Deep underground, in eternal darkness, alien creatures live in a truly alien world.

Imagine a world of complete darkness. A hostile world where food is scarce and opportunistic predators lie around every corner. You are the hunter and the hunted. Your only link to the black environment around you are the tiny, vibration-sensitive hairs that cover your body. You sense movement in the distance, could it be food? Or is it a larger predator, slowly stalking your every move, waiting to snatch you up in razor-sharp claws and make you its next meal.

Such creatures do exist, inhabiting submarine caves known as blue holes in the Bahama Islands. The Bahamas consist of 18 major islands plus 700 smaller cays distributed on several “banks” that make up the 62,137 square mile (100,000 km2) Bahama platform. This entire block is composed of vast, limestone flats covered with shallow water, and deep ocean trenches extending to known depths of at least 14,600 ft / 4450 m. Ancient stress cracks in the limestone were created during the past Ice Ages when sea level was as much as 400 feet (120 M) lower. Typically running north to south along the eastern side of Andros Island, these giant, water filled, “fracture caves” commonly reach depths exceeding 300-450 feet (90-135 M).

The marine cave life of the Bahamas is among the richest and most diverse in the world. Isolated from the outside world for millions of years, life in these deep caverns has evolved into unique, individualized ecosystems.


Dr. Thomas Iliffe from Texas A&M prepares for a collection dive into the Guardian cave system.  

The list of explorers who have attempted to solve the mysteries surrounding blue holes ecosystems is long: Benjamin, Palmer, Exley, Mount, Martz and many others. A group of veteran Bahamas underwater/underground explorers and scientists is currently preparing for a three year project that will delve into the unique systems of the Bahamas in a combined effort to educate the world on these little known ecosystems.

This project, known as the Bahamian Blue Holes Research Project (BBHRP), will be co-led by Dan Malone, veteran blue holes explorer, videographer and owner of the M/V Ocean Explorer, and Brian Kakuk, Diving Safety Officer for the Caribbean Marine Research Center and leader of many blue hole expeditions in the Bahamas. The scientific aspects of the project will be directed by Dr. Tom Iliffe, A marine biologist from Texas A&M University at Galveston. Iliffe is one of the foremost authorities in underwater cave biology and is responsible for the collection and description of scores of new species.


Brian Kakuk is the main cave explorer to the furthest reaches of the Guardian cave system with dives in excess of 400 feet.  

The BBHRP was spawned during the group’s last expedition, known as Expedition Andros 99, which investigated 15 blue hole systems around Andros Island, during October of 1999. The goals of the BBHRP are to collect as much data on as many underwater cave systems as possible. Research conducted during the project will include geologi-cal sampling of cave formations to chronicle ancient sea level changes, biological collections for the identification of new species, and the ongoing search for biologically derived chemical products for medical research.
In addition to the standard exploration and survey of each cave, a biological, geological and hydrological profile will be created enabling researchers to compare systems within the Bahamas as well as globally. All of the information collected will be presented on the world wide web at two different web sites. The first is Iliffe’s cave biology site at This site includes information on cave adapted marine life from all over the world. The second will be, a site created by Kakuk for the collection and distribution of Bahamian blue holes related information.

During the project, two to three expeditions per year will be conducted in various parts of the Bahamas on board Malone’s 55 foot M/V Ocean Explorer (OEX). The OEX is capable of carrying 8 divers, 4 crew and an array of exploration and scientific equipment to some of the most remote places in the Bahamas, while still allowing all of the comforts of a world class liveaboard. Cave dives on board the OEX run the gamut from long range, mixed gas, scooter, and side mount dives, to slowly finning down massive, single passage, fracture caves in conventional back mounted configuration.
Each expedition will allow for 6 cave divers to come aboard and participate in not only the exploration of virgin caves, but help in the scientific aspects of the project as well. Participants help conduct biological and geological collections as well as operating hydrological analyzing instruments within the caves. In the field of land-based science, the discovery of completely new species of animals is a very rare occasion. In the underwater caves of the Bahamas, finding new species is almost commonplace. Some Bahamian caves have revealed up to 12 new species of crustaceans from a single site.

The collection of cave formations (speleothems) is scheduled for future expeditions. Because these crystalline formations can only form when the cave is above sea level, samples collected from varying depths within the caves will help geologists validate how low sea levels were during the Ice Ages and how long they stayed there. As it stands now, formations have been found near depths of 300 feet (90 M). But some experts believe that the sea was at one time more than 100 feet (30 M) lower than that. This is just a small portion of the types of data that the BBHRP will be collecting over the next 3 years. In addition to these, Kakuk has recently been approached by the Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF) to supply overlay surveys of as many blue holes (and associated passages) as possible, to coincide with a new Bahamas Global Information System (GIS) mapping project. This will allow the Bahamian Government to know exactly where underlying passages are, so they may identify areas too unstable for develop-ment. This will also help blue holes conservation efforts throughout the Bahamas.

Boat Captain and owner of the MV Ocean Explorer prepares for a dive with the Guardian system.

Now more than ever, divers can play a major part in true exploration of the underwater world. As Iliffe notes: “Exploration is the first step in scientific research.” Scientists would have nothing to study without the explorer leading the way.

If you are interested in participating in one or more of the BBHRP expeditions to explore underwater caves “for a reason,” you can obtain information from the following sources:

Brian Kakuk