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Ben’s Cave

Ben’s Cave survey started in 2009 between Cristina Zenato and Arek Pers; Cristina later completed the full survey in 2011. She submitted a proposal to expand the current boundaries of the Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island, to include the full extension of the cave and the land forest and mangrove area.

This cave is part of the 2020 project, supported by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT)

In January 2020, our team resumed this project to complete different missions. Cristina and Kewin Lorenzen decided to re-survey the entire system with modern survey tools. Together they created an easily accessible digital map. They then continued the exploration and added 3000 feet of line, extending Ben’s cave to a total of 34,000 feet. In the process, they also added two new entrances in the mangrove area and discovered a lower level of the cave at 72feet of depth.

In cooperation with the Bahamas National Trust, they matched this survey with an interactive map. This map is created by having one team member swim through the tunnels recording with a high definition camera every detail of the swim through. The video and the survey are matched through a software system known as Ariane’s Line, to create a live video map. The viewer can now click on any point of the active areas and follow the progress of this virtual swim through the system, while comfortably sitting at home. Furthermore, high-quality images of some fantastic locations document the beauty and unique features of this cave. These are the first-ever surfaced images of remote and beautiful areas in Ben’s; there are no previous records of pictures of these zones. 

Although we have completed most of the work, we still have some new goals. We want to submit the proposal to protect the entire area of the Lucayan system with neighboring regions, including the Anaconda Swamp and Pirates Mew. 

So far, we haven’t been able to connect these caves; however, the team has demonstrated that they all reverse their waters over a vast mangrove creek. We believe it will be essential to extend the protection to the other systems so that we will be able to protect Ben’s. Failure to do so would cause pollution to transfer from the nonprotected areas to the MPA. Read about the work completed in these two systems under Anaconda Swamp and Pirates Mew. 

Zodiac System

Sweeting’s Cay Zodiac System. Comprising of seven different caves, first explored by British cave divers, Cristina started to travel to and from the cay to expand the exploration of the systems and survey them between 2015 and 2017. Cristina decided to include this area in the 2020 project and to present all the results to the Bahamas National Trust. Unfortunately, she had to put her work on hold when Hurricane Matthew hit the island in October 2017, creating issues to her resources to access the cay. Currently, our team is looking to resume the work in this area. It is a far-to-reach area that requires the use of a local boat and driver who knows how to navigate the shallows. The costs to work on Sweetings are higher than those to work in the other caves, and we are currently planning to create an expedition-style visit to maximize our presence and results. 

Hurricane Dorian completely damaged the area, and the team intends to travel to Sweetings for an environmental assessment of the water areas, the entrances, and the caves themselves.

The Zodiac system comprises of the systems Gemini, Virgo, Pisces overlooking the same saltwater depression, located in the center of the cay on private property (we have permission to cross the property to access the water table). Scorpio and Aquarius are the two further systems of the Zodiac; the access for these two is behind the cay through a mangrove creek. Cristina connected Aquarius to Gemini in October 2016. During this time Cristina was also able to extend the systems by several thousand feet of tunnels

Sagittarius, a separate Zodiac system, is located on a different saltwater depression on the same cay located behind private property and the local clinic. 

The cay and its surroundings present numerous additional caves and ocean blue holes. The most known are Asgard Cave, Lucy’s Cave, and the North Road blue hole series. 

The entire area is a natural habitat for sharks, rays, corals, marine creatures, and additional land and mangroves flora and fauna. They are a vital component for the health of the cay and the island and, as such, deemed in need of full conservation.

Old Freetown System

Together with Ben’s cave, This is perhaps the most known system on the entire island. It presents two official entrances, the spectacular sinkhole 40ft to the water Owl Hole and the not so known Mermaid’s Lair (to not be confused with Mermaid’s Pond)

The total extension of this system, explored in the early 80s, went from 18,205 feet to 21,521 feet when Cristina in 2019 was able to add 3315 feet of tunnels through her exploration. 

The Owl Hole entrance presents three tunnels; one goes directly north, two south, and they meet several hundred feet later into just one tunnel heading towards Mermaids, a 2,598 traverse. Old Freetown is a phreatic cave with speleothem formed during the ice ages and presents a vast web of interconnected tunnels. Used for years by locals for recreational diving and by Cristina for cave training, the cave rests under private property. A giant sign warns people that they are free to use the system and the water as they please but that the owners decline any responsibility. The cave has always been in a safe location, and for years we believed to be safe from development. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, the cave has become dangerously close to a development project, which could affect the land above the system and the system itself. 

Cristina and Kewin decided to re-survey, as the only available data was from the 1980s and unusable. They completed this project between the end of February 2019 through the first week of June 2019. In October 2020, they resumed the work into this system to create an interactive map; to date, there are over 8000 feet of tunnels with an interactive map. The scope is to use all this information and images to prevent the development of the area, which would cause damages to the system and the aquifer. 

The entire system went through a complete change after the massive land flooding during Hurricane Dorian. The team collected visual information of the tunnels, sedimentations, and even colors to compare with previous data.

The North Tunnel, which used to be completely black, is currently white with some streak of orange, while the cavern section of Mermaid’s suffered some major ceiling collapse. The team estimated that a powerful stream of water pushed its way from the north side through the south side, increasing in pressure as it reached the much smaller entrance at Mermaid and causing the rocks to dislodge. Currently, the system is stable, and no additional changes have been detected.

Exploration is still going, together with adding more interactive to the whole map.

People of the water diving team Cristina Zenato and Kewin Lorenzen are on a mission to locate and map as many caves and blue holes on Grand Bahama and other Bahamian islands to create a viable source of information for landowners and governmental entities.

The Anaconda Swamp

This is currently a completed project from an exploration and mapping point of view. Additional trips are in the plans to collect additional images and possible collection for identification of unique cave fauna. This hole is located in an undisclosed part of the island for safety reasons. The surface area is salty and the water is brown due to a high level of tannic acid. At about 25ft/9m there is a thick layer of hydrogen sulfide. which causes darkness immediately below and a drastic change in temperature. While small levels of hydrogen sulfide are tollerable by the human body, divers venturing into this hole need to be aware of the requirements of their ascent stops to avoid stopping in the middle of it and suffer physical consequences. The team found a total of 512ft of cave at a maximum depth of 190ft/58m. Part of the ceiling is composed of mangrove built terrain mixed with the limestone. During this exploration, the team found fossils of now-extinct crocodiles at various depths. The Museum of Antiquities has already been informed of their presence and location. For more details and information contact the team.

Pirates Mew

The entrance between Pirates and Ben’s are one mile apart, the furthest tunnel heading west from Ben’s is only 1500 feet away from the most distant tunnel leading east from Pirates. Pirates is currently a 2011 feet long cave with five different entrances and several passageways under the local road connecting the east and west side of the island. Completely enveloped in the mangrove creeks, it presents several difficulties: low visibility, tannic water, high levels of hydrogen sulfide, small bedding planes, and extremely high levels of microbial growth. Pirates suffered some damages from the flooding over the island caused by Hurricane Dorian, September 1st-3rd, 2019. One of the original entrances is entirely closed by the ravine of rubbles. Other passageways are further reduced in size by the transportation of materials through the openings. The most viable entries remain the ones protected by the mangroves. The team has found one vertebra of a crocodile at the entrance of Pirates, furthering the connection between this cave and Anaconda. 

When looked on the satellite map, it is evident that both Pirates and Ben’s feed on the same mangrove creek, which extends parallel to the south shore. The hurricane damaged this area, and yet its strength prevented more catastrophic destruction of the shoreline and the ecosystems.

Cemetery hole

Traveling through The Bahamas, a lot of ocean holes seem to acquire the names of Cemetery or Graveyard holes. These names are due to the local habit of creating the community rest place by the shoreline, on the beach, numerous times right across the blue hole dotting everywhere across these islands. This specific Cemetery Hole is on the east side of Grand Bahama, almost at the entrance of Mc Cleans town. Located from the beach, it is a traditional ocean blue hole. Access is possible only on calm days, during daylight, and at slack tide before the flow reverses to become outgoing. While it is physically impossible to swim against the current to enter this hole during the outflow phase, entering this hole during the siphon phase of the tide is life-threatening. It’s required to know the local tides and the weather for a successful exploration. 

The hole presents two different tunnels. One is heading straight north and appears to find its way on land, right under the beach. The team is currently scouting the vegetation area, searching for holes that might have access from the ground to the same system. It has discovered and explored one entrance but presented no access. 

The second tunnel is heading south, and it still requires complete exploration and survey. The team is planning this work when all conditions match. 

The exploration of this hole has revealed the intense connection with these caves and the marine fauna and flora. Full of fish, very active in nutrients, creatures can be found through the dive. Unfortunately, this is also a great example of the far reach of the negative human presence. The team has collected plastic to the end of the tunnels. They even found plastic pieces located where they could not retrieve it. The most shocking example was a full rain one time use poncho issued by a cruise ship with the logo still visible.

Chimney-Mermaid Pond

On the south shore of the island, heading west, there are two cave entrances, one in the ocean and one on land. The linear distance between the two, Chimney, a blue hole, and Mermaid Pond, a land cave, is a merely 500 yards. For years different explorers tried to connect the two caves; some explorers defined Chimney as one of the most dangerous caves in the world.

Chimney cave is an ocean blue hole and, as such, is subject to the tidal flow reversal. The entrance exhibits two cycles of siphon and two cycles of spring, two times per day, with a slack flow delay of twenty minutes between each reversal. The entrance is … feet from the beach in about 5-7 feet of water depending on the tide. The name comes from the shape of the access. A 40ft deep, 12 feet in diameter shaft through the ground brings to a small entrance on the bottom. The access is a reversed trapdoor, luckily making the access difficult and the exit easy. Due to the shape of the shaft, the small entrance, this hole presents extremely dangerous siphon and spring currents. Divers can only and exclusively enter when the flow is on the final part of the siphon, taking advantage of the weak spring flow to swim further into the system before the current becomes hard to manage. Once inside, the cave presents a vertical fracture heading partially east to west and north to south, at a maximum depth of about 45 feet with only one area opening over a break to 100 feet. To this day, no diver has had access to the level below. We believe that it’s just an extension of the high fracture. Mermaid is land-based and located in the native settlement of Hawksbill. The system seems to be fed by a creek running on the north side of the cave. This area is heavily industrialized and believed to have concurred with the impact on this system. Mermaid presents dark water, low visibility, and extreme development of microbial growth, which covers the floor several feet thick and coats walls, ceilings, and crystal decorations.

Cristina Zenato pushed the exploration of this cave between the years of 2007 and 2012, with most of the efforts concentrated in 2012. Cristina was working on the 2020 project for Ben’s cave when she decided that showing the results of a cave under a developed, but unmanaged area, would contribute to the desire to protect the original, unspoiled location. She tried to match tides, good weather, available time, and daylight, and she completed a series of push dives from the ocean side. Cristina also actively explored the system from the land side. Finally, on December 31st, 2012, after setbacks, several delays, and issues, she was able to connect the two caves. The connection is the first-ever recorded connection between a fully established land system and a fully formed ocean blue hole. The link is further proof that the actions taken away from an area are still visible and affecting it due to the nature of the landscape and underwater caves. Protecting the entrance of a cave doesn’t protect the entire system and all the eco-systems related to it.

The team is planning to return to Chimney-Mermaid and to re-survey the cave. Unfortunately, due to the strong chemicals in the water, most likely, the team will have to lay completely new lines. Cristina already verified that the water composition broke up the structure of the guideline to the point of reducing it to dust. This project is on hold due to the Covid19 lockdown and government closure of the local beaches. We hope to resume this project by summer 2020, once the regulations are open again.

Loki’s cave

Named after the Norse mythology god, Loki illusioned the team with the promise of a vast cave system which unfortunately proved unsuccessful. After a survey of the entire hole and a descent into a vast chamber to fifty feet, the walls pinched in the floor and no access was found. The hole is on the north shore of the island and extremely visible on a satellite map. A perfect round circle in the middle of the sharp limestone rocks and mangrove growth it requires over an hour drive to reach and a good hike across flooded sharp terrain. Signs of an existing cave are the decorations covering the ceiling and walls of the chamber the team was able to enter. Unfortunately, the collapse created a pinch and the divers weren’t able to further into the system. This area is subject to flood during the high tide and presents ocean creatures living in the open water area. 

Boiling hole 

It was known initially as Garbage Hole, and it indeed matches the original name. This hole is under the local settlement known as Eight Mile Rock, a gorgeous stretch of the island facing some incredibly crystal and turquoise waters with rocks as frontline instead of the usual white sand beaches.

Used by the local as a swimming location, on certain weather days, it presents a clear pool protected from the ocean waves and currents and enough shallow water to be deemed safe for children. Unfortunately, due to the tidal changes and the traditional switch between siphon and spring, this hole has been used for a long time to dispose of garbage as it magically “disappears” once the siphon cycle starts. The team was able to trace the cave to the back and under some homes, making it even more evident how the activities we complete above will reflect on the consequences we will experience below. A beautiful cave with all the signs of once being a dry cave is also a dangerous and treacherous area to explore; the amount of garbage, fishing lines, and entanglements made it a perilous dive for the team trying to explore and survey the system. We are planning to create an interactive map of the system to show the results of a high impact due to human actions. 

Citrus Farm

We were aware of this area as a possible cave entrance as we heard through the history lines that it was the freshwater reservoirs supplying a citrus farm. Cristina had approached this area in 2008 without good results, but we wanted to verify the initial results. We are committed to checking and, if necessary, re-check all the fields to collect comprehensive and updated information about any cave or possible entrance that might lead to a cave.

This commitment includes listing those areas that have been explored and didn’t yield results. Science states that no data is still data.

To reach the area, it takes some work as the vegetation is heavily overgrown. There are no signs of citrus plants, but the whole irrigation system scattered across a vast area is a good indication of the presence of a former plantation. The plants are currently all wild pepper plants, considered unsafe for human consumption. The team had to complete the final approach to the hole on foot; after several attempts, they found the chance to drive as close as 300 yards away. The last part remains a hike. The open water portion has two easy entry and exit areas, while the rest of the walls are steep and several feet above the water level. The water is dark, with a marked presence of hydrogen sulfide. Organic materials, blood worms, and orange microbial growth cover the center of the hole. In two different areas, the walls carve inwards, showing the presence of ancient flowstone and speleothems now covered in limestone. Upon further inspection, the cave bell didn’t lead to further tunnels. The team placed a line at about 30ft to explore the entire perimeter of the opening. It also attempted to descend but aborted the penetration through the thick hydrogen sulfide for safety concerns. Hurricane Dorian severely flooded and damaged the area around Citrus Farm. The access road is currently still inaccessible, and considerable additional work is required to clear the path once again. The team is planning to return to the hole for one final review once the summer weather and local thunderstorms decline. 


Josey’s Cave

Josey’s cave is in the small community of Holmes Rock. It is tucked away in a small park, once used by the local people as a freshwater source. The cave presents one dry chamber and nearby one small crack in the rocks with access to the water. Cristina entered the system but found that it doesn’t lead to bigger openings. Recorded as a cave, it is still in the interest of the local community and BNT to consider it protected. The water tested at 946 ppm.

A&B hole

These two nameless depressions are in the central part of the island, in a low area of hard limestone, small brush, and very few tall trees.

The round shape of each depression indicates that it suffered a collapse, probably during the ice-age when the water level was 400 feet below the current level. The team found two small holes with water in it. One was too small to enter; upon inspection, the second one showed one small room but no access to the cave below. Stalagmites hang from the ceiling, proving that this was a possible ancient cave. The rest of the perimeter showed no openings and no water.

Spaceship landing

Spaceship landing is, to this day, one of the most significant depressions discovered by our team, located in the middle of the island. It has a diameter of over 200 yards with a distinct rocky ledge all around the circle. Cristina first explored the area in 2008 and returned with Kewin in 2018. They searched the whole depression and found one accessible area. Cristina dived through the small restriction, found flowstone coming from the ceiling and across the bottom, but found that the cave pinched at a depth of 55ft. She swam across the open bottom, trying to find an opening, but the search was negative. The team has searched the area for other possible depressions and entrances but no results to this day.

Banana Hole

Banana Hole is in the back of Eight Mile Rock between private residences and land. It is one of the several dramatic and beautiful dry depressions scattered across the island, which requires a small climb down a gumbo limbo tree to enter. Although the hole presents a lot of garbage thrown in by the people in the area, the water edging the perimeter is crystal clear with a reading at 2100 ppm. The team didn’t identify any possible access.

Behind Cemetery One

The team is searching for openings on land that are in line and the area with Cemetery Blue Hole. Currently, they found and inspected one. Although it showed potential signs of a former cave, the hole is completely covered in sediment, and it presents very little access to overhead, pinching just a few feet below the rock line

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Cristina Zenato connects two caves in Sweeting’s Key, completing the work that Rob Palmer left unfinished 30 years before.

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