Great care must be taken to protect and preserve these great underground wonders. Caves are non-renewable natural resources which benefit and enrich our lives in many ways, a few of which are:
Insect Control, Scientific Knowledge, Water Supply and Education/Recreation. Caves may seem eternal, having been around for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. However, every cave is sensitive, whether open to the public as a show cave or an undeveloped wild cave. The biggest threat to these fragile environments is man. This threat includes, but is not limited to, Vandalism, Quarrying, Dam Construction and Water Pollution.
Caves and the land in which they are located are closely tied together. What happens on the surface can affect the subsurface, including groundwater and caves. For many years it was generally believed soil protected groundwater from contamination by human activities on the surface, filtering out the contaminants. However, this was found to be untrue. Activities on the land's surface - including sewage pollution, solid waste pollution, oil and gas pollution, and runoff from agricultural chemicals can adversely affect the quality of groundwater, which is the drinking water for about 50% of the US population.
Due to its complex geological history, New York has four types of aquifers. Those in carbonate rock are located in the valleys of central and southeastern NY. In the caves, solution channels and sinkholes (karst terrain) of these aquifers can store large amounts of groundwater. Contaminants from the surface can move rather quickly and reappear in water supplies miles from their source.
Touring a cavern gives us a good picture of karst. Imagine you are actually inside the groundwater system, touring a portion of an aquifer, where all the cracks and crevices were once completely filled with water. As the limestone beneath the soil was dissolved to form the cave, the overlying soil settled or collapsed to form sinkholes. Water entering the ground through sinkholes can carry soil, organic debris, and pollutants. This surface water becomes part of the groundwater flow system.
Contaminated water draining through a sinkhole in turn pollutes groundwater that wells and springs draw from. Sinkholes are environmentally sensitive areas and should never be used as dump sites. Sinkholes which have been used as dumps should be cleaned out to prevent any further contamination of the groundwater. Treat sinkholes with care. Remember: what you see in a sinkhole is what you may get from your faucet.
Detecting groundwater contamination can be difficult, much more difficult than detection of surface water contamination. Because we can't see groundwater, we don't usually notice any contamination until it appears in water from springs or wells. Cleaning up groundwater can be costly and difficult.
The public needs to understand that surface wastes can easily enter the groundwater system in karst areas. Factories which produce industrial and hazardous wastes must be located in areas away from sinkholes. Newer fuel storage tanks, which are less likely to leak, should be used and older storage tanks replaced. Old city sewage systems need to be repaired or replaced. New plastic pipes will stretch rather than break when new sinkholes develop along sewer lines. Farmers can reduce the use of pesticides and depend more on organic farming methods.
Recycle!! The only way to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills is for all Americans to actively recycle.
Share the message of cave conservation with your family and friends. At any cave you may visit, remember this motto:
Take nothing but pictures; Leave nothing but footprints; Kill nothing but time!!
For more information on cave conservation, visit the American Cave Conservation Association website!