sign in a cave in Laos

16 April 2012

Tempurung Cave Cleanup 2000 - Star

The Star
Saturday, May 13, 2000
Off The Beaten Track

Spring cleaning a cave
© Liz Price

EASTER Sunday saw a motley group of cavers armed with black plastic
rubbish bags and pink rubber gloves descend on Gua Tempurung in Perak.
Whilst many people throughout the Christian world were hunting for
chocolate Easter eggs on that day, we were hunting for something less
palatable ........rubbish. We were remembering Earth Day.

Saturday April 22 was the 30th Anniversary of Earth Day and this year's theme was climate change. Earth Day began with some small protests in a couple of cities 30 years ago. But on this weekend, millions of people in
more than 100 countries took part in what's now known as "Earth Day." People picked up garbage, planted trees, and found ways to get around that didn't use gasoline -- from jogging to canoeing. Religious leaders offered prayers for the Earth.

US President Bill Clinton called global warming the most crucial environmental challenge now facing the world. "If we value our coastlines or farm lands and our vital biodiversity, we must build a national consensus to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases," he said. Many scientists believe greenhouse gases, made up mainly of carbon dioxide from burned fossil fuels, are responsible for a slow but risky increase in the Earth's average temperature.

As part of Earth Day 2000, we had opted to do our bit by collecting rubbish from the cave. Gua Tempurung is West Malaysia's finest show cave, but unfortunately the spectacular views within are often marred by unsightly rubbish dropped by thoughtless visitors. So we decided to give the cave a spring clean.

A bunch of cavers from Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh turned up bright and early, having camped outside overnight, and were ready and waiting even before the cave was open for visitors. There were about 20 cavers and volunteers from the Malaysian Nature Society Selangor and Perak branches, as well as the media to record this event. We broke up into three teams and set off.

One group followed the streamway, another the walkway, and a third abseiled down some of the steeper parts, in an attempt to collect the rubbish dropped by careless visitors. Despite the notice boards placed outside the cave, reminders by the guides not to drop rubbish, and the rubbish bins placed throughout the cave, visitors still drop their trash anywhere. The cave is beautiful, so why do people spoil it by dumping their unwanted items.

The streamway group found most of their rubbish consisted of plastic water bottles and old shoes. Shoes have a habit of falling apart in caves, and are often dumped by inconsiderate visitors. The opther groups found that their refuse was mainly tissues, sweet wrappers, and drink containers -- cans, boxes and plastic bottles. People were too lazy to use the garbage bins, preferring to throw the rubbish anywhere rather than carry it to the next bin. And as expected, much of the rubbish was thrown down holes or the steeper parts. Out of sight is definitely not out of mind in this cave, as we still made an effort to remove whatever was accessible.

One other more natural problem is waste matter getting washed into the cave. Gua Tempurung has two entrances, with a river flowing in one end and out the other. The eastern entrance where the stream enters the cave is below the North - South Highway. A lot of debris and pollutants get washed in, such as oil, diesel spillages, tree branches and even timber planks. Following the landslide on the highway in January 1996, the road was re-routed, and therefore a lot of contractors were called in to do the work. Some of the debris they left behind got washed into the cave over the following months, even large diesel drums have been found in the cave streamway.

The cave is rich in indigenous fauna, and goodness only knows what is
happening to it now. The water looks quite clear, but knowing that oils and diesel do get washed into the cave, I don't know how the cave fauna is coping.

After a few hours of hard work, we were "rewarded" by about 10 sackfuls of rubbish. We hauled it out of the cave, much to the amazement of incoming visitors. I felt like warning them all not to drop any more trash. Even as we went out, we were faced with freshly dropped litter, which had been dropped by tour groups entering during the day after us. It seemed our task was never ending. However we had had a satisfying day, knowing we had done our bit for Earth Day.

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