Caves celebrated as natural wonders and repositories of history
Members of the International Show Caves Association (ISCA) have joined enthusiasts around the world today to increase awareness about the importance of caves and karst (formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks) landscapes as natural resources because of their unique beauty and history, and their role in a healthy environment.
Show caves around the world celebrate International Day of Caves and the Subterranean World today, with events, tours and educational activities promoting environmental awareness and conservation, both in classrooms and at their respective caves.
ISCA president and operator of Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas, in the US, Brad Wuest described caves and karst landscapes as places of wonder and majestic beauty.
“We see the recognition of the importance of our subterranean world increasing worldwide. Show caves worldwide are embracing their role of protecting and preserving caves, and providing a place for people to learn about these special natural, cultural and historical resources. Show caves also play an important role in nature tourism and sustainable development, providing jobs and helping the economy of their regions. Approximately 150million people visit show caves each year, learning about our subterranean world,” Wuest said.
ISCA sites include South Africa’s Cango Caves.
About 29km from Oudtshoorn, at the head of the picturesque Cango Valley, lies the underground wonder of the Klein Karoo. Situated in a limestone ridge, parallel to the Swartberg Mountains, visitors will find the finest dripstone caverns, with their vast halls and towering formations.
National Cave and Karst Research Institute executive director and International Union of Speleology president Dr George Veni said caves were diverse and, although most caves were found in karst, there were also lava tube caves, sandstone and glacial caves.
“Caves can be decorated with speleothems (cave formations) or ice in colder climates. They can be filled with fresh water or under the ocean. Caves are also rich in biodiversity and home to many plant and wildlife species - some that are only found in caves.”
Veryovkina Cave in the Eurasian country of Georgia is the deepest cave in the world at 2212m.
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, US, has a length of over 651km and is the longest known cave.
Sarawak Chamber in Gunung Mulu National Park, in Malaysia, is the world’s largest by surface area, with 164459m² of expanse.
Hang So’* oòng, in Vietnam, has the world’s biggest cave passage with an internal, fast-flowing subterranean river and a forest ecosystem, where sunlight enters the cave from giant sinkholes. It measures 38.5m³.
Divers recently discovered an underwater passage, in Hang So’* oòng, leading to the nearby Thung Cave.
When officially connected, it will add 1.6m³ in volume to the biggest cave in the world.
“Caves are repositories of pre-history, rich in palaeontology - with fossils and the bones of prehistoric creatures. Caves often yield the bones of prehistoric animals as well as the artefacts of prehistoric man. Caves have played more recent history-making roles, from the mining of bat guano to make gunpowder and fertiliser, to France’s Bedeilhac Cave - which served as a hidden French, then German, aircraft hangar during World War II,” Wuest said.