Cave diving represents the quiet descent into the unknown. Exploring mysterious labyrinths, photographer and diver Klaus Thymann shares his experiences tracing the perilous underwater cave systems of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
There’s no light, there’s no outside factors disturbing you…you almost lose your sense of time.
The Yucatán Peninsula has one of the richest concentrations of ‘cenotes’ in the world. Cenotes are natural skin holes and hollows where the land puckers and falls away, opening into the regions extensive underground cave network. The water- filled caves that flow beneath the region are a complex labyrinth of freshwater and salt from the land flowing to the Caribbean coastline, with openings ranging from basins as wide as tree stumps to tens of metres across. Until the 1980s, the cenotes remained largely undiscovered to underwater exploration until American pilots flying over the jungle, threw rolls of toilet paper from the sky and marked unknown creases in the land. On land, the pilots explored the territory, tracing the ground to uncover cenotes and the underwater rivers that flow gently through them.
Into the Deep
You feel your breathing and that’s the only sound you’ll hear.
It takes a certain sensibility and approach to explore these unmapped waters. “Cave diving is essentially about redundancy. You have no awareness. You have no overhead environment, if something goes wrong, you can’t go up,” says Thymann. Entering the caves from the jungle floor, the tunnels slope to roughly a kilometer underground with passages ranging to seven metres wide. At points the divers remove their tanks to push through small shafts all while methodically laying the nylon line, their only indication of direction.
Undisturbed for centuries there is little current or flow- if the caves ‘silt up’ from the fine sediment that lies on the cave floors it can take a day to clear. “The concentration, the determination, the psychological factors. You have to be comfortable being in a completely dark space, completely alone. There’s no visibility, so you feel your breathing and that’s the only sound you’ll hear…You can only be. Your mind can only be in the present”.
Stirring the mirror
The minute you go there you destroy it.
Once in the water it is about finding the flow, only a murmur of movement can indicate the direction of the underwater river system. Following the gentle pull leads to the unique phenomenon where salt water meets fresh water. The difference in density of water creates an extraordinary effect, a defined mirror edge of clarity and cloudy water. “The minute you go there you destroy it, you stir the mirror, because the mirror is just the water… you don’t destroy it forever but, it’s magical. It’s a privilege to experience it, it’s fantastic.”
There aren’t any boundaries. The way the water flows and connects on the whole peninsular its connected… It reflects how we treat environmental issues in general.
Floating through spaces that have not been seen for thousands of years, finding the remains of ancient campfires from before the caves flooded or undiscovered chambers of silence. “There aren’t any boundaries. The way the water flows and connects on the whole peninsular its connected… It reflects how we treat environmental issues in general. Really, we need to look at things in much more holistic scale.”
Thymann a passionate advocate for the natural world maps the caves, as by putting them on the map provides them with some protection. “What is truly fascinating about the underwater rivers is that modern impact has so far not destroyed them the way most other ecosystems around the world are being ruined at the moment. I am trying to make sure they don’t get irreparably polluted or damaged.”
Klaus Thymann is a Danish born multi award-winning photographer, filmmaker, writer and creative director. He has developed an original viewpoint having worked across a wide range of subjects and media, utilising a cross-disciplinary skill-set combining in-depth digital knowledge, image making, mapping, documentary and exploration. Thymann started working as a photographer at the age of fourteen photographing tourists in Copenhagen for the Canal Tour, and began working for publications during his teenage years. In 1996 he was the youngest ever winner of the Scandinavian Kodak Gold Award, in 2013 he won the Sony World Photography Award.
A passionate environmentalist Thymann combines his photography and image creation with environmental issues, such as his project Flows a documentary exploring the aquifer beneath the Yucatan Peninsula and investigating the links between a number of beautiful and unique aquatic environments.
His devotion and passion for the environment led him to complete a BSc in Environmental Studies. In 2008 building on past experiences and a passion for the environment led him to set a charity; Project Pressure is documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers, collaborating with world-renowned artists creating and exhibiting work to engage emotions in order to incite positive behavioural change as well as generating useful data for scientific use.
For more information find Klaus’s website here.
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