Cave and Karst Protected Areas
What does the WCPA Specialist Group do?
The Group prepared and published guidelines for management of caves and karst. This involved input from many hundreds of land managers, researchers, cave explorers and others throughout the world. One of the special characteristics of karst studies is that thousands of people throughout the world see cave exploration as a hobby or recreational activity, yet at the same time, make an immense contribution through not only exploring, mapping and documenting caves, but working with researchers and developing a high level of expertise in the very special science of speleology.
The continuing action of the group involves:
- advising land managers and others on problems in the management of karst areas;
- encouraging the proper protection of important karst areas;
- advising on the assessment of sites for World Heritage listing on behalf of IUCN and in keeping with its advisory role to the World Heritage Convention; and
- fostering international co-operation and liaison on issues in cave and karst protection or management.
This network was established in 1992 to deal with the specific problems of protecting cave and karst environments. Karst landscapes are extremely important places for human, economic and scientific reasons, but they are also extremely vulnerable environments and may suffer serious impacts simply because governments, land managers and others may not understand the dynamic processes of the karst environment.
Karst is a phenomenon which results from the solution of rock, most commonly from being dissolved in carbon dioxide rich waters. Hydrothermal water welling up from below may also be implicated and sulphuric acid can also be involved as a result of the oxidation and other breakdown of sulphide minerals. It leads to a complex association well described as '. . . incorporating component landforms as well as life, energy, water, gases, soils and bedrock . . .'
Karst landscapes are characterised by such features as caves, dolines, poljes, blind valleys and other depressions; karst pinnacles or towers; gorges and pavements, and the fact that drainage is normally totally subterranean. This underground drainager may percolate relatively slowly over immense distances, but it may well also utilise giant conduits which allow very rapid flow. This may allow pollution to be transported over great distances.
Thus we must understand the great complexity of a karst system and recognise the way in which all of its elements are interactive. Moreover, it is often significantly shaped by neighbouring natural systems and is impacted, often negatively, by human actions both on the karst and in that neighbouring region. This concept challenges us to recognise and manage the total system because perturbation of any one element is likely to change other elements.
San rock art, between 120 and 3000 years old, Kramberg Nature Reserve, South Africa
Photo: IUCN/John Waugh