Cave Diving Safety and Exploration - in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
A Brief History
Quintana Roo on the sun drenched shores of Mexico's Caribbean coastline has long been a mecca for cave diving and exploration. Since the early 1980's when the first explorations were begun, explorers have pushed back the darkness to reveal a frontier so vast that it may never be fully explored. The Yucatan is primarily a flat karst (limestone) plateau with few hills and even fewer rivers. In the state of Quintana Roo on the peninsula's Caribbean coastline all the fresh water moves underground through shallow caves. These caves have provided water to the life above for millennia. The ancient Maya as well as the modern day inhabitants of the peninsula rely on this water for their survival.
Now, more than twenty years after the first explorations, roughly two hundred miles of submerged caves have been discovered and explored, establishing the Yucatan peninsula as the home of the world's largest and most spectacular underwater caves.
Learning how to cave dive
Things to consider...
Underwater caverns and caves can be quite seductive to open water scuba divers. Curiosity can sometimes overpower their sense if good judgment and self preservation, occasionally resulting in tragedy. A good course in cavern and cave diving will define the hazards and teach students the techniques they will need to cave dive safely.
- Water- you can't breathe it
- Darkness- there is nothing darker than a cave with no light
- Ceiling- no direct access to the surface
- Silt- if stirred up enough can drop visibility to zero even with a light
- Turbidity- cloudy water due to environmental conditions
- Currents- that could make it more difficult to swim out
- Branching passageways- in which you could become lost
- Restrictions- constrictions where it is possible to become stuck
- Depth- where oxygen can become toxic and nitrogen stupefying
- Physical stress
- Exertion- either fighting current, passing through numerous constrictions or enduring long swims causes fatigue
- Cold- first comes shivering, then muscle cramping
- Hot- can be a factor before or after a dive leading to dehydration
- Task loading- performing tasks that divert attention from other important aspects of the dive
- Loss of vision- from either silting, cloudy water, failure of lights or loss of the diver's mask
- Entanglement- the mandatory continuous guideline makes entanglement possible
- Equipment failure- loss of air supply or malfunction of any crucial life support equipment
- Mental stress
- Distance- (time-pressure stress) the knowledge that the exit is far away and air supply is limited
- Orientation- the fear of becoming lost especially if visibility is compromised; self doubt regarding the direction out
Reaction to stress
- Masking- denial that anything is wrong (low level stress)
- Alarm- physiological response: increase in adrenaline, respiration and heart rate
- Narrowing- inability to think clearly or act to resolve a problem; passive panic
- Panic- active irrational behavior; total loss of control
Human error is a factor in most cave diving accidents
Errors in judgment are usually caused by stress and/or poor evaluation skills where the diver(s) fail to recognize a potential hazard as significant. In a worst case scenario they react incorrectly to an ensuing problem and start a cascade of events that can lead to a life threatening emergency. Practicing emergency skills and exercising mental discipline to focus on the complexities of the dive are both key elements for safe cave diving.
For safe cave diving good cave divers must have the proper attitude
Good cave divers are:
- Equipped- use simplified, streamlined cave equipment with adequate redundancy
- Cautious- adhere to the rules of cave diving and practice emergency skills
- Conservative- stay within the limits of their training and set a safe dive plan before a dive
- Aware- monitor their comfort level, their buddies, the cave and the guideline during a dive
- Responsible- they are self sufficient and accept the fact that they may have to solve problems without assistance
The best way to avoid problems is to be properly trained and equipped
The techniques taught in these courses are born out of two basic elements: techniques developed over many years by trial and error, and the lessons learned by accident analysis. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past may be at risk of repeating them in the future. This training is essentially a survival course, and the certification a learner's permit. Good cave divers maintain an attitude of continual learning.
Undoubtedly the most exhilarating aspect of cave diving is exploration
In the case of the Yucatan, this means going into caves that have been flooded for thousands of years, often passing through submerged chambers that are encrusted with stalactites and stalagmites.
The cenotes are the doorways to the caves
Explorers try to decipher the hydro-geological clues that the cave provides, often following flowing water, large passageways or fractures in the sedimentary rock in their search for the caves' continuation. In small areas visibility can degrade with every breath or movement, changing what was once beautiful into a swirling cloud of silt.
Where does it go?
Cave explorers take detailed information on the extent and direction of the caves. They accomplish this by surveying the guideline that they install on their first dive through a given section. In recent years it has become more commonplace to include biology and water chemistry studies, thus adding to the overall understanding of these fragile ecosystems.
Photography courtesy of Gavin Newman
copyright © Action Photographics
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- Links to Cave Diving Training Agencies:
- NACD, NSS-CDS, IANTD
- Links to Cave Exploration, Survey, Biology and General Quintana Roo Cave Diving Sites:
- Yaxchen Exploration, Ox Bel Ha, Ejido Jacinto Pat, Quintana Roo Speleological Survey, El Proyecto Espeleologico Mexico y America Central, Cave Biology, Quintana Roo Cave Diving Google'd
- Why is this Cave Diving page on Locogringo.com?
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