Team ex­plores un­der­wa­ter caves

Divers seek to chart the mys­te­ri­ous cav­erns of Lake Vou­liag­meni in south­ern Athens

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MARIA ATHANA­SIOU

“Lake Vou­liag­meni, on Athens’s south­ern coast, is unique, with a mas­sive cave sys­tem, white cliffs and warm wa­ters – which un­der tem­per­ate con­di­tions are also ex­tremely clear – while the col­ors you see in­side from the re­frac­tion of the light and the clear wa­ters are re­ally spec­tac­u­lar,” says Spy­ros Kol­las, a pro­fes­sional div­ing in­struc­tor and en­thu­si­ast who has spent the past 16 years ex­plor­ing the world be­neath the waves.

In Fe­bru­ary, un­der his guid­ance, the 24-mem­ber In­nerS­pace Ex­plor­ers Greece div­ing team – com­pris­ing mainly Kol­las’s stu­dents, from Greece, Switzer­land, Swe­den, Ger­many and Spain – started ex­plor­ing the mys­te­ri­ous lake in Vou­liag­meni. The aim was for them to gain ex­pe­ri­ence in how a proper div­ing ex­pe­di­tion works, as well as to chart – for the first time ever – four small caves that lead into the lake’s leg­endary main cave fur­ther in.

For some three months, mem­bers of the team con­ducted dives in teams of up to six peo­ple – break­ing off into pairs – and took mea­sure­ments, pho­to­graphs and videos while also col­lect­ing other data. They would meet early in the morn­ing to get them­selves and all their gear to Vou­liag­meni and start the dives. Each dive would last a max­i­mum of 90 min­utes – which was how long their oxy­gen and bod­ies could last – be­fore pack­ing ev­ery­thing up again and head­ing back home. It was an ar­du­ous and time-con­sum­ing process, but they had fun, learned a lot and all got hooked. Some team mem­bers with de­mand­ing jobs had to fit dives in around their sched­ules while oth­ers trav­eled from abroad, but all man­aged to over­come any kind of of ob­sta­cle in or­der to re­turn to the wa­ter.

The pro­ject’s first phase was com­pleted a cou­ple of months ago with the map­ping of the first of the four small caves.

“It has a length of 70 me­ters from the en­trance, a width of 30 me­ters, and a height, from the top to the bot­tom, of 40 me­ters, ex­cep­tion­ally clear wa­ters and no sta­lag­mites or sta­lac­tites. It is stun­ning,” says Kol­las.

The team’s dis­cov­er­ies will not re­main se­cret for long as a re­cent part­ner­ship be­tween In­nerS­pace Ex­plor­ers Greece and Dutch firm Reef In­ter­ac­tive, which spe­cilizes in 3D imag­ing, has re­sulted in the first 3D in­ter­ac­tive dive map app, which al­lows users to take a vir­tual dive into this par­tic­u­lar part of the lake, re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion such as the tem­per­a­ture of the wa­ter, the depth and the kinds of rocks found there.

The next phase of the op­er­a­tion, which con­sists of map­ping the an­techam­ber of the lake’s main cave, will start in early 2016.

Niko­las Mar­gari­tis, al­ready ex­cited by the first phase, has al­ready said he wants to be part of the next mis­sion.

“Be­ing part of the pro­ject com­bined the plea­sure of recre­ational div­ing with ac­tive learn­ing and of­fered me an ed­u­ca­tion in mat­ters of the en­vi­ron­ment, chart­ing, ge­ol­ogy and in co­or­di­nat­ing a team and man­ag­ing re­sources,” he says.

For Dim­itris Dainavas, a nurse, it was the first time he had ever been cave div­ing and he has just one word to de­scribe the ex­pe­ri­ence: awe­some.

Oddly, the word fear never comes up in our con­ver­sa­tion, even though Kol­las ad­mit there are a lot of risks in­volved.

“Cave div­ing is dan­ger­ous be­cause there’s a ceil­ing above you. You can’t come up for air – you need to swim out and then come up. There is also very lit­tle light. More­over, when we’re map­ping, we also have all the dif­fer­ent ma­chines for col­lect­ing data, ropes, tools, mea­sur­ing tapes – these make it all the more com­pli­cated. It is an en­vi­ron­ment that can change in an in­stant. Any­one cave div­ing needs to be con­stantly alert and pre­pared,” he warns. “If you aren’t aware of all these fac­tors, then you’re in dan­ger.”

The aim of the ex­pe­di­tion is more than dis­cov­er­ing Lake Vou­liag­meni.

“Our aim is for the divers to com­bine plea­sure with giv­ing back to so­ci­ety. We are happy to dive in the lake, but at the same time we are part of a pro­ject that will lead to it be­ing mapped for the first time. The maps will help peo­ple who want to visit it in fu­ture come prop­erly pre­pared and be aware of what they’re fac­ing. They will also at­tract dive tourists from other parts of the world. For­eign divers will know that they can en­joy a unique ex­pe­ri­enc­ing div­ing in this beau­ti­ful Greek lake.”

A 24-mem­ber div­ing team started ex­plor­ing the mys­te­ri­ous Lake Vou­liag­meni in south­east Athens in Fe­bru­ary. Their goal is to chart – for the first time ever – four small caves that lead to the lake’s leg­endary main cave fur­ther in.

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