In the 1990s, a small group of young, ambitious divers were pushing the limits of underwater cave exploration in northern Florida at Wakulla Spring. These led to a series of historic, world-record cave dives, documenting more than 170,000 feet of interconnected underwater passages with penetrations reaching more than 26,000 feet at depths 300’ below the surface. But, along the way, something critical changed.
The clear blue waters that are ideal for this type of extreme exploration were darkening. Nitrate loads increased while invasive algae bloomed out of control and the dark water itself became an impassible barrier. Glass bottom boats that once exposed hundreds of thousands of visitors every year to the beauty of Wakulla Spring ceased to operate.
The impact of watching once pristine conditions deteriorate precipitously compelled the team to reorganize their efforts toward protecting the unique resource they had explored for decades. Building partnerships with governmental and non-governmental agencies, together with thousands of hours of work, allowed the team to demonstrate a direct connection between the city’s sewage treatment and the water reaching critical springs within the Wakulla cave system. Combining their exploration and research with public outreach, this team of divers turned activists were able to convince the city of Tallahassee, Florida to invest more than 250 million dollars in a radical refit of their waste treatment practices.
Realizing the story of environmental decline was not unique to Wakulla Springs, the team began building a global initiative designed to support conservation efforts in aquatic environments around the world. Building upon the strength of their international team, the group began gathering support from fellow divers and researchers while soliciting funding from corporations and individual donors. The result -- Project Baseline -- is a global effort designed to record environmental change within the world’s aquatic environments. This change is measured over time by collecting observations within a framework that enables contributions from those most invested in their local environment. This long-term record of environmental change is essential in developing public awareness and organizing political action.