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Indonesia: Promotion of Measures to Protect Caves

(Jan. 21, 2016) On January 18, 2016, the President of Indonesia’s Speleological Society, Cahyo Rahmadi, urged the country’s government to adopt national standards to protect caves. Rahmadi stated, “[t]he government has not yet issued a guideline on cave management, even though caves have become tourist sites.”  (Bambang Muryanto, Government Urged to Protect Caves for Ecotourism, JAKARTA POST (Jan. 19, 2016).)

The Indonesian government is in the process of drafting a bill on karst ecosystem management and protection, which could be a basis for guidelines on the use of caves. (Bambang Muryanto, Natural Caves Lack Ecotourism Guidelines, JAKARTA POST (Jan. 19, 2016).)  Karst is defined as “terrain usually characterized by barren, rocky ground, caves, sinkholes, underground rivers, and the absence of surface streams and lakes. It results from the excavating effects of underground water on massive soluble limestone.”  (Karst Geology, ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA (last updated Sept. 7, 2014).)

Caves in Indonesia

According to the Society, due to their beauty, caves often draw the interest of ecotourists, and it is difficult to restore caves damaged by a large number of visitors. There are hundreds of caves in Indonesia, including a number in the Yogyakarta region of central Java, where the karst area around Mount Sewu in the Gunungkidul section of Yogyajarta has been designated a Global Geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  (Natural Caves Lack Ecotourism Guidelines, supra; Government Urged to Protect Caves for Ecotourism, supra).) Geoparks are described by UNESCO as “single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.”  (UNESCO Global Geoparks, UNESCO website (last vsited Jan. 20, 2016).)

Rahmadi discussed the condition of the Goa Gong Cave in particular, located in East Java, which was damaged because there were no barriers between visitors and the cave’s formations, resulting in discoloration and other harm. That cave was known for having the most beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in southeastern Asia; the formations are also famous for sounding like gongs when struck.  (Id.)  Rahmadi urged that the deterioration of Goa Gong not be allowed to be repeated and also pointed out that caves are home to many species of wildlife.  He further advocated the creation of a national map of caves, to instruct visitors on where to walk to avoid disrupting the ecosystem.  (Government Urged to Protect Caves for Ecotourism, supra.)

At a recent meeting on sustainable tourism in karst areas, speleologist Pindi Setiawan noted the need to preserve the beauty of caves and create sustainable ecotourism, with particular attention to capacity issues. The Gunungkidul region has seen dramatic growth in the tourism industry; while 687,000 people visited in 2010, today the rate is about 3.6 million a year.  (Id.)

Lighting Controversy

The manager of the Ningrong Cave, in Gunungkidul, suggested there is a need for more managers with advanced knowledge of caves, so that they can be better guides for tourists, and expressed management’s desire “to provide lighting in caves.” (Id.)  That statement is controversial, with speleologists and ecotourism specialists saying that lighting in caves could harm their natural beauty and have a negative impact on their ecosystems.  (Id.)  One concern is that moss could grow in areas near the lights, which would have warmer temperatures; the moss could in turn be a problem for other features of the cave.  (Natural Caves Lack Ecotourism Guidelines, supra.)