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How Do Humans Effect Cave Microbes? Picture of Cleaning Boots at the entrance to Bat Cave--Carlsbad Cavern

  1. We bring in microbes on our bodies that aren't native to the cave.
  2. We bring inadditional organic matter into the cave in the form of skin, hair, food, lint, urine, and possibly even feces. You are shedding ten thousandskin fragments per minute! This additional organic matter does the most harm. When you feed cave microbes more food they don't just get “fatter,” they often die because they are adapted to living in an environment without a lot of food. If we add too much organic matter, the cave habitat will cease to be a good place for native bacteria to live; it will become, instead, a good place for non-native surface microbes to thrive!

So How Do You Conserve Cave Microbes?

If you plan to visit a cave there are several things you can do to help keep the cave environment a good place for the native microbes to live:

  1. Wear clean clothes and boots and be clean yourself. This is a picture of a good caver cleaner their boots.
    Picture of Cleaning Boots at the entrance to Bat Cave--Carlsbad Cavern
  2. Wear synthetic fabrics, which are much less yummy to microbes than is cotton.
  3. Carry your own water and don't drink from pools.
  4. Carry out all poop, spit, pee, and vomit. Carry a gallon plastic bag, wet wipes, and plastic wrap with you at all times for emergencies (Unexpected running from either end!).
  5. Eat over a gallon bag so you don't drop crumbs. What's a crumb to you is a supermarket to a microbe!
  6. Limit activities that shed parts of you, such as head scratching, picking your nose, etc.
  7. Walk where others have walked to avoid compacting the soil any more than it is. Even rocks may have microbial communities living on them that you can't see, so stick to areas that have already been trod on.
  8. Don't camp in caves.

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What Threatens Caves