Cristina Zenato

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

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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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Augmented Reality and a Welcome from Cristina Zenato

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Nat Geo Blog #6 December 9, 2016 – Cristina Zenato

Cristina Zenato, yes, of the Santa Cristina Zenato vineyard, a native of Garda Lake, 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.

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 for me and full of new experiences. The first question I had was about fresh water “how could islands without mountains, rivers, 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 he was in space, I fell in love with cave diving. Since then I have explored every possible 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 prolific cave explorers submerge together for a survey dive. What it comes to mind are two quotes that go very well together:

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

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, 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.

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), myself (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 ‘hangouts’ organized by “Explore by the Seat of your Pants” and National Geographic. Our basecamp is set up in an interactive style, with stations about forestery, 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 the pinger to illustrate to the kids topics ranging from cave tracking to pollution transport, and to collect cave critters (that we release at the end of the day). It is indeed the quietest time of the day, my morning meditation. Once back on the surface, the camp comes to a buzz to 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, photogrammetry, and returning the ancient animals to their peaceful home. Each dive brings back a bit more knowledge that we hope to share in as many ways as possible.



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Women Mentors – Cristina Zenato

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cristinaCristina Zenato – Dive Trainer and Shark Handler

Cristina Zenato’s career qualifies her to be in the category of world’s most dangerous jobs. If handling wild sharks is not enough, she is also a recognized cave diving explorer and instructor. Yet although she operates in a decidedly male world, she places a high value on authenticity, tenacity and celebration of her femininity.

Cristina moved from Italy to the Bahamas in 1994 and decided to make it her home and diving her life. She manages a team of eighteen divers, teaches hundreds of students at all levels from Open Water to Full Cave and specializes in teaching a program on shark handling. While weighted down in a heavily armored chain mail suit, she gracefully coaxes a shark into a status of tonic immobility through gentle touch.  She explores and maps cave systems, providing the Bahamian government with vital information for natural resource protection and is the first woman to have connected a land cave with an ocean blue hole. She consults with organizations for the creation of marine parks with an emphasis on protecting sharks. Cristina believes there is great power in education and volunteers her time to host foreign students and teach local Bahamian school children to dive as part of sharing her vision.

One of the greatest challenges Cristina faces as a woman diver seeking equality is learning how to demonstrate strength and resilience without sacrificing her femininity.  Uniquely connecting well with both women and men students has been rewarding to Cristina.

Cristina has spent years fighting with dive gear that did not fit. Instead of it working for her, she felt overpowered by it. She had to find unique solutions especially with her drysuit and sidemount harness.  In the most recent years those issues have been resolved and now she has gear to suit her body size.

She recalls an awkward moment years ago when she was in a grocery store with a visibly older cave diving colleague. He was buying adult diapers and lubricating jelly for his drysuit seals. “The facial expression of the cashier was priceless!”

With the increase of women in our sport it is evident that we need equipment that both fits and performs. Fortunately, the attitude that women are inferior and weak seems to be declining.. Cristina Zenato believes that women can be strong and feminine at the same time. This new perception is exemplified by her lifestyle, career and passion for the environment that screams, “Be who you are!”

– Renee Power

Read more about other women mentors in “Women Underwater” which will be released November 1, 2014

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