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Discover the beauty and fragility of these hidden realms Discover the beauty and fragility of these hidden realms Alejandra Gotóo

Guardians of the Dark: Promoting the Conservation of Underground Caves

Written by  Alejandra Gotóo Aug 06, 2023

As a passionate writer, I am deeply concerned about preserving underground caves. These enigmatic wonders face threats worldwide, and it saddens me to witness their vulnerability. In my exploration, I will focus on two countries renowned for their caves - Croatia and Mexico. By raising awareness through my writing, I aim to emphasize the importance of protecting these subterranean ecosystems. 

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Photo - Alejandra Gotóo


Join me on this journey to discover the beauty and fragility of these hidden realms, and together, let's advocate for their preservation, safeguarding their natural heritage for generations to come.

In Croatia

Pollution of caves due to human activities is a big problem. In Croatia, as well as in other countries, people throw trash into caves. I do not mean a small gum paper or a plastic bottle (which I still think are not nice things to do). But I am referring to municipal and construction waste, tires, cattle carrion, pets, etc.

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Photo - Alejandra Gotóo

More than half of Croatia's caves are located in the Velebit, which adds to its natural beauty and the need to preserve the place clean and healthy. Caves can have vertical entrances or a slight inclination that makes them almost horizontal to the ground. The exploration techniques depend on the type of entrance.

Although venturing into these caves may not be advisable for everyone, the wonders within can be known through research and awareness. According to “An Overview of the Cave and Interstitial Biota of Croatia” (2002) the caves harbor a diverse array of endemic species, with their entrances adorned by unique plants thriving under distinct light, humidity, and temperature conditions. Delving deeper, one can encounter small yet vibrant life forms, including spiders, insects, other invertebrates, and a myriad of fungi. These subterranean systems are also vital sources of potable water, highlighting the imperative to protect them from pollution.

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Velebit caves - Photo - Alejandra Gotóo

Thankfully, organizations like Clean Underground have taken on the monumental task since 2015 of combating waste disposal in the karst underground. Through cleanups and awareness campaigns, they strive to safeguard these precious environments. Their efforts have revealed a disheartening reality, as evidenced by a map brimming with red dots denoting polluted caves. Traces of recent trash and historical remnants, including Second World War artillery shells, underscore the gravity of the situation.

The urgency to act cannot be overstated. As Ruđer Novak, the leader of the Clean Underground initiative, wisely stated, "What we throw into our abysses, sooner or later, we will drink in a glass of water on our own table!" The ramifications of cave pollution extend far beyond ourselves, affecting countless plants, fungi, spiders, insects, mollusks, and other life forms that deserve to thrive undisturbed. We can contribute to the cause by responsibly disposing of our waste, supporting cleanups through donations, and spreading awareness about this pressing issue.

Together, let us ensure the preservation of these hidden wonders, safeguarding both their natural splendor and the life they nurture within.

In Mexico

A new project is underway in Mexico, introducing a tourist train that will travel through the captivating landscapes of the country's southern region. While it promises to boost the country's economy and attract foreign visitors, it also raises concerns about its ecological impact. The train's path will intersect with the ancient Maya lands, dense jungles, and sacred cenotes, which could lead to the loss of precious wildlife, including the already endangered jaguars. Additionally, the delicate cenotes, unique water sinkholes with archaeological significance, may be at risk of collapsing.

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Delicate balance of life inside the caves - Photo - Alejandra Gotóo 

The Yucatán peninsula, where the train is set to pass, is home to a mesmerizing chain of underwater caves known as cenotes. These natural wonders have existed for centuries, revered by the ancient Maya for their sacred properties. Many cenotes offer glimpses into the past, with archaeological artifacts like pottery, ceramics, and even human remains found within their depths.

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Photo - Alejandra Gotóo

Cenotes come in various forms, from open ones that resemble lakes to semi-open and underground ones accessible only through diving. The encounter of fresh and saltwater in some cenotes, known as halocline, creates a fascinating visual effect. Besides their historical significance, cenotes also house valuable fossils, like those of giant sloths, mastodons, and mammoths, enriching our understanding of ancient life. For the Maya culture, these places could be gates to the afterlife, therefore they threw valuable objects in them. These objects cannot be found anymore due to robberies or because archeologists retrieved them to study them. So far, there are more than +10,000 known cenotes, but not all of them have been extensively explored.

The most comprehensive record of them has been done by groups of expert cave divers that work together to explore under safe conditions.

Rather than allowing these natural treasures to be destroyed, embracing their beauty is an attractive option. For those seeking adventure, diving into the cenotes offers an enthralling experience, although proper training is necessary. Learning is a great way to keep our minds and bodies healthy, so plan a vacation to the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico and explore nature. Feel free to contact Dive Life, fantastic, knowledgeable, and eco-friendly divers. I learned how to cavern dive with Fran Davids, who has over 20 years of experience. I was nervous, and he made me feel safe. All of the divers I know are chill people who love nature and pick up trash from the water whenever possible. You will be surprised by all the things we have found underwater just on recreational dives.

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But if diving is not your cookie, you can also swim in the cenotes. There are no currents in them, so it is pretty easy to swim around. The water is usually cold, which is refreshing in the hot weather of the south of Mexico. But again, if swimming is not for you, you could take some pics. There are photoshoots there that look so good, for this, I would recommend Romad Photography. Remember that the best way to travel is enjoy what nature offers, leave no trace and take nothing but memories.

Thus, you can plan your next vacation in Mexico and enjoy cenotes, dives, and pics!

Embracing Responsibility for Cave Conservation

In conclusion, the preservation of underground caves is not only crucial but also an urgent responsibility. As we have explored the threats faced by caves in Croatia and Mexico, it becomes evident that our actions today directly impact the future of these remarkable ecosystems. Pollution, destruction, and careless exploration can lead to irreversible consequences for the delicate balance of life within these subterranean realms.

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Let us heed the call to action and take steps to protect these invaluable natural wonders. Initiatives like "Clean Underground" in Croatia and the conservation efforts in Mexico's cenotes showcase the power of collective action and environmental consciousness. By disposing of waste responsibly, supporting cleanups, and raising awareness, we can ensure that these caves continue to thrive as habitats for unique species and invaluable sources of freshwater.

As travelers and nature enthusiasts, it is our responsibility to enjoy the beauty of these underground marvels without causing harm. Let us leave no trace but take away a profound appreciation for the gift of nature's hidden treasures. By nurturing and safeguarding these caves, we not only preserve their beauty for future generations but also honor the countless lives that depend on their continued existence.


Alejandra Gotóo (1991, Mexico City), who studied English Literature and recently graduated with a Masters of Social Anthropology is now writing about her time in Croatia as a columnist in Dubrovnik Times. Her work has been published in Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. She has two published novels, Ruptura and Isadore or Absolute Love. Her topics of interest include nature, adventure, language, books, food, culture, animals, conservation, and women's rights. She also writes in her blog: Cardinal Humours.

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