A diver gazes at the “roses” in the Glass Factory section of Ralph’s Cave on Abaco.
Occupation: Co-owner, Bahamas Underground Cave Diving Facility
Years Diving: 37
Certification Level: Technical Cave Diving Instructor Trainer
Words to Live By: Never stop exploring.
From his start in military and commercial diving, Brian Kakuk has been a cave explorer, tec-diving instructor, filmmaker, photographer, scientist and conservationist. For his dedication to the underwater world, and his championing of the Crystal Caves of the Bahamas’ Abaco Island, he is our Jan/Feb 2017 Sea Hero.
Q: WHAT IS IT ABOUT BLUE HOLES?
A: When I first started diving blue holes on Andros Island, it was strictly for photography. Soon I realized this was virgin territory; even as a newbie, I was an explorer. Eventually I met up with scientists who were intrigued by what I was finding, and I began collecting samples for them. This led me to understand how important these sites were to Bahamian culture and history, and I began supporting researchers through my Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. At the same time it became very obvious that these places were under threat from development and pollution. After all, holes are just a place in which to throw things, right?
Q: YOU MADE A DISCOVERY IN ABACO ISLAND’S CAVE SYSTEM.
A: For nearly 12 years, I have been working with Steve Bogaerts and Fred Davis trying to connect Dan’s Cave and Ralph’s Cave, but the passages eluded us. Last summer, we discovered an extremely small, clay-filled crevice that Steve was able to push through with much difficulty. He discovered a new room where, on the backside, he found one of my old lines. For weeks we tried to find the line from the Ralph’s side. Finally, in October, I was able to do a long rebreather dive from the Ralph’s side, and I found where Steve had tied in. This made the connection official, and now Dan’s and Ralph’s — we call them the Crystal Caves of Abaco — are the longest cave, wet or dry, in the Bahamas and are in the rankings for longest underwater cave on any island in the world.
Q: THE CAVES ARE NOW PROTECTED. DID YOU HAVE A HAND THERE?
A: I guess my title would be lead instigator. In 2010, Olivia Patterson and I wrote a proposal for the protection of the Crystal Caves, including about a dozen inland and off shore blue holes within a 34,000-acre area on South Abaco. These sites were designated “conservation forest,” the highest degree of protection for any government- owned land in the Bahamas, as of August 2015.
Q: BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED?
A: I was a foreigner trying to persuade locals what to do with their land. In a country with very little landmass, Bahamians are limited in where they can build. My job was to convince locals and government agencies that these places were so special — without being able to take them there — that they were worth setting aside.
Q: WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
A: Dr. Kenneth Broad from the University of Miami and I just received a grant from National Geographic for a mapping project for these caves, including photogrammetry of one of the larger rooms. This will let folks download an app, walk over the cave on the surface and see it below on their device, like a glass window over the cave, allowing many more tourists to experience the cave. It will be the first time this has been done anywhere with a cave.
Q: HOW CAN READERS HELP?
A: Scuba is a large part of tourism in the Bahamas. The more important these places are to divers, the more important blue holes become to the government of the Bahamas. Divers who are trained in cave diving can visit these places for themselves and let others know just how incredible they are.
For information on cave training, go to bahamasunderground.com.
Each Sea Hero featured in Scuba Diving will receive an Oris Aquis Date watch worth $1,650. In March 2017, a panel of judges will select the 2016 Sea Hero of the Year, who will receive a $5,000 cash award from Oris to further his or her work.