Wild Caves vs. Humans: The Truth About Our Devastating Impact

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Wild caves allow you to explore an unknown and hostile environment. Their slow and gradual formation over millions of years attracts many people. However, new researches are revealing how humans are impacting them and changing their ecosystem.

We all go caving due to the appeal of the mystery, and the unforgettable experience of conquering a fascinating, secret location that most people will never see. But the sad truth is that this sporting interest is rapidly deteriorating the aesthetic value and ecology of the caves.

Through regular tourists and especially those who neglect the sensitive environment they’re intruding upon, serious damage can sometimes be done rather quickly. The anthropogenic microbial contaminants that originate in an open environment spread inside the caves and replace the natural cave communities. This can be devastating, not unlike the effect on the natives when European settlers first came to America.

This changes the composition and environment of a cave radically. After a few years, a tourist cave especially is identified as influenced by human activity. The feel of a tourist or show cave becomes different than a wild cave. You don’t feel the thrill that you desire for your adventurous soul. But this unfortunate situation isn’t only with the tourist caves. The wild caves are now at risk too. Their raw beauty is getting spoiled by the touch of cavers.

The number of explorations has been increased significantly and it is damaging the key features of wild caves. Their fragile formations are already very susceptible to damage, and unfortunately, novice cavers don’t perceive their moral responsibility to protect them.

A tourist cave shown with an expansive lighting system that provides unnatural light for visitors.

How we Impact Caves Without Touching Them

Yes, it is very much possible; we can damage caves just by our visits without even touching their formations. Caves have a constant temperature and air movement that builds their formation and keep them in an ideal state. Any human activity inside them not only changes the temperature but also increases the airflow that affects the minerals and disturbs the hibernation process of the animals.

Cave of the Crystals in Mexico is the best example we have. Due to humans interference and changes in airflow, the crystals started to crack. This compelled the authorities to block its entrance again. Now it is not possible to visit that majestic, unique cave system without having a specific scientific or research background.

Two cavers pose on top of a large pillar of selenite crystal, in Naica Cave, Mexico.
Selenite Crystal grows to enormous sizes in Naica Cave, Mexico.

Management problems in the tourist caves or around them also play their role in destroying the caves. Instead of allowing a safe number of visits, the authorities let more than a half-million visitors to enter inside a popular cave to make money.

They don’t comprehend that the colony-forming visits daily introduce and spread bacteria that play with caves’ temperature and disturb their minerals.

 Cavers need to be aware that what happens inside the cave makes a difference. Even the slightest change in the atmosphere can impact the caves and dwindle their feel.

Binkley Cave Systems’ Indiana Cave

The biggest case in point we have is the ‘Indiana Cave’. It is part of the Binkley Cave Systems and famous as the 7th largest cave in the United States. It is now a show cave with a diverse ecosystem. Commercial caving groups have turned it into a family-friendly adventure park. Due to the immense amount of activity, specific areas of this cave are heating up and receiving increased airflow. This is making it impossible for the bats to remain in hibernation. Their hibernation process becomes disturbed, which is why we now find fewer bats than before.

The underground environment of Indiana Caves is challenged by the electric device also such as smartphones, LEDs, halogen lamps, etc. All these electric products are used to illuminate the features and formations of this caving system. This is affecting the concentration of airborne bacteria and breaking down the cave’s initial formation gradually.

Tourists take pictures and walk around a tourist cave, showing the human intervention through construction of a railing and path for walking.
Notice the railings here at Postojna Cave Park don’t look like they were formed naturally…

Bear in mind, it’s the 21st-century human that is adversely affecting the caving systems.

When reading about prehistoric humans, you can see that they lived as actual and natural cave dwellers. Their presence in the caves didn’t impact the cave formations or its inhabitants.

Recent scientific studies revealed that there is no indication that caves are inhospitable for people. Stone tools and the remains of eaten animals in the cave systems indicate that they were inhabited by various species of human beings. They used them as shelters but didn’t have the technology or purpose that could change the cave formations or ecology.

How we are Destroying the Caves


Today, we destroy the ecosystem of the cave in three main ways. First, it is the litter and pollution that harm the cave life. Surprisingly, we do destroy the show caves with our presence and digital devices, but they are usually clean. They have regular clean-up sessions that keep them in good condition since the authorities want to attract maximum visitors for profit.

On the contrary, wild caves are the actual caves that demand more attention and regular clean-ups, and are often the dirtiest ones. Rubbish ranging from chocolate wrappers to ripped clothes is present inside them that makes the entire underground exploration process unpleasant. Furthermore, state officials don’t take any interest in them either. Mostly, they don’t even know about their presence as they are found by the professional cavers and groups only. Therefore, the litter is difficult to remove and it causes pollution on a big scale.

Digging and Exploration

A series of rods and stabilizing metal used to allow digging and entering a steep vertical cave.

Digging and exploration is another factor that destroys the natural environment. Our eagerness to see what lies around the next corner pushes us to break the walls and dig the surface so that we can move further and explore the unknown territory.

For that reason, experts believe that the deteriorating of the caves is directly associated with the number of visitors it receives. The visitor pressure factor without adequate supervision impacts their genuineness and affects the presence of fauna and flora as well.


There is one more outdoor factor that we often don’t ponder and it impacts caves greatly.

It is the cutting of trees. Many caves are present in the forests. When we cut down the trees around them and their surroundings into a family-friendly adventure park, we cause the caves to flood after heavy rain.

Commercial caving groups should think about this aspect more and make sure they aren’t destroying the surrounding of the caves. Floods can cause a greater fluctuation in their humidity level or make them collapse in extreme cases.

So, help your caver friends understand the impact that humans have on the caves, and make sure you are protecting these mysterious gifts of mother Earth, instead of destroying them.

A large field of logs and tree trunks after deforestation.

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