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.