Exploring Interconnected Waters: A Cave Diver's Viewpoint

Closer cooperation is the only way to prevent a global water crisis in the coming decades. We cannot ignore the global interconnectivity of water. In truth, water knows no boundaries; it permeates our Earth, as it flows through our lives, emphasises Jill Heinerth. Banner image: Jill Heinerth
Exploring Interconnected Waters: A Cave Diver's Viewpoint
Like
The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

The United Nations 2023 Water Conference took place in New York in March, coinciding with World Water Day on the 22nd, and an urgent call to boost international cooperation over how water is used and managed. Managing rivers and aquifers - water-bearing layers of rock, sand, or gravel capable of absorbing water- crossing international borders is very complex. While cooperation over transboundary basins and aquifers has been shown to deliver many benefits beyond water security, only six of the world’s 468 internationally shared aquifers are subject to a formal cooperative agreement.

Closer cooperation is the only way to prevent a global water crisis in the coming decades. We cannot ignore the global interconnectivity of water. In truth, water knows no boundaries; it permeates our Earth, as it flows through our lives.

Also on the Forum Network: Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson, Biologist; Author, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid
Just as the planet is changing faster than anyone expected, so too are the plants and animals that call it home. They have a great deal to tell us about the nature of what comes next, because for many of them, and also for many of us, that world is already here.

As a cave diver, I navigate the underground network of tunnels beneath our feet, traversing dark passages filled with water. These tunnels, shaped by rain seeping into the earth, act as conduits transporting fresh water from deep aquifers to springs, rivers, and estuaries. The same water journeys to the vast ocean, sustaining a thriving plankton community producing the oxygen we breathe. These caves, which I explore, carry our planet’s lifeblood, supporting the lungs of our planet.

In the depths of my remote office, survival hinges on the delicate balance between fear and discovery, where a single misstep could cost me my life. While most people fear the darkness of caves, I am drawn to their constricted corridors, venturing into the blackness with the aid of technology, relying on each measured breath to sustain me. Surprisingly, many are unaware of the existence of these water-filled caves winding beneath the surface. Nevertheless, I willingly embrace the unknown depths, using my unique perspective to confront fear and educate others about the fragility of our water planet.

Cave diving has earned a reputation as the world’s most perilous sport, yet it also represents the frontier of scientific exploration and discovery. As a form of extreme technical scuba diving, this pursuit takes aquanauts through the permanent darkness, leading them through labyrinthine limestone networks across the globe. Passionate enthusiasts, alongside adventurous researchers and scientists, race to explore these treacherous passageways, utilizing multiple scuba tanks, advanced rebreathers, and swift diver propulsion vehicles, pushing the boundaries with penetrations measured in miles rather than feet.

As a filmmaker and photographer, I create art while monitoring my life support equipment under demanding circumstances. Whether venturing solo or joining scientific expeditions, self-sufficiency is paramount. There is no Mission Control to solve my problems when I blindly search for a broken safety line in a silt cloud with zero visibility.

I want to connect humanity to where their water comes from and show people that what we do on the land’s surface will eventually be returned to us to drink.

Despite the inherent risks, swimming through the lifeblood of our planet fulfills my childhood dreams of becoming an explorer. I become the eyes and hands of scientists, venturing into uncharted territories that have never been witnessed. Underwater caves act as virtual museums of natural history, where I collaborate with biologists uncovering new species, physicists studying climate change, and hydrogeologists examining our finite freshwater reserves. Through exploration of these subterranean pathways, I have encountered grim sources of pollution, discovered life thriving within Antarctic icebergs, and unearthed ancient skeletal remains of the Maya civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula.

By exploring the world beneath our feet, I glide through limestone, passing beneath homes, golf courses, and restaurants. I delve into the ancient conduits of volcanoes and navigate crevices within colossal bodies of ice. I follow the trail of water, allowing it to guide me from mountain creeks to resplendent blue springs, all emitting their bounty from inside our planet. And when the passages pinch and terminate my dive, the water still flows from some mysterious place. The journey is endless. It beckons me forward to explore the caverns, immeasurable to my imagination. 

It is a privilege to uncover these hidden shrines and share concealed mysteries from deep inside our planet with my camera. I want to connect humanity to where their water comes from and show people that what we do on the land’s surface will eventually be returned to us to drink.




 

To learn more, check out the OECD Ocean website

Please sign in

If you are a registered user on The OECD Forum Network, please sign in

Go to the profile of George Toyin Roberts
9 months ago

We can't over emphasize the importance of preserving our water, because it affects us all irrespective of the geographical location. Thank you Jill Heinerth.