NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
4 Aug 1993
- Ginnie Springs
- 29.83015 -82.68311
Stereo=1; Split track
David Doubilet and Wes Skiles Underwater Conversation
Ginnie Springs, FL
August 5, 1993
DD: .. flecks on the surface. A pool of sand against the mirror smooth surface of the spring. The water color is a very dark very clear blue. And the sun comes through the water directly illuminating and back lighting the green hydrilla weed. Which coats the entrance to the spring like a beard.
VOICE: Is Margie in the water with you?
DD: Uh, Margie? Yes. There is a small uh school of bluegill f-
VOICE: ...turn it on won't be pointing at any¬thing...watch the level at which you are speaking, please...Okay Wes if you'll talk.
VOICE: Okay you'll want to top the level of your voice a little bit...
WS: I guess I just have a uh strong voice....
DD: strong smell, too.
VOICE: Okay you're all just balancing really nicely now thank you.
WS: We may go through a couple of little phases here cause...and I'm too hot to wear the hood right now. Like I'm real hot so I'm gonna wear it without for awhile....affects the audio...Well this is exhalation here. Now that's leaking I'll stop talking and you can hear the leak. I'm just gonna try to go down and cool down and maybe put the hood back on.
DD: Well there you are.
WS: Ah yes here I am...Underweight. I have a new suit on and floating like a cork.
DD: Well come on in the water's fine.
WS: I thought about shaving my beard off this morning.
DD: Nahh. Don't do it.
WS: Bu~ I didn't do it. Um, Chuck if you could ask Pete to bring me a drop weight somewhere around uh five to ten pounds.
DD: The water in the cave is coming out of two small entrances. The entrances are about five feet high, three feet wide. It pours out of Ginny springs into this little arena this little pool with a white sandy bottom. You can lie in the bottom here...
WS: ...got any bigger? Yeah gimme Ten.
DD: It's only about fifteen feet deep and look through the flat mirror like surface into the air. Where the oaks and the tree branch over this a uh, a spring. And watch the sun goes behind the clouds and the and the light goes with gray to blue. And blue gray and back again. It's a kind of pallet of interesting blues and greens, the hydrilla weed growing at the edge of the spring growing at the entrances and the trees arching over the top of the spring. I'm gonna go into the cave for a minute to take a look and then I'll wait for Wes to come back I'll come right back out of the cave. I don't think the HMI light is on. I'll go in a ~ little bit farther and check but it looks like it's off.
VOICE: The HMI is off?
DD: The HMI no the HMI is on, my mistake. Your error.
VOICE: Okay bum we're ready so if you can um... DD: I'm gonna come out of the cave now. Just wanna check if my air is fully on. Good. WS: Okay well that didn't work. After all that....side of the hood. Yeah. DD: Hey, Wes. WS: Yeah. DD: How close are you to coming in? WS: I'm ready. DD: Okay. We're never gonna make a whole half-hour down
here this mask is a killer. It's trying to circum¬cise my nose. VOICE: Okay we are we are recording. DD: Okay. Let's go. Okay. Right now Wesley's swimming along the surface. He's dumping his buoyancy com¬pensator. And coming down toward me. He's dis¬appearing into the entrance to Ginny spring. Like the proverbial White Rabbit going down a hole into Wonderland. The only difference is he's trailed by a long orange line which is his communication um¬bilical. His cord to the surface.
WS: Why don't you come on in and join me?
DD: Okay I'm coming in right now. This is a kind of an astounding situation for both of us. Because all the years underwater we've never been able to talk to each other. Thoughts underwater come out easily wonderfully but usually get stopped by the very . mouthpiece that feeds us air. Looking around going from the crystalline spring with its pallet of green and blue and sunlight into the cave really is like entering another world. The cave I'm look¬ing at right now...
WS: stop, I'm sorry I'm gonna have to um go up I uh...
DD: Are you okay right now?
WS: I'm not right now.
DD: Yeah...Wes uh I would say uh do like I'm doing I just I just can't make the hood work with this
WS: Eeeee. David are you coming up?
DD: Yeah I'll come up for a second why not? Yeah that's good. Cos I'm gonna go up for a second right now and wait for Wes. No, no hang on a sec¬ond he's pausing right on the surface. WS: Okay that's much better. DD: Okay. WS: Oh, yeah.
DD: Okay. When the water comes out of Ginny Springs and goes through the entrance there's a restriction a kind of venturi so it increases in velocity.
WS: Yeah we call this uh bottleneck of flow where water has been moving through tremendous caverns and conduits and all of a sudden it comes to these
restrictions at these entrances we call vents. The
water just comes gushing out.
DD: The room uh that we're going into this first cham¬ber of Ginny Springs the...Wes is your mask okay can you give uh Chuck an affirmative or negative.
WS: Uh well, I'm gonna deal with it it's you know a pain in the ass literally but...
DD: Well maybe you should put it on your head instead of the other place.
WS: Yeah. What I'm gonna have to do is I'm gonna have to hold the position I'm in right now which is sort of a head down position to keep a comfortable seal on and be able to talk....Yeah I'm comfort-F able with it?
DD: You don't want to go back and take off your hood?
WS: I did.
DD: Oh, okay, but if still it obviously leaks through the beard, right?
WS: Uh. Yeah I I guess you know I tried this is a dif¬ferent mask than I wore yesterday just to get rid of that...
WS: Buzz and uh...
DD: Let me just check the forehead to see if there's any errant hair around. Let me look at you can you look at me? Uh don't make it too tight. How are you okay?
WS: Okay that's fine. Here we go.
DD: Okay. Do try not to kick me in the head, thank you. Okay let me try to describe this cave again. The entrance this is a kind of a we've gone through the cave entrance, yeah, we've gone through the cave entrance now. We've left an area of sunlight, trees, green hydrilla plants. The entrance area is a dark brown. Uh patina that covers the limestone, but as we get farther into the cave the limestone is brilliant it's a marble well it looks like I'd say it looks like a marble hall. with a lumpy con¬voluted ceiling the colors of the limestone fade from this brown patina this dark brown gray patina into a brown and an actual white a yellowish white limestone place. The ceiling is low some places only four five feet high and there are several large rocks one of them the size of a large coffee table that guards the entrance to the second cham¬ber.
WS: David um, why don't we move on down deeper into the cave, let me show you some of the really beautiful areas where you can see the actual flow moving through the system.
DD: I'll follow you. It really is an extraordinary thing to be able to uh talk to each other un-derwater. Despite these masks and the orange um¬bilical communication lines.
WS: I've always enjoyed the silent world down here really you know you can communicate to your friends just by looking at em when you have common likes and interests you just know what the other person's thinking. But this communication opens up a whole new world of being able to talk and ob¬serve interesting things and important things about the science of these underwater systems.
WS: Yeah David?
DD: There's a safety line down here a kind of permanent rope.
WS: Yeah this system is a complex cave system with thousands of feet of maze like passageways. Prior to 1976 over 27 people drowned in this system be¬cause they they became lost and disoriented.
DD: How did they how did they do that actually?
DD: It seems so clear, crystalline, um, we're in space there's a um we've put a a movie light down in the base of the cave to illuminate a cave system the water is so pure and and so clear and it seems so easy to be in here now I can't imagine that fear of drowning and uh being lost and disoriented darkness and death. What happened to these people?
WS: Well, that's an interesting observation. But you know most people think of an underwater cave as being a place that would be dark and scary they would become trapped and people think claustrophobic thoughts about underwater caves. And so when they come down into a beautiful cham¬ber like this they're quite unprepared to deal with the attraction, the lure. They find them¬selves exploring these underwater labyrinths not really thinking it's the kind of cave that someone could die in. It's this elusive beauty the lure that gets so many people into trouble.
DD: The uh you know the Wes this movie light create the kind of light that spills into the cave system. It's almost like a looking at a snow lit scene the power of the light only slowly gets absorbed into the clear water. And uh and then the water takes it layer by layer until it disappears into the edges of the cave. Uh you know looking around this second chamber is really large uh it's a kind of a small ballroom. Filled with large rocks rocks the size of uh uh Volkswagens and couches that uh line the bottom of the cave. And the very bottom of the cave is like a brilliant white sandy beach this is how the light disappears into layers uh, I'm look¬ing over at you now you seem to be suspended not floating or flying like uh in the ocean but suspended as in space.
WS: One of the real lures that originally attracted me to going into these caves is this feeling of being able to fly. It's like exploring the Grand Canyon with the roof on top of it. You can follow the beautiful patterns of the sands knowing that they indicate the flow patterns of where the water's ~ coming from. It's just so marvelous looking around gazing at duo know the beauty of this place and also appreciating how important the water that's flowing within it is.
DD: It's it's very hard to believe that we're in a river except for ¿the fact that I'm actually swim¬ming against a current and the current seems to be literally coming out of the face of these rocks.
WS: What we've discovered from our explorations David there's uh a variety of different types of systems We really are starting to see from our survey work that there is about three major types of systems. The type that we're exploring here is partially like an underground river where the river is flow¬ing through conduits but it's it's more like the . branches of a tree if you can imagine starting at the base of a tree that's where we are now. And as you swim further and further into the system up against the flow it starts to branch and split. As cave divers we can choose these different routes and map them and survey em. And learn more about where this water's coming from. Feel the flow down here David.
DD: Yeah I can I can you can actually feel it and you can see the ripples on the sandy beach like bottom.
WS: You can get down here in this area and just hang out. Spread your arms and kick your feet back and just fly. It's it's so hard for people to visual¬ize that there's actually such an incredible volume of water flowing down here constantly, 365 days a year over 30 million gallons of water a day flows out of this one cave passageway.
DD: I want to ask you about this water this water seems to me to have no relationship with any kind of ocean water that I've ever been in. Uh just to de¬scribe it uh you now it's a kind of a crystalline clearness.
W5: Right, David.
DD: People have described air like water sometimes and that's what it's like. It seems
W5: Water, water doesn't get any purer than this is pure deep ground water as I call it. It's water that is starting from rain water and it falls on the land and permeates down through the sands on soils on the surface, then it enters down into the clay and limestone and begins to filter down into the cracks. By this time it's become very pure.
DD: If we removed our masks right now, which is some¬thing I almost would like to do we could probably drink this water it's probably purer than the the uh most expensive bottled water in the world. Is that true?
WS: That's right uh literally water doesn't get any better than this this is uh water that you can drink matter of fact this water is being sought out by many many different companies that want to bottle it and sell it. There's been proposals to sell it across the ocean in proposals to ship it down into South Florida this is water that many many people want but it's also a kind of water that's very very vulnerable to pollution. Because or the nature of the rock and the fact that it's very porous pollution sources of bad water can get down into these systems very easily.
DD: It seems to me that this water itself is almost like the uh the crown jewels of water in America of this continent. Uh, the hidden secret uh resource. Uh...
(end side one)
WS: ... studies to try and better understand how long this water's been in the earth. There are dif-ferent kinds of systems. This water from what we understand can come as far away as Georgia we call it deep friatic storage. It's water that's been in the ground hundreds of years and it's taken a very long time for it to permeate and travel through the earth.
DD: You mean a midnight storm. In Georgia...
WS: ...when the system starts to reach into these caves the water starts to move faster some of this water that we're swimming in right here may have taken 100 years to move say a mile, and then only in minutes it starts to move faster and faster and suddenly it's moving at hundreds of feet per hour coming through these large conduit passages and it just charges out streams like this.
DD: It's a very strange thought that the water that we're swimming in or as it were flying in cause that's what it feels like came from a midnight rainstorm in Georgia when Thomas Jefferson was president.
WS: Well it's it's important to understand that not all this water is from Georgia. This this water that we're in right here much of here is from local rain water a lot of people think of it as being large underground rivers coming from Georgia, it's important to understand that our hydrology studies have discovered that much of the water is from lo¬cal rain water and some of the water the deeper water has come up welled up from deep within the earth to join a more local water cycle so it's a combination of types of waters.
DD: Can you tell the different can you see the dif¬ference in the water, the old water the rain water the new water?
WS: Yeah in in reality you can see the difference. water that has entered the system in a local area through sinkholes is often stained with the tan¬nins from the swamps above. And that water takes a regul-relatively short cycle through the earth in large conduits and returns to the surface it's ac¬tually like a river born underground traveling beneath our feet and then surfacing again. Along the path a lot of times it's joined by deeper ground water, stored water from within the earth so it becomes clearer because it's diluted by this ultra pure and clear water.
DD: What is actually threatening this water system now?
WS: Well as you look around just look at the cracks David just look everywhere in this room you see horizontal bedding planes all through here and then you see the vertical cracks see over here look at this. You see all of these vertical cracks we think of as structural components these are the natural cracks in the earth. And then the horizon¬tal bedding plains we call stratographic com¬ponents. Basically what this means is a bunch of vertical cracks and horizontal cracks are all in¬terconnected.
WS: All the way to the surface. This makes this kind of water highly vulnerable to contaminants it can filtrate down through the earth. The term karst is assigned to an area of limestone that's soluble. That caves form in.
DD: We are in basically another world a very seductive beautiful strange world an underworld that's not dark and evil but limestone halls, caverns, antechambers filled with this beautiful pure water. What happens when I exhale bubbles, as they rise toward the top of these chambers and they form pools caught in the little crevices and the hallows of the chamber and in the oblique light from the movie lights they reflect and the pools. look like mercury. And the air these pools of air run together like mercury runs together, quicksil¬ver. The other amazing thing Wes that I never that never sort of ceases to amaze me is that above our heads is maybe forty feet of limestone and then on top of the limestone there's maybe four or five maybe even six feet I guess of soil. And on top of the soil is grass trees picnic tables and people walking around and we're in a world that's so com¬pletely removed a world of white rocks and sand floors a uh kind of a sculptured moonscape. And our lights are light it up and give it dimension depth and shadow.
WS: You know, one of the fabulous things that we've discovered in our explorations is that in our journeys deep within the earth it's not uncommon for us to go over a mile inside down passageways we cannot even really imagine how far they go but we know some of these systems are easily ten miles long from dye traces and other kinds of studies. One day Tom Morse a friend of mine and a fellow explorer and I were swimming down a passageway and I said what is that to him. And we looked and we saw a real manmade looking object in the center of the tunnel. As we got closer we realized it was somebody's well.
DD: It was somebody's what?
WS: We had actually run into their well pipe down into the earth.
DD: You actually swam into a well.
WS: We pulled out a a little tool we tapped on their well and imagined that inside their house they could hear their pipes tinging.
WS: Maybe they thought there was a ghost or something down inside the Earth trying to talk to them. But it really drove home to me that this water this water that we're diving inside of right now is the same water that we need to sustain life it's the water we depend on to drink to bathe to give us life and yet I I don't think that many people realize how important this water is.
DD: It's very actually very hard to realize that to be in this kind of water to realize that importance that linkage with life and and a way we function up above on a planet on the roof of this cave. Seems to me that we're basically flying through all sorts of ancient dreams. Uh creatures from the depths of the earth.
WS: There are many threats to this water, very real threats. People are always wondering you know why worry about septic tanks and is it really a prob¬lem and we need our milk you know what's wrong with the dairy industry? But we're seeing very clear indications through these springs that heavy agricultural use of these, areas and unregulated growth and development of population nucleuses in the center corridor of Florida are having a large impact on these' springs.
DD: Does that have to do with the relocation of a lot of uh dairy cattle industries from the Lake Okeechobee area to up here?
WS: Yeah this is sort of a horrifying story, but the Florida government actually paid the dairy farmers they paid them 800 dollars a head to move their cattle from South Florida anywhere else just to get them out of the Okeechobee basin. So they ac¬tually paid the dairy farmers to move their cattle up here to north Florida on top of the purest water in the state. Ironically it's the same people of South Florida that will be screaming for pure water ten twenty years from now and what they're gonna ultimately realize is that they had a hand in destroying this water before they could use it.
DD: I suppose also that this particular water this sort of Grand Canyon of of uh caves and cave systems here in Northern Florida and the jewel of the water that it uh encompasses, has very seductive to the developers and the people of South Florida.
WS: Yeah it's it's hard to believe there's no place on earth that has as much clear clean potable water... ¿ free flowing naturally out of the earth as North Florida. Over eight billions gallons of water a day free flow from springs such as Ginny Springs here. This water flows out to the rivers such as the Suwannee and the Santa Fe and wicalacuchee, and that water ultimately flows out to the Gulf. But this is the pure water quality that everybody is looking for, life-sustaining water. And yet we're so far from understanding where this water comes from the nature of these systems and how to protect the water that flows from within it.
DD: Do you think that people would li-do you think that would be possible to uh you know let me just uh get my umbilical untangled from you. Do you think it would be possible to tap in to this sys¬tem?
WS: Oh well certainly there's a variety of methods that we have developed here recently that you can tap into these water supplies. But before we start to do such things I believe it's really important to better understand where the water's coming from and where it's going to.
DD: Wes, how's your air uh,
WS: I have no air.
WS: Uh let's see. Yeah I'm fine I still have a half a tank.
DD: We take this light a little bit farther down into the cave and see the end where the uh where the people of Ginny Springs have put up a spring to protect further exploration.
WS: You know one of the things that is happening that really concerns me is that we're spending millions of dollars protecting the springs themselves and that makes sense to a lot of people you know they go yeah, let's spend this money and protect the spring by buying the spring. But in reality there's no way to protect the water that's coming out of the spring by buying the spring itself. It's it's like buying a swimming pool, you know,~ you can't protect the water of the swimming pool by buying the pool, you have to understand the filtering, how the filter operates. How the water moves through the filter and where the filter room is. So I've been trying to push for a better un¬derstanding of how extensive these cave pas¬sageways are, how far do they reach into the earth, where do they go? You're asking the ques¬tions that would allow us to develop a protection program that to save these water supplies.
DD: We're going a little bit farther down actually we're going almost to the base of this far as we can travel in the spring. There is a steel grid that the owners of Ginny Springs have put up and beyond this grid the volume of water increases Wes's flippers are kicking up a bit of this lime-stone sand and the sand is flowing back towards me as the as this underground river pushes toward the surface and toward the exit of the spring.
WS: Look at it you can the sand is it's sparkles.
DD: Yeah. It really does look like jewels.
WS: It's glass.
DD: Now what happened is is that divers entered this farther chamber where are we in relationship to the uh to to above ground right now.
WS: Well if we went straight up from this point right here we we could play volleyball.
WS: Yeah we we're under the volleyball court right now. Feel the pressure of the water down here, David.
DD: It's almost uh difficult to swim against.
WS: My air... is going straight back to you. It's stopped going up it's actually going sideways the water is so strong here.
WS: I'll never forget my first dive down to this spot. These masks that we're wearing are kind of nice because if you're wearing just a regular mask and you turn your face down the flow here is almost strong enough to pull your mask right off.
WS: You can you can hear the flow, can't you.
DD: Yeah. Let's be silent a second and see if uh what it what it sounds like right down here. See if we can hold our breath and be quiet. I'll count one two three, big breath and hold. (water sound) It's amazing it's...
WS: Isn't that great?
DD: It's kind of a bubbly stream.
WS: You know I've always thought of these caves as being noisy, noisy of energy and life. They're so dynamic you can just feel the energy pulsing through them.
DD: I looked back at the cave and I see our movie light which we've left near the sort of the entrance hole of the second chamber. And the light pulls us forward it really looks like a theater a concert hall it has an arched shape here a white sand bot¬tom these large rocks car sizes couch sizes and this ultra clear water. There's that sequin blue that you sometimes see in the pictures from space. Black with a hint of blue. And the light back lights our bubbles the bubbles rush toward the surface of the cave not only forming pools of mer¬cury, but rivers of mercury.
WS: One of our favorite terms is friadict. Friadict means with water and these caves are a product of water. They weren't always here. At first it was only cracks little small cracks of water started to work its magic through slowly over thousands of years the water dissolves the limestone within these cracks and it starts to dissolve out con¬duits and passageways like the ones we're in. Every little shape you see her David all the con¬tours and the shapes and the amphitheater struc¬ture that you're describing is all a product of .~. water dissolving limestone, all of it. Just look at the scallops in the limestone. Those are the little spoon like bites out of...
DD: ...put my hand in it right now.
S: And that is actually an indicator of the flow. I could show you these over here and we study the little scoops of the limerock and we can tell the direction of the water flow that form the cave it¬self. Also look at this. DD: Here just a minute Wes I don't want to interrupt you but we have to be careful not to get these communication lines entangled. 50 uh what you're gonna have to do is oops, oh oh you're gonna have to go under mine. Oh just pull this corner right up here.
W5: I tell you what let's urn, if I start going under you and you start going under me then...
W5: We'll probably tie the world's worst square knot and end up down here for the rest of our lives.
DD: Not a good thing when we're about fifty feet down at the bottom of this cave. with cows and picnic tables over our heads. All right here we go, ready? I'm over you right? Now?
WS: Yeah, uh I think we're alright.
DD: Okay we're all set. NOW, the limestone itself as I understand this from an ancient sea bed.
WS: Yeah that's what I just wanted to show you as a matter of fact I can take you over here and show you some fossils. We actually do a lot of studies looking at the limestone and the fossils within it which better helps us better understand the type of limestone that these caves form in. These caves don't form everywhere that's an important thing to understand. But they do form in these zones of soluble limestone. And dolomite which is very prevalent we have limerock like this down as deep as 3,000 feet here in Florida. Right here we're in the Ocala limestone this lime rock is about 60 to SO million years old. These sea creatures the fos¬sils that we're looking at these sand dollar like creatures over here that I'm looking at here and...
DD: We've just flown up to the top of the cave and flown is really more like it in this ultra clear water.
WS: You see look at all of these sea urchins.
DD: Sea urchins.
WS: These are actually acanoderns.
DD: They're in other words the fossils of sea urchins.
WS: Right and these are this is in Eocene age lime¬stone. And there's also a Oligocene limestone we're actually in a zone where we go through a great change in ages in the soils in the sands above it are from the Pleistocene so we're actually able to descend down through time in a place like this .¬
DD: Yes. Flying down through time in this uh dark cave. As we uh swirl around our fins kick up a lot of uh silt. I can understand how dangerous it would be if there wasn't this flow of water through here. We would be instantly in darkness is is that right?
WS: Yeah that's very true the not all the systems we explore have this kind of flow. And without the flow to carry the silts out that we stir up as we're finning around it can actually take a place from air clear to the darkest blackest water you could ever imagine it's truly horrifying to find yourself lost in zero visibility wandering around in these caves not knowing which way is out.
DD: It seems like the uh an extra corollary to that Robert Frost poem of fire and ice. I would think the most horrifying death would be to slowly run our of air and to slowly count down your life in the total blackness in the very bowels of the Earth. Uh that's not a happy thought, especially when we're surrounded by such cl-ultra clear water and already the uh uh the fins the uh already the the sand and the silt that we've kicked up has uh has cleared from the superfast flow of water.
WS: Okay David I think we're down on pressure to the point where that we need to be headed back to the surface.
DD: Well I've got a little bit of air you go first I'll follow you and we'll carefully reel in our umbili¬cal cords.
WS: Okay,. One of the most important rules of cave diving is to always run a continuous line so with these umbilicals we we have our line back to the surface the other rule the other rule that's very important is to save two-thirds of your air to exit on. You should always carry enough air to get you and your buddy all the way out of a cave on one air supply.
DD: You know it it seems to me it seems so strange that the cave is so devoid of life at this level.
WS: Hah, can we get a little help over here guys?
DD: You alright?
WS: You okay? We had to save one of our safety divers. Okay we're alright, no problem. We should though definitely start moving out. That was a good les¬son in how quickly things can change in a place like this. It can be so beautiful and tranquil and then all of a sudden danger thrusts itself in your face. There's been several times in my career that I thought I wouldn't come out of the caves I so love to explore. But you know keeping your head together and having good buddies to dive with that are willing to help you we've always been able to work our way out.
DD: Yeah. I'm coming up the slope behind you Wes uh, reeling in the orange on my bright orange umbili¬cal cord. And as clear and as beautiful as this cave has been I look back over my shoulder I see our movie light which we left down there burning I can see the shadows of the cave walls the rocks at the bottom the white and and this clear clear blue water from the earth coming up. Despite all this beauty, what I like best is the entrance and or right now the exit. And I see you uh silhouetted in the entrance. I can see the reflection of the white sandy uh bottom of the entrance reflected in the surface of Ginny spring and there's the uh oh, and there's the color the first piece of color the bright green of the hydrilla weed growing at the entrance. And a few bluegill fish swimming in the current and uh the bottleneck flow of the entrance here.
WS: You know one of the things I've always loved about returning to daylight after a long cave dive is the deprivation that you experience while in these systems you're so drawn and focused while you're in the underwater caves focused on survival you focused on understanding what you're seeing. And then when you turn around and begin to come out and you start to see the daylight coming, it's just so unbelievably beautiful the colors of the surface are so saturated, everything's so alive up here.
DD: These entrances are more like frames of a picture. Uh, frames of life. Behind me is the dark lime-stone hall of this cave a low roof then a hole opening into an amphitheater. Or more like a small opera house below me/darkness but in front of me at this entrance and this ultra clear water. It seems uh I guess the word refreshing. And I'm out of here out of the bottleneck, pushed through by the water and into light and sun.
DAT # 5 continued 4Aug1993
Transcript for Bob Radcliffe
with Wes Skiles and David Doubilet at Ginnie Springs, FL
Wes: Come on let me show you this place.
David: OK, let's go.
Wes: Ginnie's always been my favorite spring. It's such a friendly place. Such a good example of water flowing through the earth.¿ A place that you can see all kinds of wondrous things, and still enjoy it and (speaking blocked by breathing).
David: We're entering the cavern now, that there are two rooms at Jenny Springs. The first room, the entrance room,. a kind of foyer, to the larger cavern in the back is a low ceiling room. I'm looking around, the entrance walls and rocks are coated with a dark patina and as you get farther into the, into the main cavern, this dark gray patina changes to a soft, white-yellow limestone. There's a large coffee table rock at the entrance, the ceiling is very low here, maybe on1y 4 feet, but it frames the rest of the cavern which stretches on below, with a large, almost ¿square shaped opening, and we positioned a movie light, an BMI motion picture light, which produces a b1ue arc lamp glow.¿ The movie light casts shadows, beautiful dramatic shadows, a1l over the cavern, and the white walls reflect this piece of light and looks like a Vermont snow scene at twilight, its that kind of light. The water isn't clear, it's transparent. It has that affect of space. Space absorbs the light of earth and then coalesces into blackness and that's what is happening now. . Wes is ahead of me, waiting for me. Wes, this water, this water is, is unbelievable, it looks like, you're not swimming or even flying but it looks like you're transfixed. Weightless in this environment.
Wes: It's certainly one of the real joys of inner space, inside I subterranean, the freedom of flowing through the earth, there's nothing..
David: We're doing something really quite amazing now, which is a lot different than what we've done in our previous diving experiences, and that's simply. talking to each other in the water. Thoughts come underwater, they flow out but they always gotten stopped by the mouthpiece and therefore anything underwater has always been a silent world, but now it seems to me we can babble back and forth. Tell me about this water. How clear is it, how pure is it?
Wes: It's totally pure, David. Come'ere. I want to take you on a tour of this dive.
David: OK. I'm coming up to the ceiling now.
Wes: Yeah, follow me here. We're actually doing, (obscured by breathing) this dive,. I want to take you up as far as we can go up in the ceiling, kinds of places the water goes down, down to the surface, so right where we are, we're way up. (Breathing) far from the space,. if we could drill a hole, its probably about fifteen feet to soil here. If we look up here, if you can even see the crack, you see this? Look at this crack, right here.
David: Un huh.
Wes: That's right where water permeates, from. the surface the water permeates through the sand. It comes (breathing) and it hits these (breathing) that you see here. And then it starts to move along horizontally, (breathing) to go down, now it's at this crack and. it can start coming downward to (breathing) and its another horizontal batting plat and it runs along that ?? point. As we go deeper, the (breathing) keeps on going down and then, voila, we drop into the (breathing) underground river passageway and the water joins all the other billions and billions of gallons of water flowing along the path of least resistance. (breathing) water molecules from rain water, through foils down into the rock. (breathing)
David: Let me describe where we are. We're in the second chamber and the second Chamber is like a very small opera house. A dome shaped room, made of white-yellow limestone,. pockmarked and cracked as Wes is describing but the floor of this opera house, sloping down before me is made of white silicate limestone sand. And slopes down wave after wave. The¿ movie light brilliant b1ue of the movie light, lights this clear water up. Around us are jumbles of rocks,. some the size of Volkswagens other the size of very large, expensive sofas. And here's one of the things :that's so intriguing about being in this cave, about living under the rocks of the earth. Are bubb1es, back lit from the movie light, rise upward and co11ect on the ceiling. They form poo1s and the pools of our air, trapped against the ceiling¬ look like pools of mercury forming and reforming against each other.
Wes: Come here David, for a few seconds, sorry.
Wes: If we can just kind of put our backs to the...
David: I think that's the best thing, yawp.
Wes: A little light and let John shoot this way. lots of breathing_
Wes: OK. Now we're right.
David: Well., you know. Um. What we have our hands on is one of these limestone couch size rocks on the bottom of the, on .the bottom of the opera sized, opera house cavern. And what it is, what this limestone is, seems to me, a piece of an ancient sea bed.
Was: This is a great story. In that this rock represents (breathing) decay, caves. Going through an amazing passage through time. And the final phase of the cave (breathing) now. water ctisso1ves the rock to the point that the cave can no longer support its own structure (breathing) the caves start _falling to the floor. Break down. That doesn't mean the cave is unsafe it's just that pieces like this come out (breathing) at a time over billions of years. SO what we're playing with here with all the little fossils in it was once part of that ceiling there, carefully lift it up and possibly (breathing)
David: At one point this.
Wes: Look out, here comes another one.
David: A hah, hah, heh. Nice. The extraordinary thin about where we are now, under the soil, under the limestone, beneath the grass and the picnic tables, the cars, the trees, 1s another world, and it seems to me its complete1y a crystal safe, beautiful. .world but yet as you've, you've told me, in this very cavern, farther on, over 26 divers have died. Why?
Wes: I'm sorry David. It's,. I've got such a bad leak, I can't hear you.
David: Yeah, it's Uh. Let me see if I can find the leak. -It's right around you're beard.
David: No, what I was asking was, Wes, is that we're in a very clear, beautiful cavern. And yet You've told me that over 26 divers have died here.
Wes: Right. This is one of these kinds of places that people can see no danger, very difficult to see danger, such a beautiful place. You know, you come into a place like this and you just want to know, where does it go"? curiosity gets the best of you and you want to explore and look around. It's so easy to go just a little too far on a dive into a place like this, without having the proper knowledge and experience. 27 people have died here. I did my first body recovery when I was 16 years old. Right beyond this-??? Went in and helped pullout two bodies. They were young college students, just wanted to have a good time, just wanted to look around. See where the cave went. They didn't see the danger. That's the sad thin about underwater caves, there's no sudden volve(?) you know, you don't , well you don't, you know when you look out (breathing) and say well, heh, I don't have a parachute, I wonder if I should jump, you know the answer. (breathing) And you're in your Penny Loafers, you go, hey man, no way. But down" here, there's no threat, no obvious threat, (breathing) this marvelous transparent, beautiful luring p1ace that very often overwhelms you," (breathing) this place (breathing) over 338 people have drown here in North Florida alone, making cave diving probably the single most dangerous sport on the planet.
David: Right now we've drifted down. nearly fifty feet. And the sloping sand" floor to an entrance that has been barred shut with an iron, a set of iron gates. Beyond here, Wes, is where the
"people have gone. But what's happening to us right now is something very interesting. We are not just in a cave, but I think we're in an underground river. It's hard to swim against this. You can feel the flow of the water. I'm pulling myself up to this iron bar, these iron bars, and uh, Wes and I are both holding on right now. If we stop breathing, we can hear the flow of water against us. (silence) (mechanical sound) (breathing) Try it again. (breathing) The water is pushing against us. We're kind of holding on a little bit like flags in a wind storm.
Wes: (???) now David, it's life. It's the power of the water flowing through.
David: Oh. Where is this water coming from.
Wes: Well this water of Ginnie Springs is (breathing) water 'that has fallen on the ground from local rainfall. We've ca1cul.ated that this water comes from 125 square mile region. certainly some of the water (breathing) part of the system comes from (breathing) water that may have come as far as Georgia. The one thing that people don't understand (breathing) types of systems, ,all interconnected. This is a three dimensional puzzle, one of amazing complexity. Only cave divers (breathing) go inside them, to study it and map it. The information we brought out, the information (breathing) the scientists didn't even have a clue (breathing) when started flowing into these systems, and there's so much more to know, so much more to understand. (exhale)
Wes: Some of these systems, we've been able to go as far as 10 miles through them, single conduit passageways," (exhale) enormous quantities (breathing) water has gone into the ground to (inhale) water comes out of the ground. Along the way, you pick. up all kinds of different (breathing) that add water to the system. When 1: face the flow of water like this, I can feel the "desires to go against that flow, to (breathe) into it and to find out where this great water pressure is coming from.
David: How old is some of this water?
Wes: (Breathing) been dated into being hundreds, hundreds years old. We've been able to make (breathing) uranium i50tope5 now, and actually date this water and we've discovered that within some of the deeper springs (breathing) water has been in the ground for hundreds of years. (breathing) creatic storage. It's hard to believe that water hundreds of years old could be coming . out: of the ground (breathing) every day at this velocity but it's true.
David: In other words, a midnight rainstorm in Georgia during the time of President Jefferson and we are now swimming in it, flying in it as it comes out of the ground.
Wes: An interesting way to look at it.
Was: Never thought about it that way. I just like to go into the5e passages (breath) see how it descends down a steep slope.
Wes: And turns off to the right.
Wes: It goes, see there's three puddles. The center one goes down a little further and then there's a five way intersection. I'll never forget (breathing)
David: So it goes 3 to 5.
Wes: three ways and then it goes 5 different ways at the next intersection. (breathing) tunnels with it. Orange clay floor, pure clay, the kind of clay that you can pick up and make a pot (breathing) kiln dry (breath-in) and it's perfect.
David: And as the divers went into this tunnel there fins kicked up this clay and completely blocked there exit.
Wes: The first body recovery I did was just down around this corner where it went three ways. (breathing)
David: 25 yards to life and safety.
Wes: Yup, he could've made it if he'd just (breathing) When we brought him up this woman was still screaming, it's not him, it's not him (breathing) just didn't want to admit that her boyfriend (breathing)
David: You say cave and people really immediately think of death and darkness, of the horrors of an ancient dream of the underworld, but we're in this water and the water, it seems to me, has a such a particular seductive clarity, it's like swimming in the in the most expensive bottled water you can find, and people go into the, and then, doesn't seem to be that fear and that horror and the death that you can count down in minutes. Literally watching you life tick away.
Wes: It's a slow and scary horrifying death, several times I've thought I was living it but managed to come back and (breathing) its being really committed not. to panicking. But for those who do drown, the systems (breathing) would be trapped, to be trapped.
David: We're climbing away from this, Uh, metal grid. Up into the central part of the cave.
Wes: Wow, look at this David. It's just so beautiful (breathing) I guess you have to have a certain mindset to enjoy a place like this (breathing) it's like Valhalla(?) (breathing) saw an underwater cave, it was (breathing) has to be I guess . (breathing) I see ¿such beauty in these (breathing) white walls.
David: What we're doing now is uh, we're creating a cats cradle, say again.
Wes: heh, heh. Sorry David, I was just (breathing) that pizza.
David: I told you not to eat the vegetarian pizza. You should have had a slice of the pepperoni like I had. In fact, would you like one now, it's available.
David: What's that? I have to go under this umbilical right now. Uh oh. All right, I'm going to go over the umbilical right now. Wes, don't move. Uh, Wes, don't move. Hello, Wes.
David: Don't move, you're moving. swim back this way. Swim over to this wall on your right. Around me. Ok. Now we're clear. What we've done in all this exertion is that we've picked up a lot of the sand, this beautiful silicate sand I but the power of the current, sweeping up from the darkness, has cleared up.
Wes: Look at the patterns the air bubbles make up here, David. If you look up at this angle from here, I love that, you can actually see, (breathing) from over there you can actually see my reflection just like it's a mirror.
David: Uh huh. There's a lot of little Wes' and David's reflected in our bubbles on the ceiling. Wes, this water seems to be the jewel, the crown jewel of American waters. Unknown to a certain extent, uhh, undeveloped and also, I imagine unprotected. What's happening to this water?
Wes: well, this water is aptly described as the crown jewel, our planets water systems. Let's start that over. This water, although it's absolutely clean and perfect to drink is still under a very real threat from pollution, unfortunately cave systems are highly vulnerable to pollution (breathing) They are very porous. They let pollutants into the ground easily, they (breathing) water to come down through these tracks, these venting planes and fractures, and to enter these systems (breathing) this place is so c1ear and pure is that (breathing) is that Florida hasn't reached this area. If and when development does reach this region, this resource will disappear. We just recent1y did a study on the Gulf coast of a spring called Homo stasis spring. For (breathing) one of the state's first magnitudes springs. And after we conducted our study (breathing). we realized that half the water volume had been depleted from the spring, used up by local development (breathing) and the water was no longer pure. (breathing) It had a high salt content, what we call salt water intrusion and it occurred to that spring system. because there was such a high demand (breathing)¿ for development around the spring. It is a sad story that will repeat, that will be repeated over and over again (breathing) until we (breathing) learn how to do proper land planning.
David: So in other words I what you're saying is the water is not only threatened from. above, from things like development, uh, heavy agricultura1, cattle farming, dairy farming, but it's a1so threatened from below.
Wes: Oh, absolutely.
David: Florida being a kind of a, I guess you can describe it as being an ancient sea bed, which in essence is a Swiss cheese like a sort of place, where the salt water is below the fresh water and the fresh water rides on the salt water like a lens. If you take too much pressure out of the fresh water, the saltwater begins to intrude.
Wes: (breathing) The fresh water is a lens and floats on top of the salt water but soon as that water is (breathing) from the aquifer, the salt water rises up and fills that area like a cone, I call that groundwater (breathing) air conditioning, pimple~.
Wes: These areas fill up in conical mounds of salt water, (breathing) into these aquifers, and they come out (breathing) place once that salt water is in that aried ? region, it's irreversible, it would take thousands and thousands of years to (breathing) push the salt water out again.
David: Thousands and thousands of midnight rain storms.
Wes: (breathing) most incredible to the Florida aquifer, one that you can hardly even perceive, is deep well injection. We've got 52 deep well injection sites. Where they allow people to inject pollution, waste products, from plants, from electro¬chemical (breathing) down into the aquifer. They actually (breathing) to inject polluted water down into the aquifer, the Ultimate out of sight, out of mind. People (breathing) in Florida say well, it it stays down there, wherever we put this polluted water, it (breathing) stays there, and it's confined and it can't get away. But if you ever been down (breathing) and I are right now, you can see that the concept of confinement in limestone is ridiculous, the very nature of (breathing) cracks.
David: Maybe, in other, in other words, what you're saying is that maybe rock, but it's rock with a river flowing through it.
David: So what, what the other 'concept is, is they think that they can inject. heavy metals, Pollution" that sort of thin, into a deep water well and it will stay very much like one of those layered drinks from the 1930's in definable, unchangeable layers.
Wes: (breathing, coughing) truly crazy about the idea is they're injecting fresh water, polluted fresh water, down into, what we call the brackish (breathing) and it's like (inhale) if you've ever tried to push a beach ball down inside of a pool and let go of it, that ball comes right to the surface (breathing) much more buoyant than brackish water, so ,When you try to push a (breathing)of water down into brackish water that water will just rise and recently when they decided to do what, what they call a retrieval project, (breathing) they wanted to, they injected waste water and then, they decided they would bring that waste water out and treat it. They went down to bring to bring that waste water up (breathing)it's real encouraging.
David: It was very dis, dissipated. Uh. Let me tell, tell you, we're having this conversation on the floor of this enormous, this enormous opera house, this enormous ballroom with a vaulted ceiling made out of limestone.
Wes: (breathing) effort to collect trash down there and if trash is dumped from the top.
David: Oh. Wes. Let me ask you something. Do divers ever dump trash herer has trash ever been dumped into the top of the spring?
Wes: Do divers ever dump trash?
David: Yeah. When you started diving, was this, ub, spring as pure and clear as at pristine as it is now?'
Wes: Gosh, I don't know (breathing) when I first came to Jenny, the spring was full of tires and washing machines (breathing) all kinds of garbage, believe or not the locals (breathing) come down here and dump a truck load of garbage, and go for a swim and actually use this spring as a dump, amazing amount of pollution that goes on on the hand of individuals. You have to do your part as individuals to (breathing). Unbelievable that anybody could come to such a beautiful place and get rid of their garbage in it.
David: I think. its another case of the out of sight out of mind syndrome. But there is something else too, as the divers, the cave explorers with their multiple tanks and their, and their extraordinary lack of fear, lack of enclosed spaces beneath the earth, have discovered a new aesthetic, below the earth, below the sea, this is where the proverbial. pollution buck stops. This is a beautiful secret place and yet its the plumbing of our lives here.
Wes: stop talking now, we have to change the tape.
David: Oh good, he can't talk anyway.