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Underwater Photo and Video

Return to Bell Island

By | All Posts, Bell Island, Newfoundland, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, Women Underwater | No Comments
A blossom in the scar of the torpedo hole.

A blossom in the scar of the torpedo hole.

In 2016, I embarked on the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Expedition of the Year: The Hidden Geography of Newfoundland. This project documented little-known history when the Battle of the Atlantic arrived on North American shores. On two separate raids, U-boats sunk four vessels in Newfoundland waters and destroyed a loading pier for the strategic Bell Island iron ore mine. Recently, I received first-hand confirmation regarding rumors surrounding the involvement of a spy in the sinking of the vessels Saganaga and Lord Strathcona.

Newfoundland resident Lloyd Walker reached out to me to describe an encounter he had as a young boy while playing in the woods at Topsail Beach. While playing with his friends, the group of boys discovered a small clearing in the woods filled with things they could only imagine from comic books. A lean-to and fire pit were constructed in a glade littered with discarded tin cans. Lengthy wires draped from tree to tree and connected to a radio perched on a shelf. As they approached the equipment, a stranger in a dark turtleneck sweater and a dog chased them through the woods. Pursued beyond the woods and into a field, the man threw rocks striking one boy on the ankle. Finally reaching a road, the terrified children were picked up by a car and taken to report their experience to the Canadian Army field station in Topsail Beach. At that moment, nobody knew that the SS Saganaga and Lord Strathcona had just been sunk by torpedos fired from the U-boat 513 captained by Rolf Ruggeberg and that 29 men had lost their lives in the attack. The following day, the boys were interviewed again, and a strange man was picked up on Black Head Road.

Today the wrecks still reveal new clues about the past, but I have much happier memories than Lloyd Walker, who still bristles at the sight of a big black dog. As I perch my camera to take a shot of the location where a torpedo ripped open the hull of the PLM 27, I marvel at the delicate beauty of the sea anemones. A bouquet adorns the scar, beautifying the very spot where the ocean poured into the hull. We cannot forget the sacrifice that so many made during WWII. Soldiers, sailors, rescuers, and families still carry the weight of the fall of 1942, when Bell Island Newfoundland lost its innocence.

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Tom Zanes Award

By | Bahama Blue Holes, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Uncategorized, Underwater Photo and Video | No Comments

The “Abaco Blue Holes Expedition Live” video portfolio was selected by the judges for the Tom Zanes Award (Best of Show) in the 2017 NSS Video Salon held in New Mexico this week. The video portfolio was created for online audiences during the 2016 National Geographic Blue Holes Exploration and Outreach Project. My goal for the project was to shoot, edit and release one video each day of the expedition. It was a daunting task, but well worth the lack of sleep!

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How to Stay Calm Under Pressure

By | All Posts, Arctic, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

While speaking at the Vancouver Aquarium, I took a moment to speak to CBC Radio about how to deal with fear. I’ve used this to stay alive in underwater caves, but these lessons will serve you any time your worst nightmares come true. Read and listen here.

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Penguin Random House Canada Announces Multi-Book Deal with Aquanaut Jill Heinerth

By | All Posts, Arctic, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

May 4, 2017. Toronto, Canada –Penguin Random House Canada is proud to announce the signing of a four-book deal with renowned underwater explorer Jill Heinerth. The first of two adult titles, Into the Planet, is scheduled for publication by Doubleday Canada in Fall of 2018. The first of two children’s books with Tundra Books will follow in 2019. Literary agent Rick Broadhead of Rick Broadhead & Associates completed the deal.

More people have walked on the moon than have been to some of the remote places Jill Heinerth has explored on earth. Jill is a veteran of over twenty years of scientific diving, filming/photography and exploration, and her expeditions include the first dives inside Antarctica icebergs and record-breaking scientific missions in deep underwater caves around the world.

“As soon as I began reading Jill Heinerth’s story, I was completely drawn into her world. With courage, persistence, and drive, she goes deep under the surface of Earth to places that few have been before. Into the Planet promises to be illuminating and transporting; an unforgettable story about determination, focus, and facing down moments of danger. Doubleday Canada is hugely excited and honoured to bring Jill’s stories to readers,” says Amy Black, Publisher of Doubleday Canada.

Jill Heinerth’s children’s books will celebrate a strong female role model in a traditionally male-dominated field. The first book will be an autobiographical picture book based on Heinerth’s extraordinary diving experiences and the second a non-fiction picture book that explores themes of environmental preservation and the awe-inspiring world of underwater exploration.

“Jill is an exceptional individual and role model for children, especially girls, in a time when we need to empower young women. Her cave-diving brings together so many different aspects of science, history, cultural and environmental studies, not to mention creative thinking and character education. Tundra Books is delighted to share Jill’s riveting stories with young readers,” says Tara Walker, Publisher of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have found a home for my stories with Penguin Random House Canada. Working with the editorial staff at Doubleday and Tundra is an absolute dream. Their passion for these projects will undoubtedly help me reach a wide and diverse audience with captivating and inspirational narratives,” says Heinerth.

Jill Heinerth has worked on projects with National Geographic, NOAA and television networks worldwide. In recognition of her lifetime achievement, Jill was appointed as the first Explorer-in-Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Jill is a Fellow of The Explorers Club and a member of Women Diver’s Hall of Fame. Later this year, Jill will be honored with the most prestigious award in diving from the Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences.

For speaking engagement requests related to the book visit www.speakers.ca/speakers/jill-heinerth/. For more info about Jill Heinerth: http://www.intotheplanet.com/

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Weston Foundation sends Jill Heinerth to Winnipeg’s Bairdmore School

By | All Posts, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

With the support of the Weston Foundation, Jill Heinerth visited Bairdmore School in Winnipeg to talk about exploration and science. Jill is on a cross-Canada speaking tour as the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Explorer in Residence. She shares a multimedia presentation about science and new career opportunities and works with small groups of kids on specific skills such as photography, career planning and research opportunities. Jill encourages kids to use discovery learning in their lives and teaches them that failure can have many unforeseen benefits for discovery and learning. She talks about risk assessment, fear, discovery and exploration in the context of geographic education.

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National Geographic Recognizes Jill Heinerth’s Edgy Photography

By | All Posts, Arctic, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

National Geographic Photo Editor Sadie Quarrier recently recognized 9 remarkable women for their skills as adventure photographers.

For female adventure photographers, it can also be a challenge to break into this male-dominated niche.”

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Counting on Collaboration

By | All Posts, Bahama Blue Holes, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

Brian Kakuk is a former U.S. Navy Diver, part owner of The Bahamas Underground Technical and Cave Diving facility in Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island as well as Founder/Director of the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation.  He is also a consultant to the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation/National Museum of the Bahamas.

Farewell to the Team           

Most people who know me know of my military background. Navy diving was something I had aspired to since I was a child and being part of an elite team was something that I felt drawn to whole heartedly. I’ve always felt comfortable and most importantly, safe, when my peers and I functioned as a well-practiced crew, each person bringing their own expertise and talents to the table to efficiently reach our cumulative goal.

For last two weeks, a group of people diverse in talents, and varied in origins have conducted such efficient, expert and safety conscious efforts in association with our National Geographic Blue Holes Mapping and Educational Outreach program. Our assemblage of volunteers includes educators, explorers, technical experts, Bahamian NGO’s, government employees and of course, our students. We have all come together with a common goal of exposing the world the exquisite, rarely-seen part of our planet that exists right under our feet.

Although this December session was only two weeks long, the story behind the building of this team and the common goals for the protection of Abaco Caves go back more than 10 years. Working with the Bahamas National Trust, The Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation, Friends of the Environment, The Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, The University of Miami, The University of Florida, The Florida Natural History Museum and the Ministry of the Environment’s Forestry Department, the players in this team have worked hard to find common ground in conserving these irreplaceable, cultural treasures of the Bahamas.

In 2005, one of our team members, Dr. Kenny Broad, wrote our first exploration grant to The National Geographic Society. I was stunned when we received the great news that they felt our project was worthy of funding and promotion.

This was a major step in the team’s conservation efforts. With the support of The National Geographic Society, our diverse group has been validated. Such high-profile recognition of our efforts helped launch more grants, documentaries and magazine articles while countless images, posts and blogs within the cave diving world blanketed social media on the interwebs.

The Bahamian people are extremely proud of their heritage and culture. Blue Holes and underwater caves have long been steeped in mystery and Bahamian folklore. They have been culturally intertwined with the inhabitants of these islands both now and before Columbus made landfall.

The Crystal Caves of Abaco have been seen on television documentaries around the globe in multiple languages. We have demonstrated to governmental agencies that these sites are worth much more to the Bahamian people as they are now, than if they were exploited for other short term gain, commercial purposes. They truly represent the uniqueness, the timelessness and the unrivaled beauty of our small island nation.

Our basic goals were to map as much of the Crystal Caves of Abaco as possible, while getting our message out to as many students as possible, both locally and internationally. Mission accomplished!

But another important accomplishment was achieved. Two weeks ago, some of our team had never met. Others were long-time friends who had experienced some of the most exciting expeditions of our lives together. But from every part of this multi-faceted project, new friends were made, new professional associations were formed, new expeditions have been planned and most of all, we bonded as a team. The comradery created by our experiences during this effort will last a lifetime, from team leaders to students.

It is routine practice for conservation groups to paraphrase Baba Dioum, the Senegalese forestry engineer: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”

But from the beginning, this project has been the embodiment of his words. From the original exploration, the recognition of this exceptional ecosystem that affects biodiversity and human health, and the efforts to share images and insights about these places locally and beyond, we proudly say again: mission accomplished!

It is with the deepest gratitude that I thank all the team members, both old and new. Individuals, agencies, and ministries who have been tenacious, both then and now. You all helped to bring the Crystal Caves of Abaco out of the darkness and into the hearts of the people of the world.

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Island Biogeography

By | Bahama Blue Holes, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

Tom Morris is a biologist and diver who lives in Gainesville, Florida and turned 70 years old on this expedition. His birthday present was a passport that he left in his car before heading across the Florida Straits by boat to join the team. He can now leave the Bahamas when the time comes, although he would rather remain in the Bahamas, where the pines sing, the bracken is tall, and every other plant is an aphrodisiac.

At its closest point, the Bahama Archipelago is a mere 50 miles from Florida, but it has virtually nothing in common with continental mainland animals, except for the ones that can fly (birds and bats). In fact, the only native land mammal found naturally in the Bahamas is the hutia, which is of South American origin. And there are only three species of snakes, all boas and probably descendants of a common ancestor, also of South American origin.   The same pattern holds true for frogs and lizards, and even insects.   So how is it that the archipelago is so biologically isolated from North America?

Some animal groups, notably the reptiles, with their waterproof skin and low metabolic rates, are able to survive relatively lengthy ocean crossings – think Galapagos and Seychelles Island tortoises and Komodo dragons. And I have personally seen diamondback rattlesnakes, which were at one time numerous on Florida’s barrier islands, floating miles out in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, apparently none the worse for wear. But an animal floating or riding a log from Florida has to overcome two big obstacles to make it to the Bahamas; the trade winds and the Gulf Stream.

The trade winds are planetary winds, the largest and most consistent winds on earth, and the Bahamas lie directly in their path. The trades blow from an easterly direction over two-thirds of the time, pushing floating objects towards the mainland.

The wind blows from the west less than ten percent of the time. and is generally much weaker than the easterlies. But, even if favorable winds push a drifting animal towards the Bahamas, it will soon find itself in the Gulf Stream, and moving north at up to six miles per hour, toward the open Atlantic and almost certain death.

Animals and plants on islands have historical extinction rates far greater than their continental cousins. Everyone is familiar with the fate of many isolated island inhabitants, such as the flightless birds of New Zealand, who evolved in the absence of mammalian predators, and could not cope with human introduced rats, cats, pigs, and other animals. The Bahamian fauna face similar threats. The only animals I have seen dead on the Abaco roads have been cats and raccoons. Both invasive species are known to kill local animals, including the threatened Abaco parrot. And, perhaps more tragic, a scale insect from the mainland, brought in on Christmas trees from the mainland, are destroying the native Bahamian forests of Caicos Island.

But on a more positive note, the local newspaper, The Abaconian, reported today that a pregnant manatee from Florida, named Washburn, has been tracked crossing the Gulf Stream, and is now swimming in the waters of the northern Bahamas near Walker’s Cay (pronounced “key”). She arrived on Thanksgiving day. This is the same gal who was rescued from the cooling waters of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Ain’t no trade winds or Gulf Stream gonna keep this girl from going where she wants to.

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Technical Cave Mapping on the Abaco Blue Holes Cave Diving Expedition – Episode 12 Expedition Files with National Geographic

By | All Posts, Bahama Blue Holes, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

December 15, 2016  / Blue Holes Blog / Sebastien Kister

Sebastien Kister is a french cave diving instructor sharing his passion for the cenotes of the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Penninsula with students from around the world. He applies his software engineer background in the development of software and measurement instruments aimed at making the underwater tasks of his fellow cave explorers and surveyors easier.

Planning the dive! Preparing the equipment, gearing up! Exploring underwater caves! Laying line! Diving, diving and diving again! Any cave diver is thrilled at the idea of any of those steps, the common parts of our underwater explorer life. But when it comes to surveying or mapping a cave, enthusiasm is not usually the first emotion that comes to our minds. Surveying Is a time consuming occupation that requires a high level of focus while it is done. It can only go wrong … between parallax errors while reading the compass, to errors in estimating or measuring the length of the line, to the too common errors done while recording the data on the slate. To make it worse, getting a quick visualization of the data requires mastering software that is far from user friendly for the average non-geeky cave diver.

These evils were the ones facing any good willing cave surveyor at the beginning of my professional cave instructor career in 2011. I decided to develop Ariane, a cave mapping solution, in an attempt to make surveying and mapping more accurate and user-friendly for cave divers. The software was initially tested in the field during the exploration of the Doggi cave system with the Q.D.T team in Mexico. This expedition collected nearly 20000 feet of data and allowed me to quickly tailor Ariane’s features to exactly what the cave explorers needed. After 5 years of work on Ariane, I have the satisfaction of seeing it used for mapping the caves in Abaco during this National Geographic project.

Having taken care of Charybdis, the software part of cave survey, only Scylla, the actual measurement of the line in the cave, was left. That’s where Mnemo comes in. The result of a year of development and testing, Mnemo is a small handheld device that records all the parameters necessary to survey a cave line: depth/Inclination, length of the line and azimuth. In order to not effect the safety and cave awareness of the diver, I designed Mnemo to require as little attention as possible from its user, the actual contrary of what traditional slate/compass survey requires. Mnemo slides along the cave line collecting this data, using only one cursor and easily visible colours to control and signal the survey events.

The second evil was thus taken care of: surveying a cave line is now (nearly) as easy as swimming along it! Some of the explorers were given the opportunity to test the unit here in Abaco. and the beginning section of Ralph’s cave was surveyed both by hand (by Brian Kakuk)  and with MNemo (operated by Sebastien Kister) yielding only a 1.8% difference. During the time the survey was done by hand it could have been done 5 times with MNemo

 

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Mapping the Labyrinth – Episode 11 from the Abaco Blue Holes Cave Diving Project with National Geographic

By | All Posts, Bahama Blue Holes, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

Steve Bogaerts is a cave diving instructor and explorer originally from London, England who has been living in Mexico for the last 18 years. Steve first visited the Bahamian island of Abaco in 2003 and has been making regular trips since then to explore and map the incredible Crystal Caves. In 2015 Steve and Brian Kakuk were able to complete a project years in the making by connecting Dan’s and Ralph’s Caves—two of the most beautiful and important caves on the island, and the caves that are the subject of our current survey project.

Expedition Blog 10 / Dec. 12 / By Steve Bogaerts

Today was my last day working on the National Geographic Abaco Blue Holes project. It has been a very rewarding experience both to work with this talented multidisciplinary team and to dive the amazing caves Crystal Caves of Abaco. As one of the original explorers of these caves, I am continually awed by the surpassing beauty Mother Nature can create. Unfortunately very few people will have the chance to experience the beauty of these caves firsthand. To be able to share that beauty and wonder with other people is one of our mains aims in this project.

One of the best ways we can do this is through cartography. Bringing back a map of your exploration allows other explorers and scientists to follow your path, to study and learn more, and most importantly to raise awareness of the need to protect and preserve this unique and fragile environment. Over the years many people have contributed to the exploration of the caves of the Bahamas, but unfortunately much of the mapping data remains missing or of poor quality.

During this expedition, we are starting a complete resurvey of Dan’s and Ralph’s Caves, which Brian Kakuk and I finally managed to connect together after many years of effort in 2015. The resulting connected system is properly known now as Dan’s Cave and is one of the longest island cave systems in the world. The area surrounding Dan’s Cave has moreover recently been designated a protected conservation area by the government of the Bahamas. Producing a complete map of the caves will help in these continued efforts to protect and preserve this unique and fragile natural wonder.

Cave survey, however, is a long, detailed, and laborious process. In addition to all the complex equipment a cave diver requires to safely conduct dives normally, surveying specifically requires many additional tools and techniques. The survey process begins by taking a GPS location fix at the entrance of the cave, which is then connected to the beginning of the permanent guideline that runs throughout the cave underwater. The GPS fix allows us to plot the survey data and the location of the cave on surface topological maps.

From this initial fix, every point at which the permanent guideline in the cave changes direction or depth must be fixed in place with a locking line wrap. Each one of these tie-offs becomes a survey station. The surveyor records the depth at each of these stations using a digital depth gauge and shoots the azimuth to the next survey station along the guideline using an orienteering compass. They then measure the distance between the stations using a fiberglass tape or knotted line.

All this information together with any important features or comments is recorded on an underwater slate. This basic information allows the survey team to create a “stick map,” or skeleton outline of the permanent guidelines installed in the cave passageways. This basic map can be further fleshed out by measuring the distance to the walls, floor and ceiling at every station and creating a cross-sectional sketch. Photos and video may also be recorded along with further geo-referencing at selected sites using a ground penetrating radar location tool called a “pinger.” All of this information is then downloaded to a computer survey program that creates a 3-D rendering of the cave with embedded links to photo and video of significant areas of interest.

Surveying an underwater cave is inherently limited by the amount of time that can be spent underwater on any one dive. This is further complicated in these particular caves by the saw-tooth dive profiles of the cave passageways (zig-zagging up and down), the need to surface slowly to allow for decompression, and the fragility of the highly decorated passages. In addition these caves are extremely complex with maze-like passageways that create a complex three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of intersecting permanent guidelines. The desire to survey the cave accurately has to be balanced very carefully against the need to protect both the cave and the survey diver from any harm.

Having said all of that, it is a very satisfying feeling to return to base camp with full survey slates and to watch the cave map grow as you input the data and gain greater insight into the hydrology and geomorphology of the area. As the map has grown, so too has my desire to discover more of the secrets of the Crystal Caves of Abaco. I hope to be back soon to continue this journey of exploration and survey.

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