"Coastal Job: Underwater Cave Ecologist"

"Fernando Calderón-Gutiérrez explores life that thrives in deep, dark underwater caves around the world."

"Fernando Calderón-Gutiérrez is a Mexican underwater cave ecologist who dives in the coastal caves of Mexico, Belize, and the United States to document organisms and learn how they interact with their hostile environment.

Most aspiring marine biologists are drawn to charismatic animals like sea turtles and whales. For me, the pale, blind creatures of the world’s darkest caverns are more alluring. For a long time, scientists wondered how life in underwater caves was possible because there’s no sunlight. But in 1996, they discovered bacteria that produce energy through chemosynthesis, a process where bacteria break electrons from atoms to make food. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be part of the quest to find other creatures that live in these habitats. So when I studied marine biology, I also trained in diving.

As an underwater cave ecologist, I find and name new species. I have described eight new species of sponges so far, seven of which live only in these caves. Sometimes I count the abundance of organisms to see how their numbers change over time. I also study how different species interact with one another and their environment.

I mostly dive in caves about 100 kilometers or less from the coast, where groundwater flows into the sea. The entrances to these caves are mostly inland—sometimes in the middle of a jungle—and we must hike for about an hour carrying our bulky diving gear. The entrances can be everything from a large pool to an opening so small that my shoulders touch the walls."

Fernando Calderón-Gutiérrez reports for Hakai magazine as told to Spoorthy Raman November 28, 2022.

Source: Hakai, 12/01/2022