Divers Reach Record Depths to Explore Caves

Associated Press

Divers from several countries concluded a month of exploration Friday that took them deeper than any human has ever gone into the 35-million-year-old limestone caverns beneath this former Tarzan movie set.

The team found mastodon bones, caught exotic species of crustaceans that live without light and completed tests of a "rebreather" device that allows a diver to stay underwater for 24 hours without new air.

"We've sampled rocks deeper than any humans have ever collected via cave diving," diver Wes Skiles said. "We also know now more than we ever knew about where these caves are forming within the limestone and why."

Caves Are 300 Feet Deep

Team members found and penetrated four separate caverns extending 2,500 to 3,400 feet laterally from the springs' mouth. The average depth of the chambers ranges from 260 feet to 300 feet, diver Paul Deloach said.

Backed by the National Geographic Society and two dozen corporations, the $500,000 expedition will chronicle its explorations in the society's magazines.

In the meantime, team members would announce only a few findings until their research can be analyzed.

The last major expedition into the cave was in the 1950s, when a diver reached 700 feet back toward the lightless source of the Wakulla River, a clean, cool waterway streaming to the Gulf of Mexico.

Littered With Bones

Divers have found great underwater rooms with 100-foot walls and floors littered with bones from mastodons and other Ice Age mammals, presenting a mystery as to how they got there. Similar bones were found 30 years ago, but other bones have been discovered at greater depths this time.

"At this point I wouldn't say we know any more than we've known for the past 30 years; the bones are there," Skiles said.

He said measurements indicate water in some caverns requires three or four days to travel from one end to the other, indicating the enormous size of the rooms.

Located about 13 miles south of Tallahassee, Wakulla Springs and its surrounding park have been a backdrop for exotic happenings.

Parts of several Tarzan movies were filmed here in the 1930s, with the alligator-filled waters and jungle-like vegetation providing a natural set.

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