After several investigatory expeditions to this site beginning in January of 2012 employing visual observations, side-scan sonar, infrared live camera drops, water quality testing, 3D imaging and a barrage of HD photographic and video documentation, the next logical exploratory step was about to be taken this day.
It was time for a dive into the depths of Myakka River State Park's mysterious Deep Hole. On March 21, 2012, the team, headed by Expedition Leader, Curt Bowen, made the trip to a place my brother and I have nicknamed the Land of the Lost.
Trust us, it's no exaggeration. Each time our convoy of vehicles and equipment navigate the winding sand road across dry prairie and on through the thickening shade of hardwood hammocks draped in Spanish moss to reach the site, we feel like we're in a time machine or at the very least, driving through a prehistorically-inspired movie set. Approaching the canopy opening and emerging onto Deep Hole's open stretch of grass blanketing its western shore, the moist air always smells of wild adventure. Cue the National Geographic theme song, please ... and let's add 120+ North American alligators for dramatic effect.
We're proud to play a role in a joint effort to explore and document this unique and ancient aquatic feature in the Park's wilderness preserve. The resulting series of expeditions has been undertaken through collaborative efforts between the ADM Exploration Group, Mayakka River State Park, Scientists from Sarasota County, Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Miami. Some of the individuals involved are: John Ryan, Curt Bowen, Jim Culter, Jon S. Perry, Rene A. Jannerman, Steve Koski, Weiqi Lin, Diana Donaghy, Jodi Pracht, Joe Bamford, Sean Paxton and Brooks Paxton.
The principal dive team for this day's operations consisted of underwater cave explorers, Curt Bowen of the ADM Exploration Foundation and Jim Culter of Mote Marine Laboratory. Their technical dive plan would first take them to the ancient sinkhole's bottom, approximately 130 feet below the hole's surface where they would then split up on individual routes designed to maximize their time and opportunity for potential discoveries.
During ascent, they would rendezvous inside the protective cage we deployed and suspended with buoys in roughly 30 feet of water to spend 30 - 60 minutes meeting their decompression requirements.
We'd like to thank Patric Douglas of Shark Divers and Scotty Gray of Blue Iguana Charters for shared use of this state-of-the-art, aluminum peace-of-mind on projects including this expedition. After all, it's not every day you get to toss a perfectly good shark cage into a gator-infested sinkhole. It's just one of the reasons we enjoyed our principal role and responsibility on this expedition, which was to provide alligator crowd control and security for the divers (aka - cage deployment & surface support), along with video and photographic documentation.
Dozens of alligators were visible on the surface at times this day; at others, only a handful. The interesting thing is, either way, they're all in there ... somewhere. We wouldn't have it any other way. After all, it's the abundant presence of this apex marine predator, as well as the variety and number of their natural prey items consisting of several freshwater fish species, turtles, frogs, hogs and birds that give this place a uniquely primal quality.
We'd like to thank everyone on the team again for the opportunity, and visitors to this site for checking in. Please enjoy some more scenes from this last adventure depicted through a series of still photographs with some taken from the many thousands of frames of video we shot. Also be sure and visit the ADM Exploration Foundation website where you'll find the most in-depth and comprehensive overview of this project, including results of the dive, and some of the scientist's preliminary findings. You can find links to all this and more below.
Stay tuned here for more as this project and others develop in the future, and as always - Keep it Wild! The Paxton Brothers