By: Rachel Ali
Bryan Lee, a junior film and animation major, got into scuba diving when he was around 10 years old after he got into a game called “Endless Ocean” on Wii. The game sparked his love for diving and the ocean, and once he started making money, he put it all into diving.
Lee got certified in scuba diving in 2014 when he was in seventh grade. However, within the last two years, Lee has become increasingly interested in cave diving. Instead of diving into open water, he dives into underwater caves and tunnels, which can be massive or small enough to get stuck in.
“Some places I’ve been to have been the Cayman Islands, Mexico, and South Africa,” says Lee. “My favorite dive site has to be Hole in the Wall near Tallahassee. It’s a huge cave system. The entrance is super tight, which eventually opens into huge caves and halls that are big enough to hold commercial airplanes.”
Lee also specifies that cave diving is much different than what many people may understand about recreational diving. Recreational diving has more limitations, like being unable to go into decompression and overhead environments. Cave diving is more technical since decompression is possible, and divers will most likely go into small, dangerous environments such as underwater caves and tunnels.
Lee notes that cave divers may use multiple tanks,s but instead have found a more efficient way to dive. Using open-circuit breathing equipment called rebreathers, Lee can last longer underwater by using a regulator that absorbs the CO2 he breathes out and “re-breathes” the air he needs to survive underwater.
“It’s pretty much breathing off a regulator,” says Lee. “A rebreather is pretty much like a tool that uses an oxygen bottle. As you breathe, your body metabolizes that oxygen, then the oxygen bottle, with the help of computers and solenoid, provides the contrast partial pressure of the O2 you need to breathe.”
To Lee, cave diving is different from anything he has ever experienced. He loves seeing how the cave changes the deeper he gets into it. He observes other divers’ or animals’ scratches and remnants at the more shallow sites. But once he gets deeper into the cave, he observes perfect dunes, uniform ripples in the sand, and even rare species of albino salamanders.
“I had a lot of nerves going in,” said Lee. “But a lot of the training I’ve done to get the certification has helped me so much with not panicking, knowing how to get myself out of situations, and proper planning.”
For cave diving, Lee notes that you need to have the ability to control your buoyancy and use your feet to move. You will need your hands to run a line, a skill in horizontal swimming that is essential for cave diving. Lee also stresses that the ability to work under pressure and never panic is important. The worst case scenario is something called a “silt up,” which is kicking up all the silt on the ground causing the water to fog up and lose the line, a situation that could be deadly.
Lee faced a near-death situation in a cave system near Peacock Springs, Royal Springs. This specific cave system has had casualties and is known for being dangerous. Despite that, Lee and his friends wanted to check it out.
“The common lore about it is that you either go in to recover a body or you go in to become a body that needs to be recovered,” says Lee.
Lee reflects on how he and his friend went in, despite the possible danger. Around 100 feet into the cave, there was a split in the tunnel. Lee proceeded to continue but eventually had to turn around, however, the return wasn’t easy. The tunnel was silted up, obscuring his view, and the situation got immensely worse when Lee got stuck.
“What happened was my manifold on my tanks, which are the valves on top, got stuck in a pocket on the ceiling,” says Lee. I was freaking out since I was just stuck there. I knew that if I quit, I would die, so I had to go against my training and push down into the silt to get free.”
Lee recognizes that he could have died, but his calm thinking and, more importantly, his training saved his life. However, the situation hasn’t scared him out of continuing cave diving. He is even working on documentaries about his cave diving adventures.
“I want to go back in there again and bring a camera this time,” says Lee. “I’m also going to bring better equipment.”