Cave diving in Mexico has come a long way since the 1980s when explorers like Sheck Exley, Ned Deloach, Karen Pribble, and later Mike Madden and Parker Turner first put the Yucatán on the map. Today, three decades later, the so-named Riviera Maya, which runs along the eastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo bordered by the Caribbean coastline has arguably become the Mecca of the cave diving world with over 1000 cenotes from over 300 distinct underwater cave systems containing more than 3,500,000 feet/1,0668,000 meters of surveyed line.
To put these numbers into perspective, that’s nearly 633-miles or 1066 km of known passageway, and exploration continues to this day. In fact, Riviera Maya contains 9 of the 10 longest underwater caves in the world, and explorers expect to extend the two largest systems Sistema Ox Bel Ha (842,879 feet/256,909 meters) and Sistema Sac Actun (757,136 fee/230,775 meters) to over one million feet each within the next few years.
More amazing, explorers are still making major finds, such as the 2007 discovery of Hoyo Negro or “black hole—a 200 feet/61 meters wide, 190 feet/58 m deep chamber at the end of some 3000 feet/914 meters of passage, which may be the most important Paleoindian site discovered in the last few decades. And dry cavers are now journeying to the Peninsula to undertake karst explorations of their own, deeper into the Mayan jungle.
This mind-boggling pace of discovery is one of the reasons that 62-year old educator, explorer, guide, author and underground photographer Steve Gerrard decided to update and expand his original “Cenotes of Riviera Maya” guidebook (February, 2000), which sold more than 8,000 copies. The new edition, “Cenotes of The Riviera Maya 2014” leads the adventurous reader further into the field and details some of the amazing discoveries that have occurred over the last decade and a half. I can think of no better guide.
Cave certified in 1975, Gerrard has been diving the cenotes of Riviera Maya since 1986. Following a dive at “Carwash” with Mike Madden and Parker Turner, the quiet-spoken explorer made his first exploration dive at Nahoch Nah Chich with Madden and Juan Jose Tucat, where the team laid nearly two kilometers of line in Nahoch Nah Chich, setting the record at the time for longest surveyed line in a single cave dive. He continued to make pilgrimages to what was then regarded as cave diving’s frontier until 1992 when he packed up his gear and moved to Puerto Aventuras. Since that time, Gerrard, who has logged in excess of 6,000 cave dives, and trained more than 3000 cave and cavern students, has dedicated his career to exploring, teaching and guiding divers through the Yucatan underground.
In addition to “Cenotes of The Riviera Maya,” the veteran caver is the author of “Cavern Diving-Safe and Fun” (2007) and co-author of “Cave Diving-Safe and Smart” (2008), published by the Professional Scuba Association International (PSAI). His cave photography has been featured in more than 50 publications.
In “Cenotes of Riviera Maya 2016,” Gerrard describes and highlights over 120 cave systems nearly three times the number of systems in the original guidebook and almost ten times the number of cenotes.
Sadly, the growth of surveyed passageway in Riviera Maya has accompanied an unprecedented explosion of population and its associated development along the Yucatan peninsula. Sewage, nitrate runoff and destruction of habitat have become major problems impacting numerous cave systems, which empty into the Caribbean Sea, and the coral reefs, many of which are dying.
Gerrard’s book serves both to document the condition of the Riviera Maya’s cenotes today as well as drive home a strong conservation message to protect this unique and fragile environment for future generations of cave and cavern divers before it’s too late.
They have a saying among the Yucatan underground, “You don’t know, if you don’t go.” My advice to divers is to get yourself down there, but be sure to read this book first!—M2