EuroSpeleo 2016 Sessions

International exploration is key to karst cave protection and development in China

Session code: OS18

Oral / Science, Main EuroSpeleo Conference

Mr Yuanhai Zhang


Since the 1980s international cooperative exploration has been a cornerstone of effective protection and exploitation of karst caves in China.

During the era of tradition exploration techniques using hemp-strand rope, a total of less than 100km of cave passage was explored in China. Most individual caves known at this time were less than 5km long and 100m deep. Exploration was driven by nitrate exploitation, and speleothems were damaged.

SRT techniques were first introduced to China by British cavers in 1985, and since this time over 1000km of cave passage have been explored and surveyed through international exploration. Foreign cavers also introduced the “take only memories, leave only footprints” ethos, influencing generations of Chinese cavers.

Some of the new discoveries have been developed as show caves. Since the 1980s more than 400 show caves have been opened to the public, generating total revenue of more than 1 billion CNY each year and making significant contributions to local economic development.

Following international expeditions, including in particular Guilin (1985), Fengshan (1987), Xingwen (1992), Fengjie (1994-1997), Wulong (1997-present), Lichuan (1987-2004), and Shuiyang (>30 years), a number of geoparks/natural heritage sites have been established, preserving the caves and karst officially and legally for future generations.


A member of China’s Institute of Karst Geology Karst Landscapes and Cave Research department for more than 30 years, Zhang Yuanhai has collaborated with international expeditions since 1991. “Zhang Hai” is deputy secretary of the CGS Committee on Speleology and vice president of the Asian Union of Speleology.


Erin Lynch
Institute of Karst Geology, CAGS