Saturday March 23, 2013
By Andrew Sia
The theory lessons before we got into the caves were important for us to understand how caves are formed.
Rainwater tinged with the lightest whiff of carbolic acid (from carbon dioxide in the air) ever so gently and gradually erodes limestone over hundreds of years. Stalactites and stalagmites are even more fragile, as their formation depends on the deposits of the teeniest bits of limestone from dripping rainwater.
Thus, they are on a strictly “see, no touch” basis – for “no matter how clean our hands”, they are still coated with a thin film of body oils which will disrupt the delicate process of cave formation. In fact, we were asked to wear gloves to not only protect our hands from scratches, but also to protect the vulnerable limestone from our hands!
We also learnt that caves are uniquely frail in other surprising ways.
“Caves do not get sunlight, so the only source of nutrients for life inside is guano from bats,” explained Ryan Loke, an MNS caver. “It’s a sensitive, finely balanced ecosystem. If you drop some nasi lemak inside a cave, you are putting a supermarket of nutrients inside. You could end up overfeeding and even poisoning some of the creatures there.”
While many of us were feeling icky about the guano we would encounter, the course emphasised how important bats are.
“Some 70% of tropical fruits are pollinated by bats. For instance, without bats, we would have no durian to eat,” explained caver Sue Lynn.
We also learnt that bats are “flying bombers”, critical to the regeneration of rainforests after logging, as they disperse seeds in their droppings – while in flight!
Caves are not just playgrounds for adventurers, they are also an important home for bats, which play a crucial role in the environment and agriculture; and both sectors will be jeopardised when caves are destroyed by quarrying.
“I have been to trips where the goal is just to have an adventure without much consideration for the environment,” commented participant Liza Manshoor.
“What I have always appreciated about MNS trips is that I am able to have fun and learn about conservation at the same time.”-