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In March 2002, Tom Iliffe and his grad student Scott Webb were invited by film maker Wes Skiles to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to carry out diving explorations and biological investigations of the Ring of Cenotes, a 180 km diameter semi-circle of water-filled caves. The Ring of Cenotes is the only surface expression of the 65 million year old meteorite impact crater which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The story of this expedition, "Watery Graves of the Maya", is recounted in the October 2003 issue of National Geographic Magazine and on the National Geographic website.
To read about the expedition, see:
To view a photo of Tom Iliffe collecting an isopod from a Yucatan cave, see:
To listen to Wes Skiles talk about the biological discoveries, click on Video 9 - Undiscovered Waters and Creatures:
To document the diversity, significance and distribution of anchialine caves and cave animals
Anchialine (from Greek meaning "near the sea") refers to coastal caves formed in limestone or volcanic rock that are flooded with seawater. They include the longest submerged caves on Earth. These caves are inhabited by a diverse array of previously unknown species from a number of new higher taxa. While some are primitive "living fossils", others are closely related to deep sea species. Most lack eyes and pigment, owing to their existence in the perpetual darkness of underwater caves. While some closely related species are found in caves on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, others, previously known exclusively from caves in the Atlantic Ocean, recently have been discovered in Western Australia. These highly irregular distributions suggest an origin many millions of years ago when the Earth's landmasses were interconnected. Since such anchialine cave animals are frequently limited to a single cave or cave system, pollution or destruction of these caves can result in the extinction of entire species.