Objective: Conditions check, safety equipment check and flow-meter replacement
Conditions: Basin visibility less than 20ft near surface and less than 10ft at depth. High flow discharge, tannic.
Team 1: Jablonski, McKinlay
Support Team: Blake Wilson, Meredith Tanguay
Heavy rain in recent weeks along with constant rain throughout the summer are having an impact on the cave systems. Discharge is up and visibility is down. We dropped over the ledge at 20ft, motored along the ceiling through the cavern and then dropped directly down to sand near the 70ft deco station. We decided to use RB80s so that time would not be a factor if the meter swap and safety pull took longer than expected. At 70ft we picked up the basin line along with the flow meter cable and followed it down and through the restriction at 170ft to the pole mounted NWFWMD flow meter. We positioned ourselves and removed the old meter with the ratchet and wrench provided; removing the bottom bolt first and loosening the top bolt as we prepared to swap the old with new. Jarrod did the swap while I held the bolts and old meter. We disconnected the cable, reconnected to the new meter and finished by securing the top and bottom bolts. We then headed to 190ft to pull the safety tanks from 2011. Visibility was extremely poor at less than 10ft. We pulled both 190 safety tanks and headed for the basin for a meet and greet with the support team who extracted the tanks and meter and headed for the surface. Oddly enough, the 50ft decompression trough was gone along with the 40ft decompression trough. We found the 50ft trough next to the white habitat at 30ft and secured it. We could not tell if the 120ft trough was still in position and will have to check on the next dive. A short, uneventful decompression followed and then on to lunch at St Marks.
Bottom time: 25 minutes at 170ft
Huge thanks to Kris with NWFWMD, Pete Scalco, Blake and Meredith. Conditions are poor to say the least and unlikely to improve for any serious exploration diving this fall. If conditions begin to dry out and Florida avoids any additional tropical systems this year we could have an exploration window this winter. Wait and see.
Woodville Karst Plain Project
Two safety tanks removed from the cave. One with a zink-anode attached, and one without.
The WKPP’s goal of linking the newly established Wakulla-Leon Sinks Cave System to Indian Springs kicked into high gear on January 5, 2008 as WKPP explorers Mark Garland, David Rhea and John Rose pushed the newly discovered downstream spring tunnel east towards Indian. For more than 17 years, Indian Springs has remained the mystery in the middle; a remarkable cave system and the location of an unexplainable collapse in 1992 that claimed the life of WKPP founder and project director Parker Turner. Solving the mystery of Indian Springs once and for all is deeply personal to many within the WKPP, not only in the quest to link all the WKP cave systems but to discover what Parker and Bill Gavin had been searching for on that fateful November day in 1992. The goal was an option once again with the discovery of the spring tunnel 7,000ft downstream of Turner Sink. As a result of the dye tracing work done by GUE and Todd Kincaid, Indian was proven to be a water “hub” of sorts with multiple sections siphoning water away from the main cave system to Wakulla-Leon Sinks and Sally Ward in addition to multiple sources feeding water to the cave system including Ames Sink and conduits beneath the Tallahassee Spray Field.
Saturday’s first order of business was to send a team in at Wakulla, running bottles and scooters out to the 6500 drop. Jarrod and Casey would need this gear later to complete the traverse, and couldn’t begin their dive from Turner until we knew the delivery had been completed. We’d received a request to swap out the real-time flowmeter in D-tunnel, so the 6500 team (David Rhea, Mark Garland, and Mark Messersmith) was tasked with that as well. We estimated a bottom time of 120-150min for this, but given reports of high flow and reduced visibility (about 10-15ft in the basin) we knew it could easily stretch longer.
Curtis Baldwin and Adam Gonzales were first to wade into the water, acting as wet sherpas while the 6500 team prepared to go, and later positioning themselves on the tower and near the beach to serve as rescue swimmers should that have proved necessary. Meanwhile, Doug Mudry and Richard Lundgren began their multifaceted support shift. At 7:45 they escorted the 6500 team through their initial descent. Returning to the surface, Mudry and Lundgren began the final setup of deco gear for both gas teams. When they descended to 120 to inflate the trough and hang the deco rebreathers, they discovered the trough wasn’t where it should be. After searching for it for 10-15 minutes, they clipped off the breathers on the main line and returned to the surface to report the problem. They then completed their final task, pulling the end of the cable for the vent’s flowmeter to the surface for repair before exiting at 10:30.
The missing 120 trough was a fairly serious problem. It wasn’t a show-stopper, but without the trough Jarrod and Casey would face a riskier and more challenging task when they arrived at the basin and needed to switch from their primary rebreathers to their deco rebreathers. Their opportunity to eat decent food would be delayed and reduced, and they wouldn’t be able to warm their hands and face. With this in mind, we changed the priorities of the next support crew, and also started investigating whether we could quickly go buy a new trough to replace it.
David Doolette and Gideon Liew got in the water at 11:00. Their original assignment of swapping the real-time flowmeter at the vent for a recording flowmeter would have to wait. Instead, they were concurrently tasked with checking for the return of the 6500 team, while scouring the cavern for the missing trough. They began with a quick check at 150, and seeing that the guys weren’t back yet began their search. Knowing that the trough was slightly buoyant, they began their search where the trough used to be, on the western wall of the cavern at 120, and started working their way up and all over the ceiling of the cavern. It was a tedious process in the limited visibility, and after about 45min of searching they still hadn’t found it. They returned to the surface with a report, took a short surface interval, and dropped back down to check for the 6500 team. They met them near 130, exchanged notes, and relieved them of some used gear. Doolette and Liew returned to the surface (taking time for a little deco of their own on the way). After handing off the note and gear, Liew said “guess what I saw on the way up?” Their path to the surface happened to take them past where the missing trough came to rest
On Dec 15, 2007 divers from the Global Underwater Explorers’ WKPP team completed one of the most celebrated cave dives in the world. Jarrod Jablonski and Casey Mckinlay completed this dive in order to prove the connection between Wakulla Springs and Leon Sinks cave systems. As a result of the connection the two caves have become one system formally known as the Wakulla- Leon Sinks Cave system. This cave is the longest underwater cave in the United States and the fourth largest underwater cave in the world. In order to prove the connection the divers traveled a distance of nearly seven miles (36,000 feet). The Scuba dive set two world records including the longest cave dive between two entrances and the longest traverse in a deep cave. The dive required the use of Halcyon rebreathers which allowed the divers to spend nearly seven hours at a depth of 300 feet, followed by approximately 15 hours of decompression.
This effort is one aspect of a more elaborate endeavor to map the complex cave systems beneath the land surface of Florida. This multi-decade project is known as the Woodville Karst Plain Project- a project of the non-profit Global Underwater Explorers and involves the efforts of a diverse collection of individuals and organizations including explorers, researchers, regulators and concerned citizens. The group has dedicated many thousands of hours to the exploration and mapping of complex, underwater cave systems and is often called upon to assist government and private organizations to study and conserve this fragile ecosystem.
Wakulla Springs cave system has been called the crown jewel of the Florida State Park System and is important because it contains billions of gallons of fresh spring water; this water provides an important resource to support numerous ecosystems across many miles of the state of Florida. The same spring water is a vital resource to support the millions of people inhabiting the state.
Recent research conducted by the group demonstrates these caves transport precious water many miles across the state; the research also shows these caves and their ground water supply are being contaminated by the surrounding population, namely by water from the city of Tallahassee Sewage Treatment Facility. Partly as a result of this research the city has agreed to refine its water management practices as one part of an ongoing effort to protect the ground water supply.