Underwater Cave Survey in Quintana Roo Mexico Quintana Roo Speleological Survey


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Frequently Asked Questions

last updated 12 January, 2022

Who named these Caves?

Historical names for most cenotes and dry caves in Quintana Roo are long forgotten, if they ever existed. Much of this is due to the isolated and often turbulent history of Quintana Roo. Karst features proximal to the coast or a Mayan ruin might retain a historic or traditional name, yet this is uncommon. The first underwater cave explorations in this region began in 1985, where the formality of naming a cave was left to the original explorers . These caves share their name with a distinctive cenote (often the main cave entrance) where first explorations discovered significant underwater cave development.

Explorers being explorers, some titled their discovery with a short Maya or Spanish phrase that describes a feature or the personality of the cave. Today's cave names might also honor a landowner, or even a popular movie title. It is also common for landowners to baptize their own private swimming hole with an appropriate title celebrating the name of their ranch or property. Most of the caves on our length and depth catalogues reflect the first name given to the cenote or cave. We discourage renaming caves for numerous reasons. Renaming a cave or a cave survey creates confusion. We also recommend that disparaging names for cave surveys or cave names be avoided. Use common sense please.

Sistemas (cave systems) are the union of two or more once-separate caves that are connected through a shared cave passage. In naming the system, the name of the larger cave normally becomes the name of the complete system. There are a few occasions where the entire underwater system has been re-christened in Quintana Roo.

What is Depth in Meters?

This figure discloses the greatest depth attained in a cave from zero datum (air/water interface at the cenote entrance) in meters. The water table in this area usually does not fluctuate to any large degree. The average depth for most caves in Quintana Roo is -15 meters (-50 feet). Most explorers use a digital depth gauge or diving computer to determine their depth accurately..




What is Length in Meters?

Underwater cave lengths are determined by a knotted guideline or tape survey. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. A tape survey determines the distance between survey stations utilizing a plastic measuring tape. A knotted line survey employs a guideline that is knotted at fixed intervals -- normally every 3 meters for an SI survey, or 10 feet for an Imperial survey. This technique allows a caver to explore a new passage while maintaining a continuous guideline to the cave exit. During the exit a surveyor counts knots (full intervals), while estimating any fraction of knotted intervals encountered between survey stations. Of course there is a bit more to surveying a cave than just knowing the length between survey stations!

We post lengths for cave systems that are valid cave systems, according to international protocols. Authentic underwater cave systems must allow a diver to swim to any point in the system without passing through an open water (direct access to the surface) environment. Avoiding an open water portion by swimming underneath a drip line (a rock overhang) to connect two caves is permitted. Cavers must be able to physically pass through a conduit in order to make a  connection to other cave passages. There are also international standards when connecting cave passages through pits that are open to the surface. However, this situation has yet to be encountered in the underwater caves of Quintana Roo.

Why do we use Meters?

We report lengths and depths in meters as it is an international standard. To convert feet to meters, multiply feet by  0.3048 to obtain meters. To convert meters to feet, multiply meters by 3.28084 to obtain feet. 

Do you use Global Positioning?

The Global Positioning Service (GPS) is an efficient method to determine cave entrance locations that are more than one kilometer distant. With SA (Selective Availability) now disabled, a 12 channel handheld GPS receiver will track your jungle excursions and mark waypoints to within 4 meters of actual position. Keep in mind that this 4 meter accuracy places the receiver in a general circle of accuracy; even with the best signals you may be in error by 8 meters. GPS altitude readings should be disregarded as they are unreliable. Has anyone had any success with WAAS in Quintana Roo?

For best results your GPS should be initialized (wait for a good fix) at the trail head before heading into the jungle. It is highly recommended not to initialize your GPS in the jungle if possible. We use an external antenna, collecting waypoints and track records in WGS84 datum. This converts easily to the NAD27 Mexico datum should you be referencing local topographic maps published in 1985-1986. More current topographic maps (2001-2009) are starting to replace the 1985-1986 versions. These new maps use the ITRF92 datum, which is essentially the same as the WGS84 datum. Use a long stick to elevate your antenna in dense jungle to enhance satellite signal reception, otherwise mount the external antenna on your shoulder.

Satellite availability and signal strength for this area of Mexico seems to degrade during local noon and towards the sunset hours. It appears to be at its best during the early morning hours. Always reference a compass and bring spare batteries when using a GPS.

The Underwater Caves of Cozumel

At this time we are able to report basic information on two coastal underwater caves on Cozumel, those being Cueva Quebrada and Cueva Aerolito. We have more detailed information on three inland caves that are currently being explored. There are numerous underwater caves on the island; however we simply do not have current information on these caves. Underwater cave exploration on Cozumel island should not be discounted. Cave explorations and surveys continue today by a group of dedicated individuals. We are able to provide a few details on Cozumel caves here.

A Geological Narrative of Yucatan 

Follow this to find a short synopsis on the geological history of the Yucatan Platform. 

Updates and corrections are welcome: chac<at>consolidated.net

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