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Cave Divers Risk Their Lives to Explore the Underworld

For the past 14 years, photographer and filmmaker Jill Heinerth has been exploring underwater caves around the world, from lava tubes off the coast of North Africa to icebergs in the Antarctic. recently caught up with Heinerth to talk about some of her most exciting cave diving moments, as well as the recent technological advances that have made cave diving easier, safer and more accessible to recreational divers. This gallery showcases some of Heinerth’s best underwater images and includes captions adapted from our conversation with her.

Above: “My Neighborhood Cave” in High Springs, Florida

Heinerth snapped this photo of herself as she descended through the tannic water of the Santa Fe River into her neighborhood cave in High Springs, Florida. The swirling orange blaze above her comes from the mixing of river water, stained red by decaying cypress trees, with crystal blue spring water flowing from the cave. The giant black mask she’s wearing is connected to a special diving tank called a rebreather.

“Basically, it does the same thing as a space suit,” Heinerth said. “In normal scuba gear, you’re inhaling gas and exhaling a column of bubbles into the water. But in a rebreather, you’re actually recycling your air, with carbon dioxide getting scrubbed out of the mixture and oxygen getting added back in. With an electronic rebreather, you can tune the gases that you’re using, so that in deeper water you can use helium and other gases to get the optimal mixture of breathing gas for deep water.”

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