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SPECIAL REPORT: Unknown danger in Thailand’s caves

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SPECIAL REPORT: Unknown danger in Thailand’s caves

By PIYAPORN WONGRUANG 
The NATION WEEKEND

 

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Tham Luang cave poses a new challenge to the country's disaster risk management following its complex geography.

 

Tham Luang saga exposes the need for topography studies across the country

 

A DETAILED MAP of the Tham Luang cave, drawn up by veteran cave explorer Martin Ellis, shows specific locations within most of the cave, including the notable Pattaya Beach, but the bottom of the map “continues unexplored”, leaving further details of the cave unknown.

 

Chaiporn Siripornpibul, a speleologist with the Mineral Resources Department, realised how significant the map was when it came to the rescue of the 12 young footballers and their coach in the days after they became trapped on June 23, and how it would even be more critical in completing the “miracle” rescue.

 

Without the topography of the cave addressed in that incomplete map, it would have been more difficult for the geologists at the department to determine the topography of the cave and locate the high ground and any holes that could link the cave’s main halls, a possible alternative route of escape for the trapped Wild Boars team and their assistant coach.

“I know the cave as we surveyed it two years before. We immediately analysed all the data we had in order to find out the cave’s topography to address other possible ways to get out of it,” said Chaiporn, recalling the early efforts by some geologists to help in the rescue bid. In the end their expertise was not required as the boys were rescued in daring dives through the flooded cave complex.

 

The Tham Luang cave is one of nearly 4,000 caves all over the country that still remain a dangerous mystery as little is known about the cave system.

 

According to the Mineral Resources Department, around 2,500 caves have been surveyed and located in its geological map and 307 caves have been identified by the Tourism Department as open to visitors. 

 

Of these, 169 caves are located in national parks and forest parks under the supervision of the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department. The Tham Luang cave is located in the 5,000-rai Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park.

 

Chaiporn, a veteran speleologist who has conducted extensive cave surveys across the country, said caves are the reaction between water and rocks, a result of uplifting Karst landscapes, which leave soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum, exposed to the weather and climates. 

 

Over time, they are dissolved by rainwater and groundwater, resulting in halls within the rocks or caves, as well as other surrounding characters such as sinking streams, sinkholes and springs.

 

Caves in Thailand have been created by that process over the past 200 to 400 million years, he said. In addition to limestone-based caves, some sandstone erosional caves are also found in the Northeast region, creating a variety of caves.

 

There are many caves across the country, but very little is known about them although some groups have conducted studies, especially in the North. 

 

Unchartered territory 

 

The history of cave studies in Thailand goes back as far as the mid-1960s when a group of foreign experts first conducted archaeological surveys in caves.

 

In the 1970s, a series of more direct cave surveys were conducted by a group of foreign geologists. In the 1980s, caves were further surveyed by foreign survey associations such as the French Cave Survey Association, the Association Pyreneenne de Speleologie, and others, when some caves in the Northeast were surveyed and mapped.

 

It was not until the late 1990s that a group of Thai researchers, including Chaiporn, veteran caver John Spies, and Dean Smart, came together to study caves scientifically. The result led to the formulation of a study involving archaeology, biology and cave systems, paving the way for cave management.

 

Their study, funded by the Thailand Research Fund, lasted for two years and focused on caves in the North. 

 

Because of the limitation, most caves nationwide have not yet been scientifically studied, which Chaiporn stresses is a must before any further management is attempted. 

 

Thailand is still in a precarious position for cave management because these caves are not yet classified or evaluated in terms of tourism, education, threats, and other issues.

 

“I must say that caves are not just holes in mountains. They have value as much as dangers to be managed – archaeological, biological, hydrological and climate, and several others.

 

“In foreign countries like Romania, cave studies are part of their curriculum, while others have associations running businesses about caves. 

 

“All these reflect a strong body of knowledge about caves developed and put in place in their countries. If we need to manage our caves to meet our purposes, we need to build our own [body of knowledge] too,” said Chaiporn.

 

Renewed effort

 

An attempt to address issues concerning Thailand’s caves first appeared at the policy level in the 2000s when a national cave management committee was appointed. However, since a new bureaucratic structure took place – which resulted in the separation of the Royal Forestry and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation – the committee has not functioned and nobody knows whether it still exists, Chaiporn said.

 

Some 16 caves, along with another 263 natural spots, were selected and subjected to environmental evaluation following the declaration of the year of natural resources and environmental protection by the cabinet in 1989.

 

The criteria for evaluation, which is supposed to be conducted yearly, was developed and put in place by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Planning.

 

It was not until last year that the National Parks Department issued an order to evaluate caves under its supervision, with the results expected in August this year. The department also produced a manual concerning cave management for its staff that introduces cave character, experiences from foreign countries, and others. It also notes that caves in Thailand’s parks largely have not been thoroughly surveyed and studied, classified, or evaluated for management.

 

The near-tragedy at the Tham Luang cave has reignited the call for policy directives and plans to deal with the threat posed by the country’s caves.

 

On June 27, the Cabinet resolved to provide directives concerning disaster risk management in recreational spots in the country to concerned ministries including the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

 

The ministry was assigned to work with other concerned agencies to come up with prevention, preparation, and problem-solving measures to better deal with hazards and disasters that may occur in recreational spots nationwide, including waterfalls, caves, and others. 

 

Rehearsals were also required so that the public can cope with any situation that may arise.

 

In response to the new government directives, the National Parks Department, which is mostly responsible for caves that are opened for the public, decided to issue a new order to set up a cave management and development committee. It invited experts from various departments to help in the task.

 

National Parks chief Thanya Netithammakul said he had also instructed his staff to conduct detailed surveys on caves under their supervision.

 

Other risk-prone nature spots under the department’s supervision were also monitored and if risks were imminent they would be closed, he said.

 

Thanya expected that in the future there would be a management plan to help guide a response in risk-prone cave areas.

 

At Tham Luang, the department would be responsible for rehabilitation after the painstaking rescue operation.

 

As well, there would be a management plan that Thanya hoped would help shape new prevention and safety measures for visitors to Tham Luang in addition to upgrade the national park.

 

“We have had a hard lesson. In front of caves, from now on, our staff will be standing by, but visitors, on the other hand, should also have knowledge about their visits before leaving home. If not, please ask,” said Thanya.

 

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/national/30350523

 

 
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-- © Copyright The Nation 2018-07-21
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Flash on the pan, but not to worry it will so pass

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7 hours ago, rooster59 said:

Unknown danger in Thailand’s caves

Overtime at the TAT. New sink tank working on plans to promote 'Evil Spirit Tourism'.

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7 hours ago, rooster59 said:

Unknown danger in Thailand’s caves

Since a week ago ?  Doubtful.  The whole world knows now.

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1 minute ago, Krataiboy said:

Watch out for the Minotaur.

I think with TAT getting involved, the closest you'll likely get to that is a Mini-Tour.

 

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The main danger now , is that morons who walk this Planet of ours will try to be like the heroes of the Cave rescue and start trying to become " Potholers and Cavers " in these caves all across Thailand.

Its why the caves in the UK are locked and gated, and entry is only allowed to registered Guides and their parties of cavers under stringent conditions.

Gate and lock all of them,. Thats the only sure way these caves will be safe. There is no need at all to spend loads of time and money Mapping the caves.

Why ? so you will know the way in next time to rescue somebody that really doesnt have a clue how dangerous these places are.

 

 

 

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18 minutes ago, Cake Monster said:

The main danger now , is that morons who walk this Planet of ours will try to be like the heroes of the Cave rescue and start trying to become " Potholers and Cavers " in these caves all across Thailand.

Its why the caves in the UK are locked and gated, and entry is only allowed to registered Guides and their parties of cavers under stringent conditions.

Gate and lock all of them,. Thats the only sure way these caves will be safe. There is no need at all to spend loads of time and money Mapping the caves.

Why ? so you will know the way in next time to rescue somebody that really doesnt have a clue how dangerous these places are.

 

 

 

Just put out a warning 

The wild boars were the last person's who will be rescued from a cave 

If anyone else gets into trouble, you're on your own

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1 hour ago, Cake Monster said:

The main danger now , is that morons who walk this Planet of ours will try to be like the heroes of the Cave rescue and start trying to become " Potholers and Cavers " in these caves all across Thailand.

Its why the caves in the UK are locked and gated, and entry is only allowed to registered Guides and their parties of cavers under stringent conditions.

Gate and lock all of them,. Thats the only sure way these caves will be safe. There is no need at all to spend loads of time and money Mapping the caves.

Why ? so you will know the way in next time to rescue somebody that really doesnt have a clue how dangerous these places are.

 

 

 

Only the major caves in the UK are locked and gated.  There are many smaller ones that are not  - and perhaps with a bit of digging some of these small ones could turn out to be quite substantial... and new cave's are being discovered all the time by amateurs (do a u-tube search for "Ogof Marros", as an example).

 

Thailand has not been as extensively "mapped" as the UK, and there are probably thousands of unknown caves, still waiting to be discovered or the few known ones extended.  I understand that over 100 entrances were found on the top of the mountain above just the Tham Luang cave.  I read that one was at least 600m deep, in a number of separate pitches, although most of the hole were small and short (but could perhaps be developed further). 

 

Perhaps what T/L needs are some (more?) registered caving clubs to encourage safe caving practices and to ensure that inexperienced people don't get caught out.  I'm sure there are many great cave systems still to be discovered, along with some of scientific or archeological interest.   We should be encouraging the Thais to develop these resources (whilst there is international interest),  but in a safe manner.

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“Unknown danger in Thailand’s caves

Nothing surprising here. Public access to roads has been around much longer and it appears that the danger posed by driving on  them is still unknown.

Edited by jaltsc
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18 hours ago, rooster59 said:

According to the Mineral Resources Department, around 2,500 caves have been surveyed and located in its geological map and 307 caves have been identified by the Tourism Department as open to visitors

Visitors are welcome in rainy season. 

No problem, we will rescue you.

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I just don't understand people who go into caves that are not declared safe. It is a place made by force of nature and therefore natural laws imply: floods, collapses, slippery slopes, unexpected holes, poinenous animals, toxic gasses and whatever nature can produce. You go in, you do on your own risc. It is not a building, constructed to look like a cave.

That's why I think it is a good thing that there will be a movie about the whole drama. Not to glorify the footballteam, but to show the public that walking into a cave ,without any knowledge and special guidance, it is a risky visit.

A few years ago I visited a cave nearby in Saam Roi Yot, together with my wife. The park was garded, but the cave not. We got a flashlight that we could strap around the head and that's all. We went via a steel wiggly stairs into the cave and were surrounded by darkness, in front of us some black holes. 

Then we did what our feelings told us to: turn around and get out. To be honoust: I think my wife was the first one to turn around. I would have been stupid enough to go just a little further. I followed my wife. A cave is not worth dying for.

Edited by Thaijack2014
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On 7/21/2018 at 6:25 PM, steve73 said:

Only the major caves in the UK are locked and gated.  There are many smaller ones that are not  - and perhaps with a bit of digging some of these small ones could turn out to be quite substantial... and new cave's are being discovered all the time by amateurs (do a u-tube search for "Ogof Marros", as an example).

 

Thailand has not been as extensively "mapped" as the UK, and there are probably thousands of unknown caves, still waiting to be discovered or the few known ones extended.  I understand that over 100 entrances were found on the top of the mountain above just the Tham Luang cave.  I read that one was at least 600m deep, in a number of separate pitches, although most of the hole were small and short (but could perhaps be developed further). 

 

Perhaps what T/L needs are some (more?) registered caving clubs to encourage safe caving practices and to ensure that inexperienced people don't get caught out.  I'm sure there are many great cave systems still to be discovered, along with some of scientific or archeological interest.   We should be encouraging the Thais to develop these resources (whilst there is international interest),  but in a safe manner.

For Thailand to have registered Caving Clubs and an effective Policing Policy of the Caves, there has to a radical change in the culture here.

Anybody that thinks this will happen any time soon is really dreaming.

Yes, we would all love to see the resources used to there full potential, and under safe conditions, but this being Thailand there would be a Cave rescue such as the one we have just experienced nearly every week.

 

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