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Wes Skiles  

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Ginnie Springs, Florida  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
5 Aug 1993

    Geography
  • United States
    Florida
    Gilchrist County
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  • Ginnie Springs
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  • 29.83015   -82.68311
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  • Cave
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  • Stereo
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  • 48kHz
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  • 16-bit
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  • Stereo=1; Split track

Bob Radcliffe Interviewing Wes Skiles
Ginnie Springs, FL
August 5, 1993
DAT # 7

BR: Wes long before Florida became a land of tourists and sun worshipers and big cities and retirement communities, orange groves and real estate devel¬opments, there were Indians and Spanish Con¬quistadors and Ponce de Leon always looking for but never finding the the Fountain of Youth. Have you found the Fountain of Youth here in the uh springs of Northern Florida?
WES: Certainly my fountain of youth is right here uh these springs make you feel great you know they just really make you feel good when you get in 'em. You can certainly understand how when you part the leaves and the branches of a tree and see one of these crystal clear pools of water how magical of an experience it is. The Indians had a name for a spring Ta-ee-Iee-ya-aha-en and it's it meant in translation where mysterious water wells up from behind the shadow of the hill and always was in love with that description of springs as being magical places.

BR: These are supposed to be springs with the purest water perhaps anywhere in the united states I've heard tell. How doe-how does it feel to you when you get in there?
WES: Certainly you know there's no purer water in the world than when you're down there inside those caverns and caves swimming through that water the feeling inside the emotion that wells up as you flow through these passages is indescribable it it's more of a primordial feeling that knowing that you're down deep inside the earth and these pure passages of water exploring places that no one's ever been before. BR: How many of these places can you explore how much uh of Northern Florida really is uh over these springs?

WES: One of the most difficult questions is to as¬certain how much of these types of passes passages there are. We really don't know. We know from our explorations and mapping that we've been over two hundred miles uh in collective and combined pas¬sageways inside the earth. We feel like there is easily a thousand times more than that to be ex¬plored in conduits tunnels that humans could ac¬tually explore. It's just a difficult process and a dangerous one to to get down there and thorough¬ly explore and map them.
BR: Why bother to map these Florida underwater springs and uh waterways?
WES: With me it it it's really a fascination for draw¬ing and mapping and and the true form of explora¬tion where I've been. I mean it's a responsibility for people that have never i-if you have never been in a place before it's a responsible-bility of that person to map it and to explore it proper¬ly to bring that information out. Caves are one of the last frontiers on the planet that can actually be explored I mean mountains you can see the tops of them y-you know that they're there. A cave, no one can know what's down there until you physical¬ly go there and map it. And the byproduct of that has been when we started showing the maps to scientists they said wow you know we never really thought this existed you know oh sure it was folk lore that this existed that there were big underground rivers down there but, in reality the scientists didn't know that and I started to discover that I knew something about underground Florida that other people didn't know. So the ef¬fort was to continue to combine all the maps we could and all the information we could from these systems and present that to the scientific com¬munity in hopes that that information would be valuable in regulating development and protecting groundwater resources from s-pollution.

BR: How could how could uh ground water sources pollute these springs?

WES: Well very easily these these waters are highly vulnerable I mean we see them this clear and pure and you would think that this water's locked within the earth and that nothing can affect it. But in reality it is a very fragile and delicate environment that pollutants get into the water very easily this limestone that this water is stored in is highly porous and that's evident from rain water that hits the ground and enters the system almost immediately and begins a migration towards these springs. So it stands to reason with all of our sinkholes and fractures in the ground and highly porous limestone that if you put pesticides or chemicals or pollutants on that ground that that water picks it up and it permeates into that environment and it begins to be transported by the conduits to these springs and rivers. And there's many documented cases now of these springs becoming contaminated.

BR: What can we do to stop all of that?

WES: Well I think the first thing that we have to do to stop polluting of these resources is to stop treating these kinds of scenarios as out of sight out of mind. There has been a reluctance to accept that these waters move through conduits great dis¬tances that you could have a tanker truck full of
fuel spillover here and ten miles away a spring becomes polluted. WE know from cave exploration that that can happen we see these conduits we map them. But the scientist must accept that and embrace this knowledge and the maps and the informa¬tion being brought out from exploration and that information can be used very effectively to monitor and control these resources.

BR: Well this is very very pure water and there must be a great quantity of it it must be very alluring for somebody to think of a way to use this water.
WES: Yeah sure the desire to exploit this type of water resources is very strong there's a regularly people that want to get big chunks of this water and try to do different things with it whether that's ship it across the ocean to the Mideast or uh bottle it as a resource to sell to the public or even interstate battles to transfer water from one region of the state to other more thirsty regions of the state so uh the demand for it is very high and the quantity is very high. One of the important things to recognize is that the quantity will this water supply dry up is not such an issue because Florida regularly in this region gets eighty inches of rain a year. That's that's the recharge for these types of springs. But pol¬lution of this resource is is more the issue that if we allow too much of the wrong kind of industry to locate itself on these highly vulnerable areas that we will lose this entire water supply.

BR: Ginny Springs is probably the most famous of all of these uh springs in northern northern Florida I understand. How was it found who found Ginny Springs originally?
WES: That's a great question I don't I don't know that I know the answer I know that the early uh planta¬tion people used these springs as sources of water that they would actually come down here and get water and bring it back up to the plantations. the name Ginny came from a woman who came down here and washed her clothes and she regularly washed her clothes down here this was her spring in in terms of her friends and uh they would al¬ways go well where is Ginny and the the term oh she's down at Ginny Spring uh came came to give this place its name.

BR: How much of Northern Florida has been mapped un¬derground?

WES: I would say that collectively we're we're banging at the two to three percent door, um, much much more could be done and needs to be done in the form of mapping these resources. And we are start¬ing to make technological advances that will free us of the human physiological limits of explora¬tion and and move to a more technological approach to exploring these systems and when that happens I think we'll see a lot more of these systems quantified and identified and and recognized as being systems unto themselves.
BR: Well what would be the alternative to putting a swimmer into the springs mapping?
WES: Well my idea right now I and one that I've been working on with the Benthos Corporation is to de¬velop a wireless a remote operated vehicle a micro vehicle...

BR: Like...
WES: This little tiny...
BR: A robot.
WES: A tiny robot and this little miniature robot would have its own set of eyes that would record pic¬tures and a set of lights and it would also have internal uh capabilities to measure depth and dis¬tance and azimuth. And that information would be fed through a low frequency to the surface. When we have that capability then when we drill down we-into wells and we hit these large cavities which happens all the time in this region, then we can deploy these little ROVs these robots into these systems and really make great gains into our knowledge of these systems.

BR: Down the well with the robot and uh for a look around underneath the where the well was.

WES: Right I like to think of it as wheelchair cave diving that when I'm too old to go in these caves that that I'll still be bale to do it by driving this little vehicle.
BR: Did you ever run into a well or anything like that when you were swimming around down there I suppose that's too much to to ever have expected uh...
WES: Actually we have run into several wells over the years. Uh my first of experience was I found a well casing when the drillers are are pushing casing down into the wells um if they hit one of these big cavities actually they'll lose a whole twenty foot section of casing. I was swimming along and I said my goodness there's a piece of casing. And the cave ceiling was up at about 120 feet and the floor was 220 feet deep and here was this casing laying on the bottom. Uh later on uh probably one of the most remarkable finds we were exploring a system we were almost a mile back un¬derneath the ground from this spring entrance and I saw what appeared to be a manmade object, some¬thing that was out of the norm of the cave and as I got closer I could see that it was a pipe and it was coming straight perfectly through the tunnel passageway that we were exploring. This is a place that no human being had ever been before. And as I swam up to it I actually took the cave line and reel that we were laying and wrapped it around the the well pipe and I banged on the pipe itself hoping that someone up there might actually hear the ring of us banging on the pipe and my buddy and I looked at each other and gave gave ourselves okays and swam on but it was a ...

BR: Never heard the rest of the story though.
WES: Ha-ha no. Great experience for us to actually see uh the you know humans impact that the fact that when we drill wells they actually do go down into these caves and this is where this water's coming from.

BR: Man and boy and all the years you've been swimming in the caves uh the underwater caves of uh north¬ern Florida, lots of eye-widening experiences, but what are your what was your biggest surprise?
WES: Oh wow. Um, ga-that's a tough question. Uh ...
BR: Lots of lots of tough experiences, though, close calls I suppose.
WES: Yeah. Uh hang on just for a second. Um, I have I have several. You ready? Just just go without the bars...Uh there are several things that have hap¬pened over the years that really challenged all of my resources. My first real tough experience hap¬pened in Ginny right here, uh before I got trained to cave dive and I thought I could take people in a cave and show it to them. I wanted to go I knew I needed a buddy so I tried to take another un¬trained cave diver into the caves. And we had a line we knew that was a rule that we needed to follow, but that doesn't guarantee you any kind of safety. And we got into a terrible silt out, and when we hit an intersection the water was crystal clear at this intersection and my buddy in celebration and the fact that we'd hit clear water went running off down this clear passageway. The reality of it is that's another flow path, water coming into the cave and that our silt was all going out of the cave with the flow.

BR: Meaning he was running down a dead end.

WES: He was going into the cave again and he had left the line. And I literally had to tackle him, go in and grab him by the fin and pull him backwards and get him on the line and seconds later he ran out of air. And at that point I abandoned the line you you lose contact with things you just start dealing with the emergency right at hand and we were trying to pass the regulator back and forth between each other. And I got very very close we finally regained contact with the line we slowly worked our way out of the cave and...
BR: Sharing the one tank.
WES: Sharing one tank and we ran out of air a second time about fifty feet from the entrance and we just swam for our lives and hit the surface. That really taught me a big lesson um but it didn't teach me to stop cave diving it just taught me not to trust anybody. Um, that wasn't trained in cave diving. And I went back and the cave the next day by myself to to kind of get back on the horse and from there um you know I've been doing it ever since.

BR: Well some people are slow learners I guess. Thanks very much.
WES: Sure thing.
BR: Okay?
VOICE: I had to cough for the last five minutes, tickle right there.
WES: Great. Kay you want to get s'cuse me you want to get thirty seconds ambiance, if you can stop for a second John and then.

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