Interviewing Xavier Méniscus, world record holder in cave diving (286m)
Xavier Méniscus is a French explorer and underground diver using several rebreathers during his dives. He is one of the world’s leading specialists in the discipline and a Paralenz ambassador!
He dives, explores, and studies France’s underground networks over long distances and at great depths, in order to understand and protect the freshwater resources circulating in France’s limestone massifs.
In December 2019, Xavier broke the world record in cave diving, as he reached a depth of 286 meters.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Xavier Meniscus, I’m 51 years old, and I’ve been a professional diver for 32 years.
Congratulations on your world record. You have dived to a depth of 286 meters in a karstic spring called Font Estramar in the Pyrénées-Orientales. How did that happen?
I have been working on exploring the resurgence of Font Estramar for many years now. My very first dives in this cavity date back to 2003.
The first real exploration began in 2013, where I reached the depth of -248m. Over the years I dived deeper and deeper down into the cave. Then, in June 2019, I reached an assumed end of the cave as I was only able to continue for only about 50 meters horizontally, arriving in a room where I was unable to find another continuation.
Back on the surface, I examined the footage of my Paralenz cameras and I noticed there might be a possibility that the cavity continues.
Arriving in that room again, on December 30, 2019, I finally found the continuation of the gallery; a vertical shaft that brought me to the depth of -286m. At that moment, I knew that I had just broken the world record for underground diving.
How do you mentally and physically prepare for such a dive?
In the last two years, I trained once or twice a month for long dives beyond -200m to prepare myself physically and mentally.
My equipment also needed to be specifically prepared for several months, in order to certify it for the hyperbaric conditions at these depths.
For my own decompression, I called upon Azoth Systems and their Doppler O’Dive sensor to monitor my decompression rate and the level of bubbles in my body after each exit of my dives for the last two years.
What’s going through your head, 286m deep in the Font Estramar?
It was an absolute joy, to discover that the cave did reach deeper than I first thought!
As it always is with natural environments like the Font Estramar, it is the cave that ultimately decides where and how deep you can go. In this case, I was very fortunate. Seeing, that the shaft went down vertically, and the depths increased rapidly, I knew I could break the world record. When I exceeded the depth of -282m (the old world record) and reached the bottom of the well at -286m, I immediately put down my reel and went for the ascent.
That’s the advantage of having cameras with you: you can then enjoy the place where you went comfortably in front of your TV.
To get back up safely, I had about 10h30 of decompression stops in front of me. I had to remain calm and control my diving parameters. It was only on the way out that I could really express my joy, with the whole team.
How do you cope with isolation and such a long period of time?
It’s all about pushing comfort zones. I have been training for many years, diving different caves, after time going deeper and deeper, and incrementally increasing my time underwater.
What does exploration mean to you?
To me, exploration is searching with the intention of discovery; studying something or a place unknown. On our planet, only the underworld remains to be discovered. We have almost completely mapped our planet and the planets around us, but not the world beneath the surface.
Your explorations are usually related to local water conservation. Can you tell us a little more about this perspective of your work?
We dive into huge reserves of drinking water or sometimes install water catchments (a structure in which water is collected). In order to preserve this indispensable resource for ourselves and generations after us, we must study and preserve it.
On our planet, 3% of all water is freshwater, and ca. 33% of it is hidden underground. With global warming and its consequences – such as draughts – becoming more pronounced every year, this precious resource is in danger.
In France, out of 24,000 groundwater catchment points, 2,200 are closed each year due to pollution or lack of water. Studying and exploring this resource means protecting it.
What’s next on your to-do list?
We will continue the work we have been doing for many years with the municipalities, drinking water catchment managers, and national parks. We will continue the exploration of cavities and their drinking water resources and also share our discoveries through publications and conferences in the whole of Europe. And why not come back very soon to continue the exploration of Font Estramar in which the depth of -300m would be possible.
Thank you Xavier Méniscus.