GIS and Bermuda Cave Conservation
Over the past century, the health and environmental well being of Bermuda's unique caves has been threatened by vandalism of speleothems, dumping of trash, cesspit seepage, quarrying for limestone, and most recently, deep well sewage injection. These actions have involved individuals, private companies, and governmental organizations. The 150 known caves found on the island are precious, non-renewable resources that have taken thousands to millions of years to form.
However, most damage to the caves and their endemic fauna is permanent and will never be repaired. In order to raise public awareness of the island's caves and cave animals and to document threats to this fragile habitat, the Bermuda Cave and Karst Information System (BeCKIS) was erected as a component of the Bermuda Zoological Society's Bermuda Biodiversity Project. BeCKIS will compile data on the biological, geological, and hydrological characteristics of the caves. This information will be entered, along with other biological, geological, topographical, land use, and environmental data into a comprehensive GIS database composed of interrelated layers that can be queried.
The first portion of this study will begin in Summer 2002 and involves replication of a survey of all Bermuda's caves performed by Dr. Tom Iliffe in 1983. In an effort aimed at accessing the degree of environmental change occurring over the last two decades, each cave on the island will be qualitatively evaluated for both positive (e.g., speleothems, biology, and historical significance) and negative aspects (e.g., pollution, dumping, vandalism and quarrying threats). GPS coordinate readings of each cave entrance will accurately determine their location and distribution. Digital pictures taken in each cave will be linked to the GIS to enhance the numerical data. These photographs also will be used in presentations to justify why the caves are important and ought to be conserved and protected.
Once the fieldwork has been completed, both 1983 and 2002
data sets will be added to the Biodiversity Project's existing GIS database. By
comparing the current data to the previous survey, it should be possible to
determine the type and magnitude of environmental changes and prepare lists of
the most significant, most endangered and most damaged caves on the island. Since
many of Bermuda's more than 80 endemic marine cave species are known
only from a single cave and no where else on Earth, it is critical to evaluate
threats to the caves so that remedial actions can be taken before pollution or
destruction of the cave habitat results in the extinction of these species.