Conservation:
The forgotten aspect of cave diving

By Christophe Le Maillot


One of the most important aspects of cave diving is the conservation of this unique underground environment. We are especially fortunate here in Mexico with over one million feet of surveyed cave passage! Although impressive in size, most caves here are remembered for their beauty. Nohoch Nah Chich, Actun Koh, Sac Actun, Dos Ojos and Naharon are a few names on a long list of highly decorated systems. With a resent increase in divers visiting these caves, we are observing greater physical damage.

We all know that the best way of preserving a pristine cave is to not enter it. But, by following a set of protective rules based on common sense, the speleology-diver can minimize the negative impact.

Exploration

Exploration can be the first dilemma and explorers are perhaps the ones responsible for preventing future damages. Good line laying while choosing obvious tunnels and avoiding delicate areas is a key factor in protecting the cave. Survey data collected during exploratory dives are important for map making and in gaining insight to the areas aquifer and understanding a cave system is a priority before even dreaming of extending any of its borders. In this respect, if the result of line being laid is minimum, it is perhaps better to leave a passageway undisturbed.

Training

Learning how to cave dive can have a brutal effect on the surroundings. Cave instructors are reminded of their role as educators. Safety first, but Cave Conservation a close second. Some training agencies have lowered their standards in certifying cave instructors. Without a proper understanding, based on experience in the environment, these instructors are unable to download vital and basic information to their students. Many cave instructors are following unwritten rules on where to conduct drills. Special sites are chosen in order to avoid too much trashing. Visiting instructors are able to get information on appropriate dive sites from instructors working in the area. It is unthinkable to perform out of light/air sharing exercises in highly decorated sections of Sac Actun, such as Cuzah Nah or Kalimba. As well, get properly trained before trying advanced techniques. Specialty courses such as Stage Diving, DPV and Side mount are widely available.

Touring

Cave divers should know and understand their limitations. Underground journeys should be carefully organized around a divers level of experience and ability to perform in the water. Not all caves are suitable for newly certified divers or for divers still lacking good technique and dexterity. It is also the responsibility of group leaders and guides with a broader knowledge of the sites to assess the divers abilities when choosing which areas to visit. With over 70 different caves to choose from, finding one appropriate shouldn't be a difficult task. Purchasing the services of a competent local guide is the best way to visit the surrounding caves. The amount of divers per team must also be regarded as a possible treat to the fragile environment. It is unnecessary to overcrowd featured rooms or domes not big enough to turn around in without damaging the precious speleothems. The size of your group needs to be dictating your choice of caves. When compared with exploration and learning how to cave dive, touring the underground realm should have the least amount of environmentally disruptive influence.

Configuration and Technique

Gear consideration and configuration is often overlooked. Poor equipment set-up will have a minimum but negative impact. Excessive redundant equipment, poorly secured, adjusted or organized is commonly observed around the local Cenotes. Bad trim, too much drag and over-weighting will leave on the caves floor the unmistakable prints of a 250 lbs Isopod (You!).

The lack of flow and decorated nature of most systems in Quintana Roo emphasizes the need for buoyancy control and good propulsion. Techniques used in other parts of the world, such as Pull-and Glide or Ceiling Walking will permanently damage these caves.

Stage diving when considered will extend your enjoyment of this beautiful underground realm. Your extra cylinders should be properly secured. With more equipment to think about, a better awareness is now required. The dump station must be carefully chosen to avoid dropping cylinders in fragile sections.

It is also important to stress the fact that too many cave divers are not following guidelines like they should. In reality, swimming too far from the line increases the damage radius made to a passage. If damage from diver impact develops it should be limited to no more than a couple of feet on either side of the line. It is only our enthusiasm in cave ecology that will develop a more caring attitude toward this unique environment we dive in and our commitment to conservation is needed, now more than ever.

 

 


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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

 

 

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