, propulsion devices/vehicles, buoyancy control devices and weights, gas supply, instrumentation , knives, and dive lights. As every circumstance is different, it is best to investigate what devices and outfitting are needed for each dive.
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So, When You Do Decide to Go Cave Diving…
Florida and California offer the best spots for cave diving for the North America. A few of Florida’s dive spots are called Manatee Spring, Cow Spring, Telford Spring, Little River, Devil’s Eye, and Jackson Blue. Mexico boasts Dos Ojos, Mayan Blue, Temple of Doom, and Cenotes of the Riviera, just to name a few. Hawaii has the popular Maui’s Bubble Cave, which is at it implies: there is an air bubble in this cave, in which divers can actually remove their masks and breathe!
In South America, The Great Blue Hole can be quite the adventure for those in Belize. It is named such because when above the water, it looks like a great blue hole. For those wanting to explore a vertical cave, this is the most aesthetically-pleasing dive for you. The Dive Peninsula in Papagayo, Costa Rica may not have impressive seascape that many other caves feature. Perhaps the seahorses and other marine life will make the dive totally worth the plunge. For those looking specifically for notable marine life, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil is the place to see anything from dolphins to manta rays.
Africa’s very own Sleeping Pool or Chirorodziva (Pool of the Fallen) in Makonde District, Mashonaland West Province, in central, northern Zimbabwe offer unusually high visibility ranges (upward of 160 feet). It is part of one of the most extensive cave networks accessible to the public.
Europe’s France has a few caves, notably Fontain de St George, Emergence du Russel, and Trou Madame. If you are looking for colorful reefs and passages, you will want to go to Chios Island in Greece. The Alghero Caves in Italy in the Sardinian waters near Porto Conte Bay have the best caves in the Mediterranean. While there are some above-water caves, there are more than a couple dozen below water that are available for exploration.
While the Asian Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar technically offers caverns versus caves, they are teeming with colorful aquatic life – the likes of which are rarely seen. The Malaysian Island Pulau Sipadan has a limestone cave. However, if you are an animal lover you may not want to go – as this cave has tons of passages with turtles that never made it to the surface for air.
Piccaninnie Ponds in Australia hosts a rather bright ‘Cathedral,’ limestone cave beneath the sinkhole. Underwater visibility is particularly good here.
Why Go Cave Diving?
Despite the hazards and many fatalities reported, people go cave diving because you can literally explore other worlds. It is not every day you see sting rays, or colorful reefs; stalactites, stalagmites, and lime-covered rock walls lining paths to sea-life unseen. The marvels of the aquatic biosphere are simply beyond justification by words – and every cave diver knows that.