The Thailand Project

John Spies explores the Tham Lod cave in Pang Mapha, Thailand.
John Spies explores the Tham Lod cave in Pang Mapha, Thailand. See more here.

25 years of progress: a personal retrospective


This material was presented at the 27th Biennial Conference of the Australian Speleological Federation Inc. at Sale, Victoria 4—9 January 2009 and is included in the proceedings, which are currently being produced as a DVD.


Twenty-four years ago I presented a paper at the ASF Conference in Hobart on the potential for speleological exploration in Thailand.

While there have been more than 60 publications deriving from the ensuing Thailand expeditions, this is the first overview of the whole project other than for a nostalgic record printed privately in 1999 for expedition participants only. This is a summary of a more comprehensive account of the Project published in Caves Australia in 2009 with a complete bibliography.

Not that we were first on the scene. Many caves in Thailand have been known to the local community for more than a thousand years, and monks explored deep within caves such as Tham Tab Tao north of Chiang Mai, but until very recently there was little indigenous interest in systematic documentation of caves and karst.

As late as 1982, the efforts of Austrian caver Heinrich Kusch, who had travelled widely in Thailand, resulted in a list of only 94 recorded caves.

By 1997, when I produced The Caves of Thailand, there were 2000. We now know of about 4000, still a fraction of the potential.

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Spéléo Secours Français

Pre-exercise safety brief
Pre-exercise safety brief

By PETER BUZZACOTT Ex-ASF member, now living in France

The Fédération Française De Spéléologie (FFS) celebrated their 50th anniversary last year (2013) and they are the French equivalent of the ASF.

Twice a year the six north-westernmost clubs hold weekend cave-rescue exercises, as do other regions right around the country.

Places are limited by logistics and so members of each club who apply are selected to attend. In November last year I was privileged to be accepted. Five per car, ten of us from the far west, arrived at the Grotte du Rey, just north of the village of St Georges sur Erve, in time for lunch. Old friendships were renewed over a crusty baguette, new faces were welcomed and each of us registered on the participant list in an abandoned stone cottage.

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I found something in a New Guinea ridge recently that fitted a very vague description I remembered of a cave formation called a snottite.

I don’t know if it is what I found but I thought it was an interesting, rather gross and obscure type of formation other people may find fascinating.

Snottites are colonies of single-celled extremophilic bacteria which hang from the walls and ceilings of caves and are similar to small stalactites, but have the consistency of snot, a slang word for nasal mucus.

The bacteria derive their energy from chemosynthesis of volcanic sulfur compounds including H2S and warm water solution dripping down from above, producing sulphuric acid. Because of this, their waste products are highly acidic (approaching pH=0), with similar properties to battery acid.1

Snottites were recently brought to attention by researchers Diana Northup and Penny Boston, studying them (and other organisms) in a toxic sulphur cave called Cueva de Villa Luz (Cave of the Lighted House), in Tabasco, Mexico.

The term ‘snottite’ was originally given to these cave features by Jim Pisarowicz in 1986.

Brian Cox’s BBC series ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ saw the scientist examining snottites in the caves and positing that, if there is life on Mars, it may be similarly primitive and hidden beneath the surface of the Red Planet.

  1. Hose L D, Pisarowcz J A. (1999) Cueva de Villa Luz, Tabasco, Mexico: reconnaissance study of an active sulphur spring cave and ecosystem. J Cave Karst Studies 61:13–21. (Thanks to Wikipedia)

White Nose Syndrome in bats

White Nose Syndrome fungus on Little Brown Bat
White Nose Syndrome fungus on Little Brown Bat

Recent information from the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer to ASF

By NICHOLAS WHITE ASF Conservation Commissioner

The Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, has appealed to the Australian speleological community (ASF) to be aware of the debilitating fungal ‘White Nose Syndrome’ (WNS) in bats.

Currently neither the syndrome nor the fungus has been identified in Australia. However if WNS were to occur here it could have similarly devastating effects on Australian bats as those in the US and Canada. Occasionally cave dwelling bats are submitted to animal health authorities in Australia due to unexplained deaths or illness, and these are now tested to rule out infection with WNS fungus.

Dr Schipp sees speleologists as having a vital role to play in preventing the entry of the fungus that causes WNS to Australia as we will be amongst the first to observe the disease if this happened. In recognition of this position, he has provided the article below which has the most up to date information about the disease, decontamination protocols and steps to take if evidence of the disease is observed.

Cavers and cave managers travelling internationally should avoid bringing in equipment used overseas, especially from areas where WNS is known.

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Pushing the ‘deepest’ sump in Australia

Janine kitting up at the sump. Chris Coxson photograph
Janine kitting up at the sump. Chris Coxson photograph

Khazad-Dum (JF-4/5) Sump II



The Junee-Florentine is the premier vertical caving area of Tasmania, and thus Australia. Khazad-Dum (KD) is a multi-pitch cave which terminates in a series of three sumps, which connect, at a depth of 293 m. It is the eighth-deepest cave in Australia.

Dwarrowdelf JF-14 is a nearby vertical cave which joins KD in a large chamber at the end of the vertical series, and at the start of the horizontal crawlway section, called The Depths of Moria, that bypasses Sump I and leads to Sumps II & III. Access to the sumps is best made through Dwarrowdelf.

The stream that cascades down the KD pitches last disappears in Sump II, and is next seen in Cauldron Pot JF-2, the next cave downstream.

Survey data suggest that the gap is about 100 m. Making the connection by diving has long been a dream amongst Tasmanian cavers; however, only two previous attempts to dive the sump have been made due to the logistical difficulties of getting the dive gear to the site.

Sump III is not, as the number suggests, the last sump in the downstream series, and thus not the obvious push choice.

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17th International Congress of Speleology (ICS) Down Under in 2017

By DENIS MARSH Speleo 2017 ICS Organising Commission

In July 2013, in the Czech Republic city of Brno, world delegates at the General Assembly meeting of the International Union of Speleology (UIS), voted to accept a proposal from ASF to hold their next International Congress of Speleology (ICS) in Australia in July, 2017.

What does this mean for ASF?

ASF (the host organisation) will be responsible for organising and conducting the 17th ICS in Australia (the host nation) for and on behalf of the UIS, in accordance with UIS requirements. The ASF Executive believes it is timely for Australia to increase its participation on the world stage for speleology and share what we do with the rest of the international community.

What is the UIS?

The Union Internationale de Spéléologie (in the original French) is the international body for caving and speleology. Formed during the 4th International Congress of Speleology in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, on September 16, 1965, the UIS is an association of persons (national delegates) authorised to represent the speleologists of the nations (member nations) affiliated to the Union.

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Exit Cave, Tasmania

Exit Cave entrance. Fraser Johnston photograph
Exit Cave entrance. Fraser Johnston photograph

D’Entrecasteaux River Sumps exploration 2013


Exit Cave is a large, multi-entrance system in Southern Tasmania. It is arguably the longest cave system in Australia. (Cue the arguments regarding Bullita in the NT.)

The cave has been known for many decades, and multiple expeditions and day trips have been undertaken to explore and survey it, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite all this attention no comprehensive map yet exists. That topic alone would warrant a book. Currently STC is undertaking a multi-year survey and map exercise, co-ordinated by Tony Veness.

The D’Entrecasteaux River rises in the Southern Ranges near Pindars Peak. It has a large catchment area and takes large volumes of water when the (frequent) rains are falling in the area. An anabranch sinks and resurges twice, before sinking a third time into the lower southern slopes of Marble Hill. The river reappears in D’Entrecasteaux Passage in Exit Cave.

Despite heavy visitation to the cave over the years, there has only been one attempt to connect the third D’Entrecasteaux River sink with the resurgence of the river inside the cave, several hundred metres in a straight line from where it sinks.

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Chasing Bat Calls on the Nullarbor

Chalinolobus gouldii — Gould’s wattled bat
Chalinolobus gouldii — Gould’s wattled bat

CLARE BUSWELL FUSSI | Insectivorous bat occurrence data from the Nullarbor bioregion are scant and largely based on capture records or observations in caves.

Currently eight species have been recorded (Table 1) (McKenzie and Robinson 1987; Kemper et al. in prep).

Many of these records were collected from the treed section of the Nullarbor Plain around Balladonia, Cocklebiddy, Madura and Eucla. An additional three species (asterisked in Table 1) are known from the fringes of the Nullarbor Plain proper (Kemper et al. in prep).

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Olwolgin Cave Revisited

Olwolgin Roots
Olwolgin Roots — Photograph by Richard Harris


On 6th October 2011, a remarkable thing happened when I decided to revisit a muddy pool of water I had last looked at almost ten years before.

The pool was in the entrance chamber of Olwolgin Cave, Roe Plains, Western Australia, where 2700 m of cave diving passages had been explored and mapped since it was first dived in 2002 by me and Andy Nelson (CEGWA). While all the diving and exploration was being done from the ‘main’ (north-east = upstream) pool, the ‘other’ (south-west) pool had been ignored.

Olwolgin Downstream map 1
Olwolgin Downstream map 1

At the bottom of the ‘other’ pool, an awkward restriction was negotiated which led to a further 80 m of silty and reasonably small cave-diving passage.

Later that same afternoon, with full 7-litre cylinders and reels of knotted guideline, my primary dive buddy, Alan Polini (CEGWA) and I extended the new line straight into large phreatic conduit for several hundred metres with no end in sight. Turning on our thirds, we left an exploration reel tied off to the top of a large rock in the middle of a big tunnel.

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