Conservation of speleothems begins with appreciating them. Perhaps some points of guidance are in order when visiting caves around the world:
- Don't touch speleothems. Oils from your skin can contaminate them resulting in unsightly dark surfaces and alteration of the surface properties.
- Don't walk on speleothems. Microgours and cave pearls are particularly prone to damage. If a speleothem surface must be walked on, create one path / track / trail and ensure that everyone keeps to that one path, thereby restricting damage only to the path.
- Speleothems should be appreciated in context. A speleothem by itself is usually little more than an aggregate of minerals. A speleothem in a cave however tells much more about the environment which produced it such as temperature, humidity, rock type, biological consideration, and so on. Even the orientation of the speleothem in the cave is significant. When a speleothem is removed from its cave environment this additional information is lost.
- Don't collect them without a permit. In many countries, speleothems are protected through legislation. Scientific collecting should be controlled, and should be designed to have minimal impact on the cave environment. The work should not duplicate what others have already done.
- Do study what other people have written on the subject.
Don't purchase speleothems or ornaments made from them.
This just leads to further destruction
of caves and their contents by putting a value on the
contents without putting value on the context (cave environment) in which they
Problematical items include so-called Mexican Onyx and Egyptian Alabaster.
Some of these items are quarried spelean deposits, and there is often
no easy way to tell if the material has been taken from a conservation
sensitive site or not.
Travertine (tufa) is a different story; it is deposited under surface conditions by the action of sunlight, agitation and microorganisms. The deposition can be rapid and in some parts of the world a quarry can theoretically run indefinitely. In practise, however, one should only purchase slab travertine from quarries known for their conservation practices (a rarety indeed).
- Do visit your local tourist caves and observe the myriad variations of form and colour.
- Do get involved with local cave conservation. If you are interested, contact a speleological society and try to get some experience moving underground (caving). If you can move through a cave proficiently, you will have less impact on a cave than a beginner has.
- Cavers should avoid using carbide lights in frequently visited dry caves containing speleothems. This is because the lamp produces small black particles of soot which over time will coat the speleothems.
- Tourist cave operators should ensure that section lights are switched off between tours. Not only does this conserve electricity and replacement lamps, but it also prevents algae from growing on the speleothem surface.
- Tourist cave operators should also avoid placing high wattage lamps close to active, delicate capillary controlled speleothems such as helictites and some anthodites. The heat from the lamp may boil the water out of the capillary tubes, possibly rupturing the structure.
- Tourist cave operators should not sell crystals unless they are specifically supporting a mining operation. A better and more educational approach would be to sell crystal gardens (chemical gardens) as the buyer can not only learn something from it, but also can see / feel how delicate the structures are without damaging a cave.
Conservation References and Further Reading
- WA Speleology Pages: http://wasg.iinet.net.au/
Cosmetic update January 2006. Content updated 19th August 2001.