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14 February 2008

Piccaninnie Pond


ROBYN WILLIAMS: Water makes it mark everywhere along the coast of Discovery Bay. Much of it is shallow, covering land that sank. Piccaninnie Ponds looks like more of the same, fringed by reeds, rich in bird and plant life, otherwise unremarkable.

But its appearance is deceptive, its water veils the entrance to a unique subterranean splendour. The way leads down and across to the world famous chasm, a rift in the earth's surface of measureless depth.

NARRATOR: To dive here is to live geology. All these mighty structures sculpted by the simple process of limestone dissolving into water. The chasm leads to a great cave, hollowed out of the limestone by that same process, we call it The Cathedral, a truly awe-inspiring place.

The Cathedral is shaped out of the bodies of countless animals from a bygone age fossilized and compressed into rock, about 30 million years ago. Water, that silent sculptor, has been carving the stone ever since and continues to do so.

Few eyes have seen its work. No light penetrates here and the diver's torches only capture a glimpse but it's enough for the mind's eye to sense the vaulting spaces.

Even at this depth there are some animals. The short-finned eel makes its home among the pillars and buttresses of this mighty cathedral.

There is a heightening of the senses here, a sharpened realisation of how totally our life depends on our technology. There is no margin for malfunction. There is no vertical way out and it's a long way back to air. Divers have died in Piccaninnie.

ROBYN WILLIAMS: Though the Cathedral was discovered only a few years ago man has already left his mark. The expended bubbles of divers' breathing have formed air pockets in the roof.

The fascination of these monuments of nature is that their awesome grandeur was born of utter simplicity, animals turning to stone, the stone dissolving to water. Man has no place in this design. The ponds of Ewens and Piccaninnie will remain untouched, their waters untapped. We can only come and see, and go away. We need some places we cannot conquer.