Preventing Cave Damage

A Cave Diver's Responsibility

A Cave Diver's Responsibility

For many years when the subject of cave conservation has come up most cave divers have thought of land-use related issues such as overdevelopment, the dumping of waste or garbage into sinks, and chemicals or sewage infiltrating the groundwater that flows through the cave passages in which we dive.  While these problems are clearly still with us, another type of issue has moved onto the list of challenges we face in preserving our cave diving sites.

As the numbers of cave and cavern divers have dramatically increased in recent years, the issue of diver impact on the cave has become a much more important issue. For some cave owners, particularly the local, state and federal governments, diver impact has become one of the biggest conservation concerns at some dive sites they manage.

However, diver impact is one problem that we, as cave divers, have a lot of control over. As cave and cavern divers, each of us has the responsibility to minimize or eliminate our own impact on the caves in which we dive. If each of us learned to recognize and not touch the fragile formations and features in our underwater caves and we consistently used the low impact diving techniques and good judgment that we are taught in our training; most, if not all, visible diver impact on the caves could be eliminated.

We can do it! It’s our responsibility!

Low Impact Diving Techniques

Use/Maintain Good Buoyancy and Trim

We typically think of buoyancy and trim as being cave diving skills needed to preserve visibility by not disturbing silt and other unconsolidated sediment.  However, in order to preserve the cave, good buoyancy and trim are required to avoid contact with the floor and ceiling.  It is wise to stop with depth changes to do a buoyancy check to prevent touching the floor or bumping the ceiling.

Good Buoyancy

Proper Kick Techniques

The main kick techniques used by cave divers are the frog kick, the modified flutter kick, and the shuffle kick.  The main purpose is for locomotion in the cave system without disturbing silt.  We also want to choose the proper propulsion technique in certain areas of the cave to prevent contact with the cave.  If the cave passage is low and wide, then a frog kick is ideal since spreading legs outward won’t contact the ceiling.  When the cave passage is narrow, but tall, then a modified flutter/shuffle kick will keep the legs away from the walls. A cave diver should adjust kick styles to accommodate the changing dynamics of the cave.

When and Where to Use Pull and Glide

Pull and glide is a propulsion technique where the cave diver grasps a rock and pulls themselves forward to advance movement.

Any contact in this manner will cause wear and tear on the cave and should be avoided at all costs, especially in low flow caves. In high flow caves where kicking to advance movement is impossible, then the pull and glide technique may be used carefully, only touching areas that have been previously touched.  Ceiling push offs should be avoided due to damage to the cave ceiling by the diver’s feet and back mounted tanks.

Use and Placement of Stage and Decompression Cylinders

Stage/deco bottles should be rigged so they stay tight against the body, and the valve doesn’t drop down.  When carrying the stage through tight or low areas, it should be lifted or cradled to avoid contacting the floor, or making you swim higher and contact the ceiling.  When dropping a stage/deco tank it is wise to avoid silty areas in favor of rock, and preferably a place that has already been worn. Secure the tank to the line to keep it from moving around in high flow areas.

Once the gas limit has been reached with a stage tank, keep it with you until an appropriate drop point can be found and if none can be found, then just keep it with you. Once the stage is nearing empty it may float above your horizontal plane and the tank neck will drop down.  Continue to manipulate the tank by cradling it to avoid contact with the cave.  NEVER place a stage/deco on a tank D-ring or crotch strap where it can’t be controlled.


Use Good Judgement!

  • You have a choice in what you do.
  • Be honest with yourself about your skill level.
  • Practice and master new skills/equipment in open water before trying them in a cave.
  • If you can’t make a certain dive without causing damage to the cave, then don’t make that dive until you can do it without causing damage.

Learn to Recognize Fragile Cave Formations

(Look, but don't touch)

Phreatite (also known as Goethite)

Stalagmites, Stalactites (and other flowstone formations)

Sedimentary Formations
Sedimentary Formations (such as this clay bank exhibiting severe damage from an unthinking diver)

Photographs by Jill Heinerth, Bill Dunn and Kelly Jessop