Cave Survey and Cartography: The Key to a Deeper Connection

In December 2016, I managed to squeeze in a few days of Underwater Cave Survey and Cartography training with Kim Davidsson (ProTec manager, instructor, explorer) and Tamara (colleague, amazing diver, Melburnian). It was a great course (we expect nothing less from ProTec instructors), we learned about an aspect of cave diving that I had heard people talk about, but had never given too much thought to. We had a really interesting classroom session then made our survey slates before doing some dry surveying practice.

Custom Made Cave Survey Slate

One of the key things that came from the classroom session was the requirement to survey exploration lines (something I hope to do one day), because without the survey data, there is no point laying line. As Kim says, “if you don’t know where you’ve been, you have not been there…” As cave divers and cave explorers we have a responsibility to the rest of the community to share our discoveries and lay the path for future explorers and cave divers.  I am looking forward to continuing the “exploration” part of the workshop and I am excited to one day lay my own line in virgin passage and survey it.

The next day we went off to Cenote Carwash to practice surveying lines, before learning how to plug the data into a computer program (in this case Arianne’s Line). With the data in the program we were able to see the lines we had surveyed, and check how far off our errors were. It was a very cool experience and that really makes you appreciate the many hours of hard work that go into exploring and surveying caves!

Surveyors gear is specialized and redundent

After completing the survey workshop I wanted to put the new skills to practice. After some discussion with the guru, Kim, I decided my project would be to resurvey Mayan Blue. It has been an interesting experience to resurvey the lines in Mayan Blue for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it has been a great excuse to go down many of the lines that I had previously overlooked! I always knew it was a big cave, but diving and surveying gives a picture to this reality. I love to see the “big picture” growing together and knowing each section of cave intimately is very rewarding. Many times we dive caves a few times and then move onto other sites, but so many of the caves here are so big that each dive you can go somewhere new. After exhausting the options close to the entrances on back-gas (or side-gas), I then started to add stage tanks to my dives to get further back into the cave. Going down lines that don’t get frequently dived, where the guideline is covered in a layer of silt, is an exciting experience and shows how once you get off the beaten path there are many areas of busy caves that very few people dive.

Surveying during dives has been both a challenge and a reward. Practicing surveying has made my skills improve as my work flow and abilities with the survey slate get better. Developing these skills will continue to reward, already I have been able to survey faster and with greater accuracy. This is a clear case of what Protec teaches and believes – that courses give people an opportunity to learn and practice skills in a safe environment, but divers need to continue to practice these skills to improve them (and prevent their deterioration). From the perspective of developing new skills the course was a good start and every dive I have surveyed on since has continued to build on those skills.

Accurate collection and storage of cave survey data is essential to success.

Another reward is seeing the survey data once it has been entered into the computer (and doing many dives in the same cave) has really helped me to learn the cave and it’s lines. This is invaluable for guiding clients and being able to explain where a certain jump is, or drawing accurate stick maps of the lines, where arrows are and how long it takes to reach them. As it is, there is still much cave to resurvey so the project will continue! There is something cool about seeing the in water work you do turn into an accurate stick map.

For those cave divers who are interested in a new challenge, and would like to learn new skills I highly recommend the Underwater Cave Survey and Cartography course Protec teaches. It is great to gain an understanding of the survey process and all the work that goes into surveying cave passages.

May 9, 2017   No Comments

Behind The Lights

As people live and work in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, it may be unknown to some that we are standing on top of thousands of years history. Atop of what was once a vast coral platform, now a flooded underwater maze of rivers and passageways, so beautiful people come from all over the world to see, dive and document these spectacular Cenotes.

Without documentation of these cenotes, I don’t believe that many people including my family could fully understand what it is that I am living and diving amongst.


As an avid photographer myself I took to the caverns and caves with my camera. This environment proved much more difficult to capture the details and colours that I would be more likely to capture in the ocean on a casual dive.

Photography and videography in cave diving has more considerations than you would imagine. Now in a dark environment; in fact pitch black until illuminated by our video lights and strobes, I decided to leave the shutter button under the finger of my friends John Cafaro and Katy Fraser who are professionals.

In taking a pleasurable back seat to the photographer I soon found myself as model or lighting assistant.

As model this requires awareness of the line, gas, situational, environmental and light awareness in relation to the photographer and the angle at which he is shooting me from.


As lighting assistant this requires the same awareness but with a subject in the frame. It is my job to avoid being in shot, whilst illuminating either the diver and/or decorations in the foreground or background.


In cave diving photography – lighting, anticipation of the moving diver and co-ordination of the team make for a promising result.It is important to understand the vision of the photographer, hence the need for detailed briefings and debriefings for each dive.

Some considerations for shooting; Formations – Ceiling, floor or both. Spacious or narrow. Deep or shallow. Dark or white walls and what follows; how much light do we need and what is the burn time on those lights? As lighting on a cave dive is the limit to what you will see.


We now need to remember that this is technical diving, where in the cave do we want to shoot? what is our planned route and depth of penetration? how many team members are there? how much gas do we have and can we use?

Being a helping hand to the photographer/videographer allows for gas conservation of the photographer (As they can focus on getting the shot and not swimming around placing and picking up lights), more potential shots and more depth of field.

As interest in technical and cave diving grows, so does the peoples want for more travel and to discover something new. For our generation, snippets of our adventures are displayed through social media platforms and digital memories.

Our team have been a part of many productions; Phillip Gray ‘Extreme Artist’, Global Dive Guide, dive brand advertising among others.

At ProTec Diving Centre we offer this service of a Professional photographer or videographer to capture you in your cave diving glory at the highest professional standard.

Cave Guide and Technical Instructor at ProTec Tulum, Tamara May.


October 27, 2016   No Comments