Working in the restaurant industry in New York City in 2004, I’d recently fallen in love with scuba diving after a brief trip, during which I completed my open water certification at John Pennecamp State Park in Key Largo. After that trip, I started hanging around a tech diving shop in the East Village on my days off when I first discovered that cave diving existed.
"The current was ripping at Ginnie, man! I almost died!" Some big, tough, diver-dude was telling a group of rapt listeners gathered around him on the sales floor. He continued to regale the group with his cave-diving adventures in Florida. " Dave silted it out, and I was totally blind. I had to follow the line out. It was inSANE!" This did not sound like fun to me–it sounded stupid. I immediately lost all interest in cave diving.
A few years later, I moved to Mexico for a 6-month internship in the tiny, idyllic town of Akumal. I'd found a researcher studying coral chemistry, and it seemed like an excellent way to combine my new-found love of diving with my degree in biochemistry and perhaps move into conservation work in the future. Upon my arrival, I received information that the internship had been canceled, and the non-profit organization had failed to communicate this to anyone.led to communicate this to anyone.
At a loss as to what to do for the next six months, I decided to regroup and complete my divemaster internship with a local shop. I worked at the desk doing sales in exchange for dives, and the shop decided I must join one of their guides on a guided cenote cavern dive, as I needed to know what I was selling. Knowing I would hate cavern diving and have no desire to ever consider cave diving, I was dragged along with a group.
My first cenote dive was at Dos Ojos, and the moment I dropped below the surface, my life changed. A clear, blue tunnel twisted off into the distance. Sparkling white sand covered the floor of the cavern, thin, delicate stalactites adorned the ceiling, and massive columns rose like trees around me. Almost out of sight, I saw two cave divers in doubles swimming off into a dark hole. What was around that corner? Where were they going? I needed to know.
I surfaced from my first cavern dive inspired. "I am going to be a cave diver!" I proclaimed. "I want to explore new caves! I want to teach cave diving! I want to have a cave diving shop!"
"Sure you will," the guide told me, observing my 4'11" frame. "You know you will have to carry double tanks, right?" I didn't care. I spent the first five years of my cave diving career dragging around tanks that weighed more than me.
As it became accepted, I moved to sidemount. I became an open-water instructor, started guiding cave divers, and slowly moved to become a cave diving instructor. I met my exploration buddy Vincent Rouquette-Cathala in 2008, and together, we've mapped more than 100km of previously unexplored caves. In 2016, we opened Under the Jungle, our cave and technical diving center, and we both became instructor trainers. In 2018, my friend Luca gave me his old Sony A7S camera, and I fell in love with underwater photography and videography. They inducted me into the Woman Diver's Hall of Fame in 2020.
Now, with almost 20 years in Mexico, I am shocked at how time has flown and how much has happened. I've seen significant changes in my adopted country, some good and some bad. Perhaps the most concerning thing is the pace of touristic development–with houses, hotels, and even a train going in with little planning and no environmental impact studies. While it's not the entire solution, I do feel that photography and videography can be tools to show land owners and locals who do not dive into the beauty of the caves that lay just under their feet and hopefully inspire them to conserve it.