Florida Cave Diving
What is Cave Diving?
The specialized branch of diving where individuals penetrate several hundred feet into water-submerged caves is called cave diving. This type of diving requires very specialized gear and many hours of intense training. Cave diving is a fun and rewarding activity, but not one that can be taken lightly. It is very dangerous for the untrained diver.
Types of Cave Diving
Cave diving training is conducted in stages. Each stage of training involves technical and theory training followed by hands on experience. If an individual fails to pass one level, they may not proceed to the next. The beginners level is called cavern where students learn basic cave diving rules and techniques. Those who wish to take cavern courses must have be certified in open water diving. When they are ready to do field training, they will only be allowed to stay in the cavern, or cave opening, always keeping the surface entrance in sight. The next level is intro to cave. This level continues to enhance student’s knowledge on cave diving techniques and allows them to penetrate a cave. They must keep out of side passages, and openings must always be large enough for two divers to swim through at the same time. Full cave is the final level. This is the level where divers are allowed to explore side passages and advance through narrow openings. Divers who are certified in full cave are cave diving experts and can competently maneuver through the most dangerous passages.
Why Cave Diving?
Divers venture into underwater caves for many different reasons. Some enjoy the peace and tranquility of touring a place that very few humans have seen. Others like the exploration aspect of cave diving and are attracted by the many tunnels and passages that have yet to be discovered. Perhaps one of the most important reasons that cave diving is undertaken is for the valuable scientific discoveries that are uncovered. The oxygen-deprived atmosphere of underwater caves makes it the perfect environment to preserve artifacts from the past. Important fossils that hold clues to the past are found in near perfect condition. The geological landscape of these caves holds vital information about the past several hundred thousand years of the Earth’s environment that allows scientists to speculate more accurately about the future.
Places to Go Cave Diving in Florida
There are only a few sites around the world where cave diving is permitted, and FL has some of the best. The most popular place for cave diving is in North Florida because of the abundance of large, deep caves. This southern state has several excellent sites for beginners and expert divers.
- Peacock State Park has one of the largest cave systems in North America. It is a particularly popular training ground because of the large caverns and wide tunnels it offers. Beginners are not allowed at Bonnet Cave system in Peacock Springs State Park. This dive has low visibility and tight passages and can only be made by experienced divers with the highest level of education.
- Telford cave system offer a high visibility, low depth diving experience. The long tunnels can be entered from three main caverns along the cave system allowing greater opportunity for exploration.
- Cow Spring is one of the most breathtaking cave systems in Florida. The wide, well-lit tunnels are only open to members of National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section.
- Little River is a deep cave with fast currents and magnificent geological formations. A unique twisted entrance leads to depths of over 120 feet.
- Devil’s Eye offers the perfect cave system for both beginners and cave certified divers. There are several thousand feet of well-traversed tunnels as well as unexplored areas to interest experts.
- Manatee Spring is a dive that should only be undertaken by experts. The currents are fast and visibility is less than desirable.
- Jackson Blue is the place divers who are interested in science. With gorgeous scenery and prehistoric fossils scattered throughout the tunnels, divers will be perpetually entranced.
Dangers of Cave Diving
Cave diving is often cited as the most dangerous sport in the world and with good reason. There are many hazards to contend with in the underwater caves, and those who forego or disregard training will face great danger. Years of being virtually undisturbed means that caves have accumulated high levels of silt and debris. Silt-outs occur when divers inadvertently disturb the bottom sediment and cause impaired visibility. Other hazards for divers involve the high pressure experienced through diving to extreme depths. These include decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity. Underground caves are part of a larger water system meaning that strong currents are possible. It takes a great deal of skill to navigate a cave in a current. Some hazards are dangerous for divers of any skill level. Cave-ins can occur blocking the exit or injuring divers. Avalanches are another hazard and an uncontrollable variable. Before thinking about cave diving, be sure to be well versed in scuba diving in other Florida locations.
Safety Considerations for Cave & Cavern Diving
Diving that involves penetrating into a cave means that the surface will be far less accessible than in conventional diving. This requires cave divers to adhere to extreme safety guidelines. Well-trained divers that follow the rules and are equipped with proper gear have a small chance of being injured. New divers are taught the five most important cave diving rules with the phrase, “Thank goodness all divers live.” If all divers follow the rules of training, guideline, depth, air management and lights they decrease chance of injury. Training refers to the rule that divers must never penetrate further than the highest level of training they have received. They must always maintain a continuous guideline to the cave opening. Before every dive each member of the party should be aware of their gas levels and have a plan of how far and how deep they intend to go. Air usage operates by the rule of thirds which states that each member should reserve one third of their tank contents for going in, one third for coming out and the final third for a diver in trouble. The final rule concerns lights. Cave divers know to carry backups for any vital equipment. Divers who follow the rule of lights will carry three lights. If one goes out, they must immediately exit the cave.