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Discovering the earth’s last hidden frontiers with Phil Short

SuuntoDive — 8 December 2015

Phil Short has been a dive industry professional for over 20 years. He has explored some of the world’s deepest dry caves and spent thousands of hours diving water filled passages. Research and archeology are also his passion, including such assignments as the Antikhytera survey project in Crete. But what is down there that draws Phil to explore these submerged realms?

Cave diving is the last field where human beings are mandatory for exploration. In Victorian times, when somebody climbed a mountain, that was it. They were the first. Now technology has taken over. You can take a look at a picture of a mountain, a valley, jungle, or a gorge before you go there. It has been all mapped.


“When you get to the end of the line in a cave, tie your line to that line and swim around the corner, you're the first human being there. It's true exploration, much like Shackleton, Scott and all of these early explorers did because there was no choice. In cave diving, there's still no choice, and that's why I’m so passionately driven by it. Anyone with a sensible budget can find new territory.”


Millions of years ago, the seas were filled with very different kinds of life forms than today. Over the millennia, soft seafloor turned into limestone, preserving a snapshot of these creatures from the past. Caves cut right through these ancient layers, displaying a rich collection of fossils and telling a geological story of the Earth’s past.


Phil Short has dived caves all over the world, spending thousands of hours diving exploring many kinds of dry and water filled passages. He knows that seemingly small details hide countless stories. Taking a close look, a bulge in the cave ceiling can turn out to be a tooth of an extinct tiger.

“Think about swimming through 100 metres of cave passage today, and memorise all of it. And then get into a time machine and go 3,000 years into the future. The cave would be different because you're diving in something that is alive. The acidic rainwater is dissolving rock, and the flow of the water is eroding it. So the cave is growing. It's forming. It's changing as you're swimming through it.”


Cave diving requires rigorous training and the right equipment. But there also needs to be the correct mentality and respect for the forces of nature. Constant practise and safety margins are the cave divers tools for keeping the risks at bay.


Phil Short has been a dive industry professional for over 20 years. He has trained hundreds of divers and participated in demanding cave rescue operations. With the experience of thousands of dives, he knows where to draw his line.

“I don't consider cave diving an adrenaline sport. In fact, it's the opposite. Going to an extremely deep point in the ocean, just to get a number for a depth record, that is not my motivation. I would happily do, and have done a lot of very deep dives, for a reason such as a historic shipwreck that nobody's managed to dive. I have more of a kind of Peter Pan, never grow up, child-like approach to exploration. Being there is just magical. It's my drive.”