Images of plastic pollution in caves


Active member
Does anyone have any good images of visible plastic pollution in caves? I'm not thinking solely of plastic left there by cavers, but more of stuff that has been washed into a cave from the outside. Images from any cave anywhere in the world, please say where they are from.

I'd like to use them in something I'm writing about plastic pollution in remote places. If you're happy for me to use a photo you post here for this purpose (I will credit you of course) then I'd be extremely grateful.

And if anyone knows of any studies that have been done into plastic pollution, and specifically microplastic pollution, in caves, then I'd be very grateful if you could direct me to them :)

Pete K

Well-known member
I don't have any pics I'm afraid, but I often use a very cheap UV light in places like Giant's Hole to show groups the microplastics that are on every surface. They generally take the form of tiny fibres that are impossible to see under normal lighting conditions but are clearly visible under UV. It's been a great way of educating kids and adults as to what the term microplastics really means.
I'd offer to go out and take some pics for you, but we'd need to wait until lockdown is over if that is not too late for you.


Active member
Hi Pete, thanks for that. I'd certainly like to see some pictures once we can return to caves if you're still keen!


Well-known member
No photographs, I'm afraid, but now that Bojo will soon be letting us off our leash a trip into Goyden with a camera would produce dividends. Mostly farming feed sacks, but with a fair assortment of other material that has been washed in from the few habitations upstream.


I have been involved in microplastics research and when we were down Notts Pot before Cov 19 I was waiting at a pitch head and noticed a dry hollowed out rock-pool which was full of fine gravel. Mixed into it was a very photogenic assortment of different coloured very fine microplastic particles.

Was going to go back with a sample vial and camera and use this as in presentations as a novel example. Then the world went mad.

I am not aware of any studies done specifically in caves so you are definitely barking up the right tree here.


Active member
blackshiver said:
I have been involved in microplastics research and when we were down Notts Pot before Cov 19 I was waiting at a pitch head and noticed a dry hollowed out rock-pool which was full of fine gravel. Mixed into it was a very photogenic assortment of different coloured very fine microplastic particles.

Was going to go back with a sample vial and camera and use this as in presentations as a novel example. Then the world went mad.

I am not aware of any studies done specifically in caves so you are definitely barking up the right tree here.

I have also seen similar pools in caves across the 3 counties system, but didn't think much of it at the time (have only just started to really think about microplastics).

I've found only one study on microplastics in karst environments, from last year, from the US. It's behind a paywall but if you want it let me know and I will send it over. The Slovenians at the Karst Research Institute in Postojna seem to be doing something but are yet to publish the results. Maybe I will send them an email...

Having done a good browse of the literature lately I'd say that our knowledge of the spread of microplastics on land is much reduced than our record of them in the oceans, quite incredible considering. I think a cave science project to try and look at microplastics in both cave sediments and dripwater would be very interesting. Particularly interesting would be how effective the epikarst is at filtering microplastics, and how different recharge conditions affect microplastic dispersal in the cave environment. Lots to learn...


Well-known member
I've not got any but I've seen many, so i'm sure some will float along soon. Try some of the international Facebook groups too.

It's not plastic per se, but here's some awesome photos of pollutants a mine:


Active member
Just the kind of footage I was hoping for, cheers  (y) Not a fan of the pollution though. I had heard from other China expeds of rivers where debris like that formed a major constituent of the surface flow...


The streamway in Stoke Lane Slocker is pretty littered with (mostly) plastic rubbish that has washed in over the decades. I assume that this is because it is downstream of a village.

Last year some time, I managed to completely fill a large tackle bag between sump 1 and the entrance, though I didn't take any pictures. Most of the rubbish appears to be many years old.

My favourite find (which is now on the shelf in my workshop) was a well preserved Special Brew can, wedged in the roof. The alcohol content is stated in specific gravity not ABV if that helps anyone put a date on it...

It is still awful beyond sump 1...



Staff member
I'll try to hunt out some pictures from another cave 'found' on the same trip to China as Pegasus's video. This had amazing layers of plastic debris in riverside sediment banks.  Both located in Weixin County, Yunnan, China.


New member
Jackdaw hole had a lot of plastic in the entrance pot, mostly in the form of feed sacks that had been blown (I naively hope) in from the surface.  We did a cave clean up there last year, where it was interesting to see that the plastic had begun to decompose, meaning when you tried to pick up the plastics sacks they'd often crumble to shards in your hands. We did get the vast majority of the pieces though. I don't have pictures of the shards, although I wish I had.

Not sure if this is what you're after, as we're in the process of picking bits of it up, but here's a picture of a us clearing away some of the plastic from a very small cave just next to Jackdaw.

Not plastic, but just because of the mention of special brew, I thought i'd include a picture of one of our more interesting finds (in Jackdaw).



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Ian P

Staff member
Last year one of our D of E groups was doing a litter pick as their ?Aim?.
This was in conjunction with the BMC?s ? H2O? campaign.

When the route passed over the top of Malham cove, I set the challenge to litter pick from the Grikes. They took to it really well and spent a couple of hours clearing them out.
Using the litter pickers provided by the BMC and some long arms they got very deep and uncovered some really old and odd rubish (condom wrappers !)

I didn?t want the litter to get into the master cave below to spoil it for the imminent break through once the divers get their fingers out  ;)



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Well-known member
Not sure about one of these but the other cave (apart from the obvious) was full of plastic items as a surface shakehole had been used as a dumping ground for years. I first heard about the cave from a lecture by John Gunn many years ago but only tracked it down in the last 10. A fine cave apart from the rubbish.


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Roger W

Well-known member
Those feed sacks that DaveK mentioned set me thinking.

I had been in the way of thinking "Plastics don't biodegrade, therefore plastic items like feed sacks, rope and nets, and other stuff will just sit around for the next couple of millenia."

But now I'm thinking - "Look, these plastic items are breaking down and disintegrating!" - but then, "disintegrating into what?  One relatively easily retrievable feed sack disintegrating into goodness knows how many small fragments of plastic - and where will they end up?

If we must use plastic stuff, we do need to be very careful about how we dispose of it!


Another from China. This was in Xinu Dong in An Long County, Guizhou. The roof pendants initially looked like formations, but then we realised they were all carrier bags and pieces of plastic. This is just one area of them, but they extended >100 m upstream.

Hopefully Chris doesn't mind me posting his photo here.


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The international standards of biodegradability are a real mess and don't really mean anything useful. Trying to work out what the official test is for your product, if there is one, is a major exercise and is often not possible. And the regulations never talk about what it is biodegrading into, a breaking down of the molecule is usually enough, but that's not always a good thing as you could go from non-hazardous to hazardous, or from easily removable feed bags to a soup of microplastic that gets into the food chain.

P.S. the conditions in the official tests, if you manage to find one, are so far away from the real world that they often don't correlate at all to the real world. Biodegradability depends on many many factors and circumstances. When you read on your shopping bag or coffee cup that it biodegrades that is often completely meaningless.


Active member
The airbell between the free-dives in Old Ing is chock full of those 25L chemical containers, all wedged in the ceiling and cross-rift. It's an interesting demonstration of how they get washed in with floodwater and stuck in all the obscure nooks and crannies.

Jenny P

Active member
I can remember a caving holiday in Co. Clare, some years ago now, and the Cottage we were staying in didn't have a rubbish collection - instead, you had to bag up your rubbish and take the bags down to Ballyvaughan rubbish tip.  Then we realised that the locals were better than us at getting rid of rubbish the easy way - can't recall the name of the cave but we found its shakehole entrance, tucked away up an obscure forest track, but completely filled with dumped fridges, washing machines, freezers, etc.

Orpheus Caving Club, way back in 1965, had a mega clean-up in Giants Hole - and remember this was in the days of the Curtain, Pillar Crawl and Backwash Sump.  (It wasn't long after the Donna Carr rescue when all sorts of kit had been abandoned down the cave.)  We used fertilizer bags to collect the rubbish and a team of us collected 25 fertilizer bags completely full of assorted rubbish (including corrugated iron, a sledge hammer, telephone wire, disintegrating boiler suits, etc.) which we brought out of the cave and loaded onto a farm trailer kindly lent us by Tom Watson.  Don't know what he did with it thereafter though.

In both cases we did have photos but I'm afraid they are long lost now.