Southern California Grotto Home

A caver admires rare and delicate formations. (Photo: Bern Szukalski)

Cave Conservation

Each cave is unique, and is an invaluable scenic and scientific resource. Many caves contain beautiful and unique mineral formations. Some caves contain rare or endangered species of flora and fauna. A few caves contain historic relics or prehistoric bones and artifacts. No matter how beautiful or how seemingly drab a cave may be, it is a unique place to be visted with care and respect.

Low Impact Caving

Every time someone enters a cave, they impact the cave in some small, but cumulative, way. The goal of responsible cavers is to minimize the impact of cave visits, and leave the cave without a trace. Careless caving can cause permanent damage. Formations can never grow back to their former beauty, and once damaged they are lost forever.

What has taken centuries, or perhaps tens of thousands of years, to form can be irreparably damaged by a single careless, or thoughtless, moment. A muddy handprint can permanently mar formations, and can inhibit future growth. Even a single misplaced footprint can forever change the underground wilderness.

Caves Are Sensitive

Caves are extremely sensitive environments. Many of the creatures that inhabit caves have uniquely adapted to the cave the environment, and even today new species of cave-adapted life are being discovered in California's caves. Many species of bats, some endangered, inhabit caves and when aroused during their winter hibernation period often die. Water pollution, spent carbide from caving headlamps, and human waste may poison other cave life. And a careless step may crush it out of existence.

The centipede pictured below is a newly identified species, and is found in only 3 caves in the world, all in the western US.

A newly identified species of centipede. (Photo: Bern Szukalski)

Bones and artifacts found in caves are often very fragile. Frequently the manner in which they were deposited and preserved is as important scientifically as the objects themselves. Much of the scientific value of these finds can be lost when they are disturbed by anyone but a trained professional.

Cave use brushes to remove muddy footprints. (Photo: Bern Szukalski)

Doing More For Cave Conservation

Cave conservation goes beyond responsible caving. The Southern California Grotto participates in and encourages a variety of conservation activities, including educational programs, cave restoration projects, cave gating and protection, and assisting government agencies and private landowners in cave inventories and developing management plans for caves and karst areas. Southern California Grotto members have contributed countless hours of volunteer time and labor to protect these invaluable resources, both locally and nationally.

Cavers pictured to the right are participating in cave restoration activities in Carlsbad Caverns, Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The blue flagging tape (sometimes called 'conservation tape') marks a trail established by cavers to minimize impact to the flowstone floor. These cavers are removing muddy bootprints which have strayed off the trail. Activities like these go beyond responsible caving, and proactively help to restore and preserve unique cave environments.

Caves Are Protected

To help preserve our cave resources for future generations, there are laws protecting them. California, like many other states, has enacted legislation to protect cave resources from being irreparably damaged. In California it is illegal to:

 • Write or mark on the walls
 • Litter in caves or dump carbide
 • Break or remove formations
 • Disturb bats or other living organisms
 • Remove or disturb historic or prehistoric artifacts and bones

Please Help

Leave each cave as you found it, and join with us to preserve and protect them.

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but carefully placed footprints, kill nothing but time.