Bahamas Blue Holes 2016: A Team With 200 Years of Experience

Fossilized coral and conch shells embedded in the limestone tell the story of ancient Earth history. (Photo by Jill Heinerth)

Cristina Zenato, yes, of the Santa Cristina Zenato vineyard, a native of Lake Garda, Italy, has been living in Grand Bahama Island for over 22 years, where she runs educational diving programs and technical diving at the Underwater Explorers Society. When she’s not diving, well, she’s diving—facilitating shark research, cave exploration, and coral reef restoration, among many other activities.

Expedition Blog 6 / Dec. 9 / By Cristina Zenato

Twenty-two years ago I came to the Bahamas from Italy to learn to scuba dive and I discovered they had sharks on the dives here, an animal I have always been fascinated by and attracted to. After only a week I decided to stay and make the Bahamas my home and diving my life.

The island was beautiful to me and full of new experiences. The first question I had was about fresh water: how could islands without mountains, rivers, or lakes have so much fresh water available? The answer was right below my feet: underwater caves that dot the forested island.

It wasn’t long after I learned about these caves that I wanted to dive them. I discovered cave diving thanks to Ben Rose. Watching him on my 11th dive ever, floating in water so clear he looked like he was in space, I fell in love with cave diving. Since then I have followed every available line and when the lines ended I started to explore. I have met a lot of incredible divers along the way and learned a lot from each one of them. Now on this project, here in the pineyards of Abaco, I am watching as two of today’s most experienced cave explorers submerge together for a survey dive. What comes to mind are two quotes that go very well together:

“Knowledge is power” and “with power comes great responsibility.”

A warning sign marks the entrance to the cave underwater to warn divers that proper training is needed before entering an overhead environment. (Photo by Jill Heinerth)
A warning sign marks the entrance to the cave underwater to warn divers that proper training is needed before entering an overhead environment. (Photo by Jill Heinerth)

Knowledge on this expedition is present in abundance, with nearly 200 years of cave diving knowledge on this one team. Tom Morris, for example (the cave exploring biologist on the group), at age 70 brings 57 years of cave diving and knowledge to the team. But numbers are relative if this knowledge is not used correctly—you can have 57 one-year experiences or 57 years of experience.

This team is composed of curious explorers, inventive engineers, and talented photographers that have been on every corner of this planet, and they have explored and collected scientific information and communicated it via diverse media. Their knowledge roams in many different directions.

See one of the diverse media approaches below:

The team members—Dr. Kenny Broad (25 years of cave diving), Brian Kakuk (30 years), Jill Heinerth (23 years), Steve Bogaert (25 years), Tom Morris (57 years), and me (20 years)—do not want to keep all this experience for themselves; they have an invested interest in sharing their knowledge so it can be used to improve the way we live. They want everybody, and especially the local people of the Bahamas, to benefit from it.

A central goal of this project is outreach with local school kids and classrooms throughout North America via Google Hangouts organized by Explore by the Seat of your Pants and National Geographic. Our base camp is set up in an interactive style, with stations about forestry, fossils, cave diving, cave mapping, and herbal medicine.

Local school children are organized in teams, rotate through the stations and learn about the integral relationship between the forest, the caves, and the fresh water table beneath their feet. Every morning one of us enters the cave to place a pinger that students can detect later in the day with sensors above ground. We do this to illustrate to the kids topics ranging from cave tracking to pollution transport. We also collect cave critters (that we release at the end of the day).

This is indeed the quietest time of the day, my morning meditation. Once back on the surface, the camp buzzes with activities and noises. Later in the afternoon, after all the educational activities have ended we re-enter this world each one with a new task: surveying, recording photogrammetry, and returning the sampled animals to their peaceful home. Each dive brings back a bit more knowledge that we hope to share in as many ways as possible.


LIVE Interview With Kenny Broad and Team

Lesson Plan: Exploring the Blue Holes

Full Teacher’s Guide

Read All Posts in This Series


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Meet the Author
Environmental anthropologist Kenny Broad is an National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Expeditions Council Grantee. Along with the late underwater photographer Wes Skiles, he was named “National Geographic's Explorers of the Year,” in 2011 for the pair's extraordinary achievements in documenting the Blue Holes of the Bahamas.