John Watson


At the 4th World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas, held in Caracas, Venezuela, in February 1992, a group of attending delegates from 12 countries met to discuss ways of improving recognition of the special values of caves and karst by national park and protected area management agencies. One outcome of the meeting was to establish a world-wide network of interested people to tackle this challenge.

Other proposals were to prepare guidelines on the values, protection and management of karst, primarily targeting management agencies, and to seek liaison with the IUS and similar bodies.

In this paper a brief overview is given of the IUCN (World Conservation Union), the CNPPA (Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas) and the formation of the CNPPA Network on Cave Protection and Management.

The paper then addresses some of the ways in which ACKMA and its members may assist cave and karst management at the global level.


Within Australia there is, overall, a very good track record for the protection and management of caves and karst. With only 200 or so years of white occupation, a climate and landscape effectively restricting rapid development and settlement of the interior and sub-tropical north, and major opportunities remaining for designation of protected areas such as national parks from the turn of the century through to the present day, most cave and karst areas remain largely intact. There are of course, some notable exceptions such as Mt Etna and Texas Caves in Queensland, Exit Cave in Tasmania and sections of the Western Australia Nullarbor. However, by and large, our major karst features are protected in reserves and have identifiable and accountable management agencies.

Furthermore, the activities of amateur speleologists at the local, state and national levels through organisations such as ASF member bodies, the ASF (Australian Speleological Federation) itself and, more recently ACKMA (Australian Cave and Karst Management Association), have provided the impetus to promote good cave and karst conservation particularly over the past 20 or so years. As a general rule the planning and management skills within ACKMA are well-recognised by our official management agencies, not only within Australia and New Zealand, but increasingly within some of our neighbouring countries.

Unfortunately the Australian situation is not mirrored at the global level. This is partly a function of the much longer periods of human occupation with subsequent exploitation and development of resources, including karst, partly due to cultural, political and religious differences, and to the vastly different scale of human population density. As we all know, caves, and the speleothems they contain, are essentially non-renewable within a human time frame and karst landscapes are highly susceptible to changes of catchment land use and to climatic or chemical changes (e.g. acid rain).

Thus in many instances cave and karst systems in other parts of the world have already suffered major changes which are essentially non-reversible.

Whereas it is too late to effect a return to purely natural karst systems in many areas, at the localised level, particularly within newly protected areas often in developing countries, there is still an opportunity to conserve the integrity of karst. In some instances individuals within management agencies recognise the need for appropriate karst management but in other cases it is rather the conservation societies or speleologists themselves who are more acutely aware of the need.

Whilst action and knowledge at the local grass roots level is essential there is also a need to raise awareness of karst issues in the "upper echelons" of the world conservation movement. Over the past year an attempt has begun to do just that through the establishment of a world wide "Network on Cave Protection and Management" under the auspices of the CNPPA, one of the six commissions of the World Conservation Union, the IUCN.

The IUCN (The World Conservation Union)

The IUCN or International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (more commonly referred to as The World Conservation Union) was founded in 1948 and is the largest professional body in the world that is working towards better care for the soils, lands, waters and air of this planet and the various life forms which they support (IUCN, 1990).

Currently membership of IUCN comprises around 65 governments, over 100 government agencies and over 400 non-governmental organisations (such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Wilderness Society). Six commissions have been established within the IUCN to provide professional advice and guidance on a broad range of conservation issues throughout the world. These are the Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas (CNPPA), the Species Survival Commission (SSC), the Commission on Ecology (COE), the Commission on Environmental Law (CEL), the Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) and the Commission on Environmental Strategy and Planning (CESP). Although most of these commissions have some direct relevance to cave and karst protection, it is the CNPPA that deals mainly with 'hands on' management of areas protected in national parks or other conservation reserves, and which collaborates most closely with the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme and World Heritage Convention.

CNPPA (Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas)

The CNPPA serves as the principal source at the global level of technical advice on the selection, planning and management of national parks and other protected areas. Its broad mission has been identified as: "To promote the establishment and effective management of a world-wide network of terrestrial and marine protected areas" (IUCN, 1991). Objectives to achieve this are:

  1. to promote extension of the global system of protected areas through identification of gaps in coverage and to assign priorities for action to address the gaps identified.
  2. to identify priorities at global, continental, national and sub-national levels for the effective management of protected areas.
  3. to expand strategies for protected area management - involving training, planning, economics, traditional knowledge and other means - that will enable managers to adapt to changing political and social conditions.
  4. to enhance monitoring of the status of protected areas and call attention to "Threatened Spaces".
  5. to develop and apply mechanisms for encouraging support for protected areas from the people living in and around them, and for maximising the contribution of protected areas to those people.
  6. to strengthen the application of natural and social science to protected area management issues.
  7. to increase greatly international support for protected areas as an integral part of national development efforts and enhance the financial means available to manage such areas.

The CNPPA is also nurturing a world-wide network of professionals developing management techniques, exchanging information, monitoring the status of protected areas, training and providing technical advice to IUCN members.

All of the above are of direct relevance and interest to cave and karst protection and management. The CNPPA is organised into a dozen or so biogeographic realms or regions of the world and also has specialist groups dealing with marine areas and mountains.

The CNPPA Network On Cave Protection And Management

In February 1992, the 4th World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas was held in Caracas, Venezuela. This congress was attended by over 1800 delegates from around the world under the auspices of IUCN, UNESCO, WWF and many other sponsoring organisations and governments.

During the congress an informal meeting of delegates interested in cave protection and management was held. It was attended by cave managers, speleologists, administrators, researchers and protected area managers - in all from 12 different countries.

The group endorsed the following:

  1. Caves, associated underground systems and surface karst, are important components of the biosphere with widespread global distribution.
  2. Such areas are specially valuable for conservation, scientific research (biological, geological and anthropological), religious and spiritual purposes, recreation and tourism.
  3. Such areas are particularly vulnerable to damage and pollution and therefore require careful protection and sensitive management, including surface catchment areas.
  4. The considerable body of expert knowledge on cave and karst management within national and international speleological societies or associations is not generally known, understood or applied by protected area management agencies.

The group also noted that marine areas, wetlands, forests and mountains are addressed by IUCN or CNPPA through separate commissions or working groups. By contrast the special values of caves do not appear to be similarly recognised.

It was therefore decided to establish a network of interested people and to prepare a short publication (in French, Spanish and English) on the special values of caves and karst as an aid to protected area management agencies. It was also proposed that discussions should be held with the IUS at its forthcoming Eleventh Congress in China (August 1993). The Network is hopeful that several of its contributors will attend and a paper (similar to this one) has been submitted to the congress (Watson and James, 1993).

Involvement in the Network is on a purely voluntary basis as the Network does not have an operating budget. However, funding will obviously be necessary to produce and publish the proposed guidelines on caves for protected area managers.

Possible role of ACKMA in the CNPPA Network

ACKMA has within its membership many people who are managers of caves or of protected areas containing karst land forms. There are also people who recognise the need to see better use made of speleological expertise by agencies who manage national parks and protected areas. The CNPPA Network on Cave Protection and Management would like to establish contact with these people and to work in collaboration to further the best interests of caves and karst throughout the world. Specifically ACKMA could help as follows:

  1. By strengthening the Network through locating key people among its own members who are protected area managers, associated with IUCN member bodies (see section 2), CNPPA members, persons who believe that managers could make better use of speleological expertise or persons who can help to prepare the publication on cave values.
  2. By providing a contact point in the Australasian biogeographic realm for further advice and help which can be used by the CNPPA Cave Network and by the IUCN on an ongoing basis.
  3. By suggesting any other means of helping to ensure that speleological expertise is more effectively used by protected area managers throughout the world.

Clearly the need for the activities of the Network will vary from country to country throughout the world, and indeed from agency to agency within one country.

Some examples of past activities within Australia which may have application in other countries include:

Assistance with planning

There are now many examples of excellent planning studies undertaken with the assistance of, or under contract by, the ASF, its member societies and ACKMA (e.g. Davey, 1978; Hamilton-Smith et al, 1989)

Advisory assistance

Networks of people interested in and concerned about cave protection and management also have value at the regional or local level. For example, such a group was formed in Western Australia to provide assistance and advice to Government on cave and karst issues both within and outside national parks and nature reserves. This group was instrumental in providing direct links between various management agencies and speleologists during the late 1970s and the 1980s. The group championed the cause of cave and karst protection in such issues as promoting cave research, developing a cave classification system for Western Australia, discouraging the use of cave names on public maps and helping to draft cave protection legislation (see Watson, 1990).

Similar local advisory groups have also been established, notably in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park in the State's south-west. This group has helped to implement recommendations relating to caves and karst in the park management plan, particularly the introduction of a cave permit entry system which is designed primarily to protect the conservation values of the cave resource (Department of CALM, 1992).

Information resources

Information resources are another area where speleologists can greatly help protected area managers. Certainly within Australia and New Zealand there is a voluminous literature on caves, karst and caving, much of it with relevance to protection and management. By retaining databases of such publications, or hard copy libraries, speleological societies can provide access to useful materials that would otherwise be very hard, if not impossible, for managing agencies to locate.

The IUCN has yet to acquire a useful collection on caves and karst in its central library in Gland, Switzerand. Whilst such an important library should certainly have at least basic materials on cave protection and management for use by IUCN and visiting staff, information on the nature and location of more specialised resources could be more effectively provided by speleological societies.

In summary, with the help of speleologists, and organisations such as ACKMA, professional management of caves and karst should be significantly improved. The CNPPA Network on Cave Protection and Management therefore looks forward eagerly to help and suggestions from ACKMA with implementing its proposals.


DAVEY, A., (1978), Resource Management of the Nullarbor Region, WA. A report to the Environmental Protection Authority, ASF., 1978.

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND LAND MANAGEMENT (CALM), (1992). Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park Cave Permit System. Department of CALM, Perth, Western Australia.

HAMILTON-SMITH, E., SPATE, A., HOLLAND E.and MOTT, K., (1989). Cutta-Cutta Caves Nature Park - a Draft Plan of Management, Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory.

IUCN, (1990). IUCN - The World Conservation Union.IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

IUCN, (1991). IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas - A Guide for Members. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

WATSON, J.R., (1990). WA Working Group on Cave Management and Protection, (1977 - 1983). Proc. 5th Australiasian Conference on Cave Tourism and Management, Lakes Entrance, Victoria, April 1983. Australiasian Cave and Karst Management Association, Carlton South, Victoria, Australia.

WATSON, J. and JAMES, J., (1993). A World Wide 'Network' on Cave Protection and Management, Eleventh International Congress of Speleology, International Union of Speleology, Beijing, China.

John Watson, Co-convenor, CNPPA Network on Cave Protection and Management, c/- Department of CALM, 44 Serpentine Road, Albany, Western Australia 6330 (Tel: 61 98 417133)