New Bell Is­land dive maps to be put to work in 2017

Ocean Quest run­ning in­tro­duc­tion to mines for qual­i­fied cave divers

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK TC ME­DIA The Tele­gram

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.

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