Cave diving is an extremely hazardous sport. For further information on how to become a trained cave diver, please refer to our training links. The information here is meant to answer many of the common questions that we receive.
You bet your life it is. In fact, over 400 people have bet there lives on it since the mid 1960's and lost the bet. In the last 5 years here in the Yucatan Peninsula 4 separate incidents have led to 8 fatalities. In almost all cave diving accidents people entered into an environment which they were ill equipped and untrained for. With proper training, equipment and attitude cave diving can be safely undertaken. For more information on training please see our training links.
In fact there is quite a lot to see within the underwater caves here. Although all the caves vary in their appearance there are some common characteristics that they share. Since these caves were all dry during the last ice age, it is quite common to find the same beautiful decorations or speleothems that you would find in a dry cave anywhere else in the world. Within the entrances of many of the cenotes, the bigger the better, a diver will encounter an incredible pyrotechnics display of natural daylight as it enters and refracts in beautiful curtains of light silhouetting the stalactites that drip from the ceiling. A more beautiful blue and green color scheme you will never see. One of the more unique aspects of the caves here is a phenomenon called the halocline. The halocline occurs where saltwater penetrating through the limestone from the ocean meets and interfaces with fresh water moving in the opposite direction from the jungle. In some areas with high flow you can actually see the fresh water skipping over the top of the salt water. As a diver passes through the halocline their body mixes the two layers making it appear as though someone has poured oil into the water. If a diver rises up from the saltwater layer to the fresh water they experience the optical illusion of coming into a dry cave due to the different way light refracts in salt and fresh water. The sizes of the cave passageways vary considerably. As an example, the main trunk passage of Ox Bel Ha called the Mayan Skyway is enormous. It's sidewall to sidewall distance exceeds 100 feet in some areas and its floor to ceiling distance averages around 25 feet. There are also small areas that exist but in general the caves are larger than you might imagine. There is a considerable amount of life within the caves themselves.
How long we stay down is determined by how many tanks we take, how deep we plan to go and what our decompression schedule will be on return. A typical dive with backmounted double tanks could last 1 hour or so. For our exploration 'push' dives, dives of 5 to 6 hours are not uncommon. On such a dive, a diver will carry as many as five to six tanks each. We also take along fruit juice and chocolate milk to drink along the way. How do we stay warm? We all wear thick neoprene wetsuits and even drysuits that are well designed to keep our body heat in. Even so we can still be cold at the end of a dive. So if you happen to be driving down the road here and see a diver dressed for the arctic emerging from the jungle, chances are he isn't lost, he's just going cave diving.
It helps to be in shape for cave diving and if you do it regularly you will be in great shape. On a basic cave dive with backmounted double 80 cubic foot aluminum cylinders and the required equipment you are looking at about 115 lbs. of gear. Our cousins to the north in Florida dive with higher capacity steel tanks that weigh even more. It is possible to walk some distance with all of your gear on, but with the heat and sometimes ladders to contend with, it can be tricky. For a typical 'push' exploration dive a diver will have as many as 5-6 tanks in addition to 2 scooters and the required equipment. If you were able to put all of this on a scale you would be looking at about 300 lbs. of gear!!! Of course, we put most of it on once we get in the water. Still, the drag that all of that equipment can create while swimming can be a real...well..drag.
The scooter or Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) has become an essential piece of equipment for our exploration efforts. By using a scooter we are able to cover much greater distances in far less time and still have less decompression than we would if swimming. For long range push dives, each diver will utilize two scooters.
Hansel and Gretel had their breadcrumbs, we have #18 twisted nylon line. As we explore we carry reels that contain 1500 or so feet of line. As we enter the cave we tie the line off, then survey it as we exit. It is not uncommon to encounter zero visibility in the cave at times and the line provides us with certainty that we will find the way out. As an added measure of safety we also employ the use of line arrows. A line arrow will always point us to the nearest air source. Moreover, each line arrow has a unique name written on it in addition to the date and the explorer's name. The unique names are arbitrary but help us greatly in orienting ourselves in the cave and also help us to name some of our lines. Line arrows are also used to mark where water samples have been taken.
Removal of line arrows can be very dangerous, with distinct and different names and colors, line arrows serve to orient divers within the cave. We feel that having the original line arrows of the original explorers also adds to the history of the cave, it is a pleasure to do a dive here and know who's footsteps you are following in.
This is a fairly hard question to answer as we all do things for different reasons. To be sure, exploring anything is a thrill. We can say without any argument that more people have been on the moon than in Ox Bel Ha! We are the first people to have entered many of these caves since the last ice age, if ever. To enter into a large decorated cave gallery and shine light on it for the first time is beyond comparison. To be sure, there are many puzzles to solve and the challenge of that is appealing as well. You never know what will be around the next corner of the cave.
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© G.E.O. Grupo de Exploración Ox Bel Ha
Dedicated to the continued exploration of the world's largest underwater cave system.
Cave diving in cenotes and underground rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula,
Mayan Riviera, Quintana Roo, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Mexico