Diving in Sanctums

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Titanic and Avatar film maker James Cameron’s latest movie Sanctum was in the town at Savoy opening up world of diving infront of Sri Lankan viewers. However, a tragedy breaks-out last week that a stun diver of the film too died in similar manner. But while the extreme activities like “Cave Diving” can be risky, there is also much safer ‘Recreational Diving’ which opens up a whole underwater natural beauty upon your eyes. The article looks more into ‘Recreational Scuba Diving’ too…!!

Agnes Milowka - Sanctum's stunt cave diver died recently

I hope many of you would have enjoyed James Cameron’s latest block-buster movie SANCTUM screened at Savoy Cinema. The film was based on an epic adventure about a group of Divers that trapped in a gigantic cave. Many perished on their attempt to escape through an underwater channel – some of them by exhaustion of breathing oxygen. This has actually saddened me, but what shocked me was the news that a stun diver of the movie died in similar manner getting lost in murky waters while diving in a cave in Australia by exhaustion of air.

Cave Diving is tagged as one of the riskiest sports in the world. There are no known inland caves in Sri Lanka filled with water allowing anybody to do cave diving; however being an Island, Sri Lanka offers ample opportunities of Recreational Scuba diving at sea. Can Recreational Diving too be similarly risky..? – We asked some of the experienced divers.

“If you are properly trained, having right equipments, correctly prepared and know your limits; diving is not risky. It will open up a whole new beautiful world upon your eyes that others envy at you” says Nishan Perera – a young diver who dives for the last 15 years. Nishan who is also a marine biologist says there is plenty of underwater serenity to explore for an amateur diver, ranging from coral reefs to sunken ship wrecks.
“But proper training is a must and the first step” he pointed out. Those who are interested at diving should first get trained at a diving school. There are plenty of Diving schools in Sri Lanka where a simple web search will link their contact details. The instructors of these diving schools will teach the novice diver about the basic skills of Scuba diving, how to operate the breathing equipments, survival skills etc. Once the novice is ready, he will be issued a PADI license. PADI License is issued by Professional Association of Diving Instructors and there are different levels of licensing levels to categorize the divers’ upon intensity of their training.

After you are trained and equipped with a PADI license, you can join a diving team to go to the ocean. But like there are many athletic events defined by distance, diving too is categorized upon the depth and complexities, so it is required to know your limit.

Sri Lanka is also having lots of Ship Wrecks. Some vessels are reachable to a casual Recreational Diver, but many lies in Deep Ocean which needs special skills to dive in. These are usually called as ‘Technical Diving’ if the dive is more than 40meters deep. When you go deep in the sea, pressure will be a fact that affects your body and you need to know how to control the air you breathe. You need to descend to the deep carefully and coming back too should be done carefully taking breaks on the way. Increasing pressure at depth also increases the risk of oxygen toxicity – Remember Frank’s Buddy George in the movie Sanctum suffered decomposition sickness. So technical diving is always for experienced Scuba divers.

There is also a buddy system which twins two people specially to ensure safety. The buddies operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other; each may be able to prevent the other becoming a casualty or rescue the other in a crisis. <remember Frank dived with Jude in the film as buddies together and later tried to give his full-face mask to Jude whose hose has snapped off. This is known as ‘Buddy-breathe’>.

But for those who dare to go deep, it opens up a whole new colorful world. Differently colored corals, fish in different colors and sizes who swims together with you, the wrecks that lies hundreds of years – it is indeed a pleasurable. “To me diving is meditative… its about being alone and enjoying nature peacefully while having a minimal impact on the environment” says Asha de Vos – another young diver. But she also points out its not sometimes easy to spent 7 hours in the hot sun on a boat while traveling to your dive site.
But divers are also the first to witness the degradation of unique underwater environment. The first marine sanctuary in SL was established at Hikkaduwa in 1979 because some of the pioneers – Like Late Rodney Jonklaas, Sir A.C. Clarke, Mike Wilson and Lyn De Alwis saw the degradation of the marine environment and recommended to establish marine protected areas. Divers are in a unique position to monitor the health of ocean and can lead the marine conservation. Taking the pioneers’ footstep, the young divers in Sri Lanka teamed under divers’ association SubAqua Club also become watchdogs to protect Sri Lanka’s marine habitats.

Standard Diving equipment
o Diving mask or full face diving mask and snorkel
o Swimfins or scuba fins
o Dry suit, wetsuit or regular swimsuit, depending on the water temperature
o Buoyancy compensator or buoyancy control device (BCD)
o Diving weighting system or weight belt
o Diving cylinder or scuba tank
o Diving regulator
o Contents gauge or submersible pressure gauge (SPG)
o Dive computer or depth gauge and timer
o Surface marker buoy or other surface detection aid

Cave Diving

A cave or cavern is a natural underground space formed by geological processes, erosion or digging. Some of these caves located inland are filled with water and many call these caverns are the last unexplored sites in the earth. Caves are often made of limestones which fossilize both land and marine animals, so the cave walls are also rich hunting grounds for paleontologist as different time periods are marked in alternative layers of embedded organic matter.


The underwater access passages in caves are often very narrow and a diver can not surface to breath in an accident which makes the cave diving a dangerous sport. Despite these risks, water-filled caves attract SCUBA divers due to their often unexplored nature. The Santum’s stun cave diver – 29 year old Agnes Milowka claimed cave diving was the essence of exploration despite the risks. She said on her website “The rewards were worth it”. Agnes’ website and her Flickr photostream are still active for anybody to witness her caving explorations www.agnesmilowka.com.


To do cave diving, a diver needs a special license. Florida, Mexico, Australia are some of famous cave sites, but there are no known freshwater filled caves in existence in Sri Lanka.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.03.2011

One Response to “Diving in Sanctums”

  1. colorblindphotographer Says:

    Where exactly are our cave diving areas Malaka? Awesome article my friend

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