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20,000 Leagues Under the State

20,000 Leagues Under the State

Who is ready for a deep dive? 

It may be surprising to learn that Florida is one of the top destinations in the world for underwater cave diving and exploration. Hundreds of caves, caverns and freshwater springs lie just underneath the surface, extending downward, seemingly endlessly.  

These cave systems are the source of most of the state’s fresh water and are an integral part of the ecology. So infused with the history of Florida, these bountiful springs are thought to be behind the legend of the Fountain of Youth 

The city of High Springs has often been referred to as the cave diving capital of the world. Its Devils Springs system feeds over 80 million gallons of fresh water each day and offers breathtaking views for its many annual visitors. Ginnie Springs, one of the more famous freshwater springs in the state, has over 1,000 feet of underwater caves itself. 

Professional cave diver and photographer Kirill Egorov moved to High Springs in 2013 for a chance at exploration.  

“I first came here in 2005 and fell in love with it,” Egorov said. “It is so diverse, has so many different types of caves.” 

His fascination with these natural wonders brought him back first in 2006, and then in 2013 permanently. He currently works for Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), which is headquartered in High Springs. 

“Cave diving was born here, developed here,” Egorov said. “Florida is one of the best areas for cave diving in the world.” 

Florida’s cave network is extensive. At any given moment, millions of Floridians stand atop miles of these flooded caverns without even realizing it. Egorov estimates that 10% of all fresh water available to people flows through and from this system. 

The exploration of many of the underwater caves in the area is a relatively recent phenomenon. While the entrances have been documented for years, how to safely get in and explore was not known until the last few years. When Egorov arrived in High Springs, only 70 feet of line were dropped to mark the extent of their discovery. It is now up to 3,000. He puts it in context: 

“More people have walked on the moon than have been in some of these caves,” Egorov said. 

These natural marvels are not only for trained professionals. Devil’s Den Cave, part of the Devil’s Springs network, is a privately-owned site, open to the public. At a comfortable and consistent 72° Fahrenheit, this Williston wonder is a preview of Florida’s underground treasures.  

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From here, the goal is preservation. Ensuring the health and survival of the caverns and springs is paramount for explorers like Egorov. He warns that common pollutants such as fertilizer and gasoline runoff threaten to damage these fragile ecosystems. The recent push to increase awareness is a strong first step. 

“The next step is conservation,” Egorov said. “We must preserve these natural resources.” 

Teams of divers and explorers continue to document further into these undersea caves each year. Madison Blue, near the Florida-Georgia border, has been a recent project for the Woodville Karst Plan Project, an organization dedicated to mapping these systems.  

Whether by spreading awareness or suiting up to dive, becoming more involved with one of Florida’s hidden natural wonders is worth taking the plunge. 

By Ryan Walsh. 

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