Carlsbad Caverns: A Lesson of Imperfect Sustainability


On our way to Hawaii, (flying out of Portland, OR) we decided we wanted to take the opportunity to visit as many National Parks as we could in the two and a half weeks before our flight. Our first stop was Carlsbad Caverns. We tried to get video and take pictures, but there was just no way to properly capture the magnificence of that cave. Between me and my son, we got over 1200 pictures and a few hours of video. Still, it just seems that any video or gallery we try could never do the cavern justice. However towards the end of the tour I spotted a sign that summarized what Plastic Free Sea is trying to teach.

The sign said,

An Imperfect Balance”

“People have impacted the cavern since it’s discovery. An excellent idea to blast a tunnel through this wall for automobile tours never came to light. But the alternative, an elevator shaft, caused the cavern to dry out. Airlocks installed in the 1970’s rebalanced the cavern’s natural humidity. Building atop the cavern system has also caused problems. A recent renovation addressed groundwater contamination from deteriorating sewer lines among other concerns.”



In the early 1900’s, a conservationist named Stephen Tyng Mather campaigned to create the National Park Service, which he was appointed to lead in 1917. In 1923, Carlsbad Caverns was established as a National Monument.

Conservation is a tricky business that requires balance. On one hand, you have to share the beautiful wonders with the world to give a place value and create revenue for conservation efforts. In north San Antonio, Texas, a subdivision was build on top of a cave system because people didn’t see the value of preserving the cave that was home to endangered bats. Commercial progress rarely respects natural beauty unless someone finds a way to make money with proper stewardship, which typically requires tourism. On the other hand, more people means more impact on the very thing your trying to save.