Cave and Karst Restoration

Restoration Methods

The restoration and clean-up of damaged caves is an act of love for the many cavers who donate their time and resources to this intensive, almost exclusively volunteer activity. Cavers repair formations damaged by vandals and careless caving practices, clean graffiti off cave walls and formations, remove garbage from caves and sinkholes, and painstakingly cleanse areas into which dirt and contaminants have been spread by visitors. By cleaning up caves and creating trails, cavers who participate in restoration projects make it possible for other visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of caves, while preserving the environment instead of destroying it.

As devoted as many cavers are to restoration, the need for it is often the result of failed conservation, or of insufficient management efforts to preserve a cave before it has been damaged. Much damage to caves is irreparable and restoration should be regarded as a cosmetic fix which may not address significant damage to some types of formations, to cave floors, or to disrupted ecosystems.

Like conservation ethics, restoration techniques continue to evolve. Done improperly, restoration can cause more harm than good by introducing chemicals, debris from brushes, or competing organisms from water brought into a cave. In addition, restoration often takes place in proximity to fragile areas of flowstone and formations. Careless bumping, overzealous scrubbing, and contamination from dirty clothing or gear must be avoided.

Undertaken with care, restoration can bring many benefits. Removing trash and sources of chemical contamination, can prevent further damage to an ecosystem, and stop possible pollution of groundwater resources. If caught in time, the creeping spread of dirty foot and hand prints can be confined to a single path. Broken stalactites and other drip formations can often be pieced together. Some restoration even involves sculpting areas of damaged rimstone dams or filling in gaps in a shattered formation. Using cave-appropriate materials and ingenuity, even severely damaged areas can sometimes be restored to a semblance of their pristine beauty, for visitors of this and future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

Photographic Definitions: Terms for Documentation, Inventory and Monitoring

Photographs provide visual records that can be used to document, educate, or entertain. Whether pictures are made for photomonitoring, historical documentation, scientific inventory, restoration-before-and-after, personal enjoyment, salon entry, etc., photographs can provide essential monitoring elements for cave management programs. Among the caving community, there is some confusion about how to define the various purposes and nomenclature of documentation tools that can benefit cave management and protection. The following is provided to answer questions and help define photographic terms.


Photomonitoring is the process of establishing a system of photo stations so the same photographs can be easily repeated at defined time intervals and archived to record visitor impact, vandalism, formation growth and decline, water levels, trail conditions, etc.

Photo Inventory

The term photo inventory designates photographing specific cave features or sites using a simple stand-and-shoot method. The photographer stands in an obvious, easy-to-remember or discernable trail location and shoots the feature or scene. Usually, nothing is left in the cave to identify this stand-and-shoot spot. Repetition of the shot will not be exact, but should yield worthwhile, simple information.

Photo inventory is like a picture inventory of valuable household items for insurance purposes. For caves, photo inventory describes an organized, individually labeled, and archivally stored collection of pictures recording the valuable resources and features in or around a cave or karst system.

Photo Documentation

Photo documentation is the activity of photographing events, projects, procedures, expeditions, evidence, location, or scientific example, and then organizing the photos and recording data to tell a coherent visual story. Photos for scientific documentation should include a reference scale.

Permission is granted to share, repost, reprint, or use this these bullet points to build protocols for specific caves or cave regions.