Uws Vol 36 3 Am Article

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  • 8/8/2019 Uws Vol 36 3 Am Article

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    12 Underwater Speleology

    on expeditionin ABACO

    byAgnes MilowkaPhotos by Wes Skiles

    DeepHOlesUnraveling The Mysteries

    Of The Bahamas

    As we ew over Abaco I asked the pilot So what does everyone

    think o when they think o the Bahamas?Sex on the beach hesaid without any hesitation... I can only assume he meant the

    cocktail. Either way it all sounded rather promising.

    Ive been getting spoiled rotten over the past year living and

    diving in Floridas cave country and one would think that Id be

    rather hard to please ater this experience. Yet the Bahamas did

    more than just please me; they titillated me, intrigued me and

    eventually let me breathless. While everyone is always going

    on about the Mexico caves, little did I know that not ar o the

    Floridian coast, nothing short o a secret treasure exists some-

    how the Bahamas had gone under my radar.

    But alas, we werent heading to the Bahamas to drink pina co-

    ladas and swing around in a hammock, we were on an expedi-

    tion led by PhD Kenny Broad, to unravel some o the mysteries

    that lay within the Blue Holes o Abaco. Joining the team were

    everyone rom palaeontologists, biologist to microbiologist and

    climatologist. Jenn Macalady, PhD Tom Ilie, PhD Richard Franz,PhD Gary Morgan and Tom Morris... the list o scientists reads

    rather like the whos who o the cave scientic research world.

    Whats more Wes Skiles and the Karst Production crew were

    there to document the goings on o the trip and immortalize the

    work o the divers and the discoveries o the scientists with lm

    and still photography. I was in Ag heaven as Wes kindly allowed

    me to play with the big boys toys. The Nikon D- 700 was amaz-

    ing and produced incredible images; it is air to say that it kicks

    www.nss

    ass all over my little point-and-

    shoot and that I now desper-

    ately want one.

    We didnt come to the Baha-

    mas just or the sake o blow-

    ing bubbles, we came to dive

    or a purpose and this ex-

    perience more than anything

    beore brought home the

    message that caves are more

    than just a playground or div-

    ers. All too oten a cave is seen

    as nothing more than a hole in the ground that divers can pen-

    etrate and then sit around bragging to their mates about how

    ar they got. Cave divers, generally speaking, oat around en-

    joying themselves and have little appreciation or what they are

    looking at beyond the aesthetically pleasing beauty that sur-

    rounds them. Scientists, given the same opportunities as us to

    see what is down there, would have kittens o excitement.

    Despite the caves being right there below our eet, we know

    so little about them. Our understanding o karst development,

    hydrology and cave biology is still in its inancy. To this day very

    ew scientists are cave divers, amking synergy between cave div-

    ers and scientists essential. Thus we got the opportunity to get

    wet and check out the caves, and in between going ooohhh

    ahhhwe brou ght back valuable data that has huge potential

    or the work o the scientists. I ound it incredibly rewarding to

    combine doing something I love with a rm scientic purpose.

    One o the best dives o the project, and possibly one o the

    best dives I have ever done, was a recovery o the now extincttortise shell and crocodile skull. Both were a cool 3000 years old

    and were recovered in aultless condition - perectly intact! This

    was possible because o the special environment within Saw-

    mill Sink and the thick layer o sulphur that blankets the hole

    at about 9m.

    A number o things happen as you swim into it. First watch-

    ing a diver go in is like watching a magic trick. The diver sud-

    denly disappears leaving swirls akin to og. As you enter the

    layer yoursel all vision comes to a screeching halt, a total wipe

    out in visibility. All perception o where you are disappears

    a perect conusion o the senses. Suddenly you smell it! Yep

    you actually smell it underwater and it is almost as unpleasant

    as taking a deep whi o undergarments ater a ew days diving.

    What actually happens is that your body absorbs this stu, it

    permeates through your skin makes me eel kinda dirty just

    thinking about it. Even ater you pop out into clear dark water

    beneath the sulphur layer the smell stays with you.

    The visuals are spectacular, the experience is uncanny even i

    it does smell a little o, but what is really ascinating is the act

    that this sulphur layer keeps the water below it in an anaerobic

    state. That means no oxygen is getting through that thick layer

    o sulphur and into the bowels o the cave. This got our micro-

    biologist Jenn Macalady incredibly excited. The environment

    simulates that o the Earths surace many millions o years ago,

    which means that bacteria that are long extinct elsewhere are

    thriving here in Sawmill Sink. By studying them

    to grasp what lie on earth used to be like.

    The sulphur layer and lack o oxygen have urth

    es. Anything that has allen into the sink thro

    tence remains perectly preserved, especially a

    buried in the muck, commonly reerred to as p

    credible to see a tortoise shell that could very w

    in only yesterday, were it not or the act that t

    extinct on Abaco or hundreds o years. Each ind

    the shell was in place and many o the extraneo

    still there.

    The dive itsel was gnarly as hell, a whole team

    to light up the recovery sequence. The silt wa

    on us rom the slope, percolation was coming do

    the ceiling, not to mention the mess that come

    tion. The eeling o accomplishment when the

    it saely into the container was great. Then the

    thrill when the boxes and the remains made itand into the arms o the eager and ever waiting

    eyes lit up the moment they saw the remains -

    nothing quite like this specimen. The exciteme

    and Gary Morgan was thrilling to watch as the p

    the knowledge gained rom this recovery are in

    ing this moment on camera meant that many

    able to experience the joy they elt.

    There is more inside caves then bones o long

    however. Working beside a cave animal love

    and watching the man do his thing has opened

    possibilities. Each o these caves is an intricate,

    contained eco system. I enjoy watching crawlie

    the caves, but beyond the obvious are a whole

    smaller little dudes. The naked eye o your typ

    is not trained to spot these little guys, but Tom

    doing this or over 30 years and in this time has

    new species. Now Im no scientist, but nding ois typically a lietime achievement or a biologist

    has been most efcient and his track record is rat

    I nothing else this demonstrates rather neatly

    ground world really is the nal rontier and we

    learn and discover.

    The animals that Tom Ilie does nd can be app

    water column i you have a good set o eyes.

    I dont, I had to wait to see the intricate detail

    Highly decorated

    (opposite).

    Agnes pauses to

    caves extraordin

    (left).

    The Grand Hallw

    Cave Cathedral R

    top).

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    14 Underwater Speleology

    the animals until

    they were in a vial

    and under the

    microscope. They

    were translucent,

    colourul, ragile

    and captivating

    in their moves

    and sheer beauty.

    Remipedes and

    worms... animals

    so wild looking

    and yet so cute I

    wanted to keep

    them as pets. The

    wildest human

    imagination could

    not conceive

    these creatures... they must have inspired so many science c-

    tion writers. So keep your eyes open and peeled straight into

    the water column, you never know, that little white dot might

    be an incredible creature rather then just a speck o silt.

    While I dont pretend to understand the nuances o the work

    the scientist were doing, I can certainly appreciate it. The data

    the team collected will help improve knowledge and under-

    standing o caves in the Bahamas and around the world. More

    knowledge can only increase the importance these cave envi-

    ronments and eco systems have. Perhaps this can have a posi-

    tive inuence on how olks, cave divers and non-divers alike,

    perceive what is just below the surace o the earth.

    Yet, at the end o the day I am a cave diver and, as ar as Imconcerned the pursuit o extraordinary beauty is a per ectly le-

    gitimate quest. The team, spearheaded by Brian Kakuk, headed

    to a couple o beautiul caves called Dans and Ralphs to pho-

    tograph and lm them. Dans was my rst opportunity to see

    speleothems underwater, and oh boy, did I get spoiled.

    I was blown away to put it mildly. The sheer amount o dec-

    oration was incredible; there was room ater room o decora-

    tions. Yet each room was very dierent and had a wildly distinct

    eel. My avourite was called the Alleyway, where I got to swim

    though a passageway with tall stalactites and stalagmites on

    either side o me, it elt like I was swimming through a giant

    crystal orest. The whole scene was illuminated rom all sides

    by the ever powerul Dive Rite 50W lights, meaning I could see

    everything - amazing!

    Further Dans, like all the caves, has a number o lie orms. I do

    believe I might have clapped my hands in excitement when Isaw my very rst Luciuga. It is a sh, with a ace only a mother

    could love that screams Jurassic. It is the oldest and the only

    truly cave adapted sh in the world. This little creature is just

    wickedly cool.

    I thought Dans was the best cave in the world until I dove

    Ralphs. This cave dees description; it is probably the prettiest

    and most special cave on the planet. I could happily dive this

    cave every day or the rest o my lie and not get bored with it.

    Ater you dive it,

    you seriously con-

    sider never set-

    ting oot inside

    a cave again, or

    perhaps simply

    lying down to die,

    because nothing

    will ever beat this

    experience. Ev-

    ery type o crystal

    decoration imag-

    inable is present

    in this cave; in-

    tricate rose-like

    ormations, ex-

    quisite crystals,

    stalactites piled

    on so thick not even a athead could swim through them with-

    out making contact. Then there were the soda straws with little

    diamond-shaped crystals at the tips. They say diamonds are

    orever, well, this cave has captured my heart big time. I elt as

    uzzy as the halocline that surrounded us as we explored and

    photographed the cave.

    Brian Kakuk runs Bahamas Underground (www.bahamasun-

    derground.com) and he was our illustrious guide throughout

    the trip. Not only is this man a genuine explorer with extensive

    knowledge o the local area, he is also a abulous host and per-

    haps most importantly a top bloke. He deserves a medal or

    looking ater our lot, taking us to orgasm-inducing caves and

    or the late nights he stayed up lling all our tanks. A big thank

    you must also go to Nancy Albury and the Friends o the En-

    vironment; without their support, patience and hospitality we

    would have been completely lost.

    So, when I think o the Bahamas, I think o the most incredible

    caves in the world; a place where each cave is dierent, unique

    and startling. I think o ascinating scientic work and o all the

    questions the scientists are attempting to answer. I think o

    ossils, bones and the oldest living sh in the world. I think o

    a beautiul rugged coastline. I think o sunsets and the sweet

    taste o a well-deserved beer at the end o the day. But I do not

    think o sex on the beach. Somehow, to my great dismay, the

    Bahamas stereotype managed to elude me. Still, one cant have

    everything and there is always next time.

    www.nss