Twin peaks: A diver swims through two giant pillars under the surface at Crystal Caves. *Photo by Jill Heinerth
Twin peaks: A diver swims through two giant pillars under the surface at Crystal Caves. *Photo by Jill Heinerth

FRIDAY, JULY 8: Dwarfed by majestic boulders under a chandelier of ancient stalagtites, divers swim slowly through Crystal Caves.

It is one of Bermuda’s most popular attractions.

But this is a side of the island’s natural treasure that the tourists never see.

The elite team of divers were on the island last month as part of an expedition to survey the outer edges of Bermuda’s sea mount and collect data on cave organisms.

Jill Heinerth, the expedition’s videographer and photographer, also took the opportunity to capture stunning underwater images of Bermuda’s inland caves.

“The caves in Bermuda are remarkable in their diversity.

“They are stunningly beautiful and also serve as natural laboratories for scientists studying climate change, biology, geology and other interests.

“These precious places offer us a glimpse into a pristine world that few have ever witnessed,” she told the Bermuda Sun.

Ms Heinerth was part of an expedition led by Doctor Tom Illiffe, of Texas A&M University.

The researchers were attempting to establish a link between Bermuda’s inland caves and deep water caverns submerged off-shore.

New depths

Using mixed gas re-breathers — hi-tech diving equipment that allows them to hit depths that were previously unreachable — the divers collected rock, dead coral and water samples from the caves.

One of the most interesting finds, said Dr Iliffe, was a ‘sea-level notch — a five-foot deep cut in the under water cliff-face.

Dr Iliffe believes the ‘notch’ represents the sea level in Bermuda at the time of the last ice age and was bored into the cliff by wave power.

“We’ve found this notch consistently at various points around the seamount. This must have been the sea-level for many thousands of years.

He said the notch was found at a depth of around 370ft. Divers also found a ‘drowned’ coral reef in more than 200ft of water off John Smith’s Bay. Reefs only prosper in shallow water, within reach of sunlight, suggesting the site was once close to Bermuda’s ancient shoreline.

It’s one of Bermuda’s most popular tourist attractions — but here’s a side of Crystal Caves that tourists never see. The spectacular underwater amphitheatre that lies beneath the boardwalks of the Hamilton Parish attraction was captured on camera in a series of stunning photographs by elite divers on an exploratory expedition. *Photo by Jill Heinerth,


Their research helps paint a picture of how Bermuda might have looked thousands of years ago.

They hope their findings will also help inform debate on climate change as well as providing new information on the biodiversity at the edges of Bermuda’s sea-mount.

Dr Iliffe said it was a bonus to be able to provide rarely seen images of the inland caves.

“What we are trying to show is that these caves are really exquisite. These are some of the most beautiful and unexplored parts of Bermuda.

“It is really incredible to go to these places and document them, to go where no man or woman has gone before.”

He said he hoped the pictures would make people more aware of the value of protecting Bermuda’s caves.

The expedition, which involved dives of more than 400ft, was one of the most sophisticated and complex diving trips ever attempted in Bermuda.

Dr Iliffe said it would not have been possible without the support of Triangle Diving, the Grotto-Bay based Scuba company who provided logistical and technical support.

He also thanked the aquarium, BIOS and the hospital, which provided emergency medical support for the expedition.


Jill Heinerth prepares to descend for her deep dive on Challenger Bank.
*Photo by Nic Alvarado