Task Group on "Responsible Speleology"
Appointed on 21st June 2021 by the IAPG Secretary General
Introduction (by Carolyn Ramsey)
There are few aspects of the human experience that are such worldwide phenomena as the use of caves and few natural features in the landscape that have so excited the imagination … Cave use is an activity that spans the full temporal range of Homo sapiens, extending over half a million years from the present. (Tolan-Smith, 2004, p. 426).
Through time, humans have used caves for habitation or shelter, storage, various economic activities, as sites for art, inspiration, recreation, entertainment, and religious rites, or burial. In particular, caves have attracted explorers, without whom much of our current understanding of caves would not be possible.
The use of caves for scientific research is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although many cultures have recognized caves as being special features within the landscape, speleology (the study of cave science) has highlighted not only the incredible potential for scientific research associated with caves, but also the exceptional sensitivity and vulnerability of many caves and their associated ecosystems, values and resources to human-caused disturbances – including disturbances caused by cave research. We are only now becoming more fully aware of some of the unintended consequences our use of caves can have.
Human activities have damaged or degraded caves, often unintentionally. Explorers and recreational caving organizations were among the first to respond to this problem by developing “caving codes of ethics” aimed at minimizing or mitigating damage or degradation to caves. More recently, tourist cave managers and various other organizations have also worked to develop “best practice” strategies for a similar purpose.
More often than not, a key underlying premise of many best practice guidelines is that that caves will be entered and explored. Whereas such guidance provides strategies for minimizing impacts to caves while engaging in certain activities, it often does not consider whether or not those activities should be occurring. In other words, the guidance tells us how to conduct such activities in caves but is silent on whether or not we should conduct them.
The purpose of speleoethics is to consider this question. A key premise of speleoethics is that as our knowledge of the sensitivity of caves increases, so does our responsibility to preserve these special places. Given that almost every visit to caves results in impacts and in some cases, incremental, unintended, irreparable or long-lasting damage, the purpose of this IAPG Task Group is to consider whether a) there can be such a thing as “ethical speleology” and b) if so, what it might look like. We seek to develop guidance on whether a particular cave should be entered; under what circumstances, and for what purpose.
These questions are especially timely now that technology allows humans to expand their activities beyond Earth. Rather than rushing to explore pristine caves or cave-like environments, whether on other worlds or our own planet, we have a responsibility to carefully weigh the pros, cons and potential unintended consequences of doing so. Speleoethics can provide a useful framework for this.
The IAPG Task Group has formed to present a defined way forward, by the drafting of an essential White Paper that will provide guidance to the global speleological community. Including those who conduct research within caves and on host karst systems.
Tolan-Smith, 2004. Human occupation of caves. In: J. Gunn, ed. 2004. Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, pp. 426-428
Cerjanska Cave, Southern Serbia
GB Cave, The Mendips, United Kingdom
Mike Buchanan (United Kingdom)
He has thirty years' experience as speleologist, karstologist. He has focused his interest on the management and conservation of karst groundwater systems and their subterranean component. He has professional experience in the exploration of caves and confined spaces; groundwater tracing and vulnerability mapping of karst freshwater aquifers, in relation to catchments; pollution point source identification by chemical analysis. He was co-author of The Management of Karst Landscapes and Caves for UNESCO Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site 2002. He is member of the IAPG Board of Expert for Geoethics in Speleology.
Carolyn Ramsey (Canada)
She completed her PhD in karst science (karstology) in 2015 at the Karst Research Institute in Postojna, Slovenia. She has worked in field of karst resource management in British Columbia, Canada since 2005, serving as a karst subject matter expert for various organizations and developing and delivering karst training and education activities for university courses, natural resource professionals and First Nations.
Aleksandar Antić (Serbia)
He is born in Požarevac, Serbia in 1994. He is currently a PhD student and researcher at the University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Sciences, Department of Geography Tourism and Hotel Management. Moreover, he is working as Assistant Editor for the MDPI publisher. His research includes the management of geoheritage, geoconservation and sustainable geotourism destination development, with a special focus on cave management and show cave tourism and speleology. He has published over 10 papers in international scientific journals and has attended numerous international conferences. He is a member of European Geosciences Union and Serbian Geographical Society.