New Bell Island dive maps to be put to work in 2017
Ocean Quest running introduction to mines for qualified cave divers
The team at Ocean Quest Adventures joined forces with some of the world’s top underwater explorers last year, beginning the immense task of documenting and mapping the flooded Bell Island iron ore mines.
The Mine Quest Expedition was developed in partnership with the Bell Island Heritage Society and drew in the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s explorer-in-residence Jill Heinerth, as well as society fellow Steve Lewis and other divers with global experience.
It was named the 2016 Expedition of the Year and has led to, among other things, a fresh commercial opportunity for Ocean Quest and Bell Island tourism.
“It’s more to it than just a dive in a mine,” said Rick Stanley, who explained the expedition project involved developing records of underwater life, artifacts and where they are located, as the experienced divers also established “main lines” and specific guide lines for the safety of those who would come after. Artifacts were not removed, Stanley said, but they were noted, developing a clear record of the underwater museum.
The flooded mine tunnels run hundreds of kilometres and so the area was not completely recorded to the inch in the year. But more will be covered, he said, as expert divers volunteer to delve into the unknown depths.
For exploration to date, the expedition team made use of maps created when the mine was dry and in operation, before the flooding in 1966.
“What we’re doing is just basically following what they have done and laying guide lines down there for divers. But more so, what we’re looking at is identifying things that have been left behind,” he said, mentioning visible graffiti, in some cases commemorating where men died at their work. There were also personal artifacts.
“It’s a true museum, a natural museum,” he said.
The work, with the continued partnership of the Bell Island Heritage Society, has allowed Ocean Quest to begin offering dives within the mine to curious customers.
“Now it’s an experience,” Stanley said. “We’ve probably got maybe 20 people so far that’s booked in for the next year.”
The excursion is not for those just starting out, as it requires some experience in cave diving. However, there are still bookings for Ocean Quest into the coming year.
International coverage of the Mine Quest Expedition has experienced divers interested in the area, when added to the already available dive targets of the shipwrecks around the island.
Heinerth has repeatedly spoken about the area, including for a cover story for Canadian Geographic and a short film “Exploring Bell Island.” She noted Bell Island’s underwater discoveries during an educa- tional project for Canadian middle schoolers in 2016.
Stanley said the work of the last year — paired with bright photos and video from dives around the vessels torpedoed by German U-boats — has resulted in fresh attention from divers. And the draw, he said, is in the mixture of culture, history, adventure and nature.
“Those elements, it’s a recipe for success,” he said.
Stanley said the residents of the island have made it a real tourism product by making the experience memorable for so many visitors. In turn, Stanley has also directed the deposit of relevant photos and artifacts from connections he has made to the local museum.
Left: Ocean Quest running introduction to mines for qualified cave divers
Above: A Bell Island map for divers.