complex process: Researcher Terrence Tysall, who is studying the life and ecology of Bermuda’s caves for his Masters,  says cave diving is “deceptively easy” but the most important thing is to know what can go wrong and being able to deal with it. *Photo by James Whittaker
complex process: Researcher Terrence Tysall, who is studying the life and ecology of Bermuda’s caves for his Masters, says cave diving is “deceptively easy” but the most important thing is to know what can go wrong and being able to deal with it. *Photo by James Whittaker
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On an island of 22-square miles there are few unexplored frontiers. But in its labyrinth of underwater caves, hard-core scuba divers and researchers are only just beginning to understand Bermuda's last wilderness.
It's a mixture of adrenaline, wanderlust and scientific curiosity that draws explorers like Terrence Tysall into the network of tunnels and submerged caves underneath the island.
Sitting on the banks of Deep Blue  - a brackish pool off the beaten track in the depths of Tom Moore's jungle that serves as a port-hole into the Walsingham cave system - it's easy to see the allure.
Craggy stalagtites, reflected in the clear blue of the pool, reach up from the depths like the bony fingers of a skeletal hand beckoning from the deep.
Underneath, says Mr. Tysall, when he and research assistant Marshall Hawkins, finally emerge after a 90-minute dive which began in Walsingham Cavern about half a mile away, is far more impressive.
Beautiful
"Imagine being in Crystal Caves, except in some cases even more beautiful, more decorated and far larger.
"Now imagine you can press a button on your shorts and be able to fly through it, cruise up to the ceiling, float past the stalagtites and take it all in. "Sometimes you have to hold your regulator in so your jaw doesn't drop and you spit it out."
The real thrill, though, is discovery - to go where no man has gone before.
"That's why we get into it.  It's a real revelation to be somewhere, where no-one else has ever been.
"We made that connection between Crystal Cave and Deep Blue the other day, which was really, really neat - nothing really cool about it, it's just a low silty little passage, but it was the first time anyone had been through it."
Mr. Tysall - a U.S. army intelligence officer and research student from Texas A&M University -  is not here just to admire the view.
He is attempting a Masters thesis research study into the life and ecology of these caves, encompassing everything from the age and quality of the water to the variety of creatures that inhabit them and their proliferation throughout the network.
Before the scientific work can begin the complex process of mapping the caves - something Mr. Tysall describes as like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle in the dark, holding your breath - has to take place.
For the past month, aided by Richard Simon and Mr. Hawkins, he has been laying down safety lines - equivalent of breadcrumbs in the forest - to mark his routes through the system and ensure he always has a lifeline to the outside if he gets lost or the visibility drops to zero.
Mr. Tysall is laden down with equipment - two tanks of compressed air, three torches, two dive computers, with a variety of dials and informing him of depth, air consumption, the build up of nitrogen in his blood - a clue, perhaps, to the infinite number of life threatening situations cave divers could face on any given dive.
"Cave diving is deceptively easy. Anybody can go out there and swim through beautiful stuff, but it takes a cave diver, like a true pilot, to know what to do when something goes wrong - when a big chunk of limestone falls and hits you, when you're halfway through a tunnel and it pinches off and you have to back out of it in zero visibility, when you're re-breather breaks down and you can't come to the surface."
The most important thing, says Mr. Tysall, is training - knowing what can go wrong and being able to deal with it.
There are few people in the world that have more training and experience than Mr. Tysall. He runs courses for potential instructors and has personally logged more than 3,600 cave or cavern dives.



Delving into the unknown: Cave divers are researching the network of tunnels and submerged caves underneath the island. Terrence Tysall said: ""Imagine being in Crystal Caves, except in some cases even more beautiful, more decorated and far larger."*Photo supplied


Worldwide
He's taken part in expeditions or scientific studies all over the world including the Great Blue Hole of Belize, Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote and the Sistema Camilo in Akumal, Mexico.
He considers Bermuda's to be among the prettiest he has ever seen and hopes his project, which is part funded by the Aquarium, will help create a better understanding of a unique habitat and the variety of species it contains.
"It has to be about a lot more than 'look at me, I'm a tough cave-diver'. We tend to be very egocentric - what if I die? What if this happens to me? "The cave doesn't care.  It's been around for tens and thousands of years it doesn't mind whether you're in it or not. We don't have the right to just go in there and kick up silt and pull down stalagtites."
Some of Bermuda's caves, says Mr. Tysall, are already contaminated - loaded with household trash, or, in one case, with a cess-pool carelessly placed on top of it.
"We are in danger of them being discovered, explored and destroyed in the same lifetime.
"It's not because people don't care, it's because people don't know they exist. The more people know, the more they are likely to care.
"Bermuda is no different to the rest of the world - I'm not coming here and saying you're doing things wrong.
"It's just a microcosm of the rest of the world which is why I'd love to see it work here because that would give me hope."