Editorial Directory
Editorial Home
Dive Med
Other Editorial

Editorial by Curt Bowen
Photography by Richard Harris, Martyn Farr, Sebastien Lissarrague, and Curt Bowen


y powerful cave diving light seems to get sucked into the darkness as I spool line off my reel into a newly discovered subterranean chamber.  Every so often I get a quick glimpse of the jagged limestone wall protruding from the darkness as we drop deeper into the ground.  Cupping my light head with my hand, my eyes faintly see the glowing light of Australian cave diver Richard Harris descending behind me into the darkness.

The midday sun attempts to peak through the white misty clouds as they majestically slide over the surrounding mountains. Sculpted from millions of years of erosion, these limestone behemoths rise sharply from the colorful rice paddy fields and river valleys creating a never ending and breathtaking landscape like no other on earth. Secluded from much of the outside world, local villagers tend to their crops as they have for thousands of years, unaware of the massive underwater caves stretching for miles below their fields.

Australian cave explorer Richard Harris (Harry) descends into the darkness of a massive China cave system.  Photo by Martyn Farr


An elderly farmer looks in wonder as the strange foreign divers walk through his village. Intrigued by the sight, his curiosity finally get the best of him and he wonders over to see what these strange people are doing in his cave.   Photo by Curt Bowen  


The city of Du An is located within the surrounding mountains a couple hour drive from the sprawling capital city of Nanning and along the famous Red River Valley.  A specially selected team of expert cave divers were chosen to conduct the first ever  international cave diving expedition in China, while also celebrating the opening of the Du An technical diving center.

The cave explorers included Martin Farr from the UK, Richard Harris from Australia, Pe Deseigne, Sebastien Lissarrague, and world record deep diver Pascal Bernabe, from France, Mia Pietikainen from Finland, and Curt Bowen representing the United States. Also attending  was documentary film producer Nathalie Lasselin and her camera assistant Nathalie Lemonde, there to film our week’s discoveries.

The team’s goals were to explore and document our discoveries so that we can inform the rest of the world the amazing caves China has to offer. The newly completed Du An technical diving center offers all the supplies and logistical requirements any major cave diving expedition or recreational tour could need including cylinders, air, helium, oxygen, compressor, transportation, and professional training class room settings.

Sebastian and Pe  first visited this area in 2010 to rediscover a labyrinth of some of the largest and deepest caves systems on the planet. Hundreds of meters thick, this ancient limestone plateau has been eroded by China's southern subtropical climate for millions of years. Surrounded by the porous mountains, hydrostatic pressure has formed possibly one of the largest and deepest subterranean river, moving millions of gallons of water over a hundred meters deep southward towards the Red River Valley.

Massive cave entrances, some a hundred meters wide, dot the landscape from the upper mountain gorges to the flat plain valley along Red River. Mountain cave resurgences supply millions of gallons of water during the summer rainy season, feeding the rice paddy fields. Due to the remoteness and sheer number of caves, the possibility  of great discoveries is immense. Decades of cave exploration will barely touch the possibilities the Du An area has to offer.

Our expedition began several months ago when the selected team members received a special invitation from the Du An Chinese government welcoming us as international experts in the field of cave exploration for an eight-day expedition.


Mr. Huang, director of Du An tourism board stands on the cliffs edge of this massive karst collapse. Unexplored to date, no one knows if it leads to a cave system or just a large pool of water.  Photo by Curt Bowen


Arriving in Nanning, China, we were quickly introduced to Ma Rongman (Mandy), from the Communications of Du An Tourism Bureau.  After loading the vehicles, we were whisked away to the new Du An technical dive center. Once we arrived, Mr. Huang Jinghe, Director of Du An Tourism Board, provided a tour of the state-of-the-art dive facility,  including all of the cylinders, breathing gas, and supplies needed to conduct several 100-meter plus deep cave dives.

With dozens of cave systems available, we divided into separate groups allowing the team to explore more in the short eight day time period. World record deep diver Pascal Bernabe and Mia Pietikainen would concentrate on one of the deeper known systems called Jellyfish 1, recorded to over 180 meters in depth, while the remaining group would switch around most days to explore separate systems.

Unlike other cave locations in the world that I have explored, the limestone (karst) layer in this section of China appears to be one of the most massive layers in the world. The eroded limestone mountains stretch over 250-meters (800 feet) above the valley and many of the caves descend well beyond the 180-meter (600 feet) depth range. The discovery of dry flowstone formations at depths around 40 meters (130 feet) indicates many of these now submerged caves were at once partially dry. 

Unique creatures known as “peach blossom jellyfish” were originally discovered within the now named Jellyfish cave. These jellyfish are known to come and go for periods at a time. The main question is where do they go. Jellyfish cave has been plumb lined to over 180 meters deep. Photo by Sebastien Lissarrague

Du An is located at a latitude of 23°55'51.66"N and a longitude of 108° 5'57.90"E and has a semitropical climate with a heavy rainy season. With an average of over 52 inches (1320mm) of rain the porous limestone bedrock soaks up tremendous amounts of precipitation like a giant sponge. Once this giant limestone sponge fills up, hundreds of caves act as over pressurization valves, flooding the rivers and streams with billions of gallons of water until the dry season returns.  With large amounts of rainfall comes decreased water visibility normally down to a few meters. The dry season brings less runoff and visibility can increase, depending on the cave system, up to 10 to 15 meters.  Water levels in the caves and local rivers are estimated to rise and fall over 10 meters between the seasons.

This massive karst plateau has hundreds, if not thousands, of unexplored wet and dry caves. The potential for discovery of new cave adapted biological and botanical species in the Du An area is staggering. Our team managed to only partially explore eight systems during our short stay, adding hundreds of yards of additional cave line. Pascal Bernabe and Mia Pietikainen set the newest Chinese deep cave diving record to 130 meters – 426 feet. Du An offers decades of exploration and scientific work to even begin to understand the labyrinth of passages stretching below this ancient land of the abyss.

The opening of the new Du An technical diving center has now unlocked this old land  for new exploration and diver training.


Richard Harris and Curt Bowen descend into the depths of the Daxing cave. This massive river resurgence feeds the upper river valley during the rainy season with millions of gallons of water. Explored to 100 meters and still descending into the darkness, Daxing cave will not surrender its secrets for years to come.   Photo by Martyn Farr

  For more information contact Pe Deseigne at


Left to right:  Sebastien Lissarrague from France, Pe Deseigne from France,  Richard Harris from Australia, Jean Botazzi from China, Martyn Farr from the United Kingdom, Curt Bowen from the USA, Mia Pietikainen from Finland, World record deep diver Pascal Bernabe from France, and Nathalie Lasselin from Canada