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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