Divers explore the caves under Weeki Wachee

11:22 PM, Feb 14, 2014   |    comments
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Video: EXCLUSIVE: Secret underwater world beneath Weeki Wachee

 

Weeki Wachee, FL - For more than 60-years tourists have been flocking to Weeki Wachee to see the park's world famous mermaids.

Yet, Weeki Wachee would never be if not for its first magnitude spring. At times, more than 200-cubic-feet of fresh water per second rushes up from deep underground.

Photos: Secret underwater world beneath Weeki Wachee

The mermaids call it their fountain of youth.

"I would love to go cave diving and just see what's down there," said park mermaid Marissa Perez.

And for more than three decades, divers have been trying to enter the spring, but getting in is nearly impossible. Divers must first navigate a 90-foot-long shaft that narrows to the size of a coffee table, all the while fighting a hyper flow of water.

"It's like reverse rock climbing up a waterfall because of the amount of water coming out," explained cave diver Becky Kagan Schott.

So, Kagan Schott says, it's only during extreme drought like conditions when the rush of water subsides enough that it is humanly possible to navigate this entrance. In fact, the water pressure has only been low enough five times since 1980 for divers to get in.

But once inside, divers enter one of the most beautiful and deepest underwater cave systems in the country. Depths at Weeki reach 407-feet.

"There's white clay layers in the walls; there's these beautiful chocolate-colored formations in there, and the tunnels are probably the size that you could drive a 747 through. They are so massive."

Divers say the water there is so clear, and the caves so enormous, you feel like you're flying as you move though the passageways.

"When you come to a rock pile in Weeki you're floating there and it's not just a rock pile it's a mountain of rock," said cave explorer Brett Hemphill.

To date, he says divers have mapped 15,000 feet of the Weeki Wachee springs cave system, with some passages stretching under U.S. 19.

"So when you cross over US 19 coming into Weeki Wachee you may want to hold your breath because over 200-feet below you is one of the largest underwater passages in the world," Hemphill joked.

Underscoring the difficulty of getting into the world famous spring is the fact that more humans have been to the moon then have been inside the Weeki cave system. The last time anyone has been inside was in 2012. 

Kagan Scott says a return exploration is always dependent on Mother Nature.

"So the question I get the most is 'why do you go down there? What's there? Is there treasure? Are there fish? What do you see?', and as a joke I usually say 'wet rocks'," Hemphill joked.

But in 2009 Kagan Schott and her husband Dave Schott, who together operate an underwater production company called Liquid Productions, entered Weeki with a group of other divers and recorded the only video that exists of inside the spring.

After watching some of the video you'll likely agree there's more to see than just wet rocks.

 

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