The secrets of Calbiga caves
CALBIGA, Samar – What more are there to discover inside the Calbiga Caves? Already, beautiful stalactites, stalagmites and other natural formations as well as cave bats, spiders, snakes and blind fishes and crabs had been found inside the cave complex.
So far, there has been no buried treasures nor ancient writings on the walls found inside these caves.
But the Calbiga Caves could still provide clues on changes in climate and hydrology through time via their depositional characteristics.
Just last April, a team of “some of the best European speleologists and cave divers” explored the Calbiga Caves for nearly a month. Accompanied by four Samareño cavers, including noted local spelunker Joni Abesamis Bonifacio, the caving expedition aimed, among others, to confirm an earlier theory that the municipality of Calbiga, and possibly the whole Samar Island, is crisscrossed by underground rivers.
The foreigners were Matteo Rivadossi (team leader), Italian; Guido Rossi (geologist) Italian; Alessandro Gatti (film maker/cave diver), Italian; Gigi Casati (cave diver), Italian; Marc Vandermeulen (cave diver), Belgian; Rok Stopar (cave explorer/doctor), Slovenian; Maria Tikka (lady cave explorer), Russian; Jean Paul Sounier (cave explorer/cave diver), French; Merigo Davide (cave explorer), Italian; Tristan Godet (cave explorer) French; and Panizzon Stefano Lillo (cave explorer), Italian.
The cave expedition was organized by Odissea Naturavventura and composed of Gruppo Grotte Brescia – a team-up of two Italian caving associations. It has a permission from the Department Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and municipality of Calbiga to explore the caves.
Some of these foreigners have been to Calbiga Caves in the past, like Rivadossi, Rossi, Sounier, Godet and Lillo who discovered in 2009 a 6-kilometer pristine cave that “has many branches connecting to a long and beautiful underground river.” The cave was Camparina-Ludi Bito-Burabod Cave.
Also in 2009, a 3-man team of foreign cave divers, composed of Bruce Konefe (American), Thomas Bodis (German) and William Hudson (American), discovered the Lurodpon Cave, after diving on a submerge cave passage and navigating underwater through the Langun-Gobingob cave system.
This year, the target in Calbiga of the foreign cavers were to explore the Langun-Gobingob Cave, Camparina-Ludi Bito-Burabod Cave, the Lurodpon Cave as well as the Calidungan Spring and the Balogo Spring.
A favorite destination of cavers, the Calbiga Caves could be reached by a one-and-a-half hour hike on a foot trail from the Calbiga town proper, which is located about 52 km from Tacloban City.
The Calbiga Caves cover some 2,968 hectares and is said to be the largest karst in the country and one of the largest in East Asia. The cave system is composed of 12 caves, including Gobingob Cave, Langun Cave and Bitong Mahangin that boast of giant columns of stalactites and stalagmites, unique rock formations, underground water courses and springs.
The cave system was first explored in 1987 by a team of Italian speleologists, who said that Langun, the main cave, has a chamber that is 270 meters long and 160 meters wide in its largest point. This could easily fit three football fields.
Gobingob Cave, on the other hand, has a huge hall with beautiful stalagmite, stalactite and flewstone formations, while Bitong Mahangin has a single dry tunnel on the bottom of which lies a lush forest.
A protected area, the Calbiga Caves complex is also the habitat of rare species of blind crabs and the 7-cm long hypogean blind fish. At dusk, hundred of thousands of bats could be seen hovering over the cave entrance.
The Italian cavers also noted in 1987 that the Calbiga Caves complex has a “truly exceptional hydrogeological karst” with more than 20 watercourses being swallowed by the cave system.
Farther east of the Calbiga Caves, near Barangay Caamlongan, could be found another cave system. Discovered and explored in March and April 2002 by a team of French and Italian cavers led by Sounier, the cave system is called Canyawa Cave (Devil’s Cave). It consists of 15 galleries of distinctive features and underground rivers.
The Samar 2011: International Cave and Dive Caving in the Philippines, as the cave expedition in Calbiga last April 2011 was officially called, did not produce much good results as the cavers were hampered by bad weather.
“Sadly, 45 days of rain has caused the river to become murky with zero visibility. It was then impossible to check in Calidungan,” a lake fed by the Magtingol River, according to Rivadossi, team leader of the 2011 cave expedition.
He says the final result of their cave expedition was “the reconstruction of the underground hydrographic net(work) from the inlet of Palaspas River into the 10 km cave system (Langun-Gobingob) to Balogo Spring.”
While waiting for the weather to improve, they went to others caves in Pinabacdao and Matuguinao, both Samar towns.
“Once again, Samar granted us another big adventure. This has been a fulfilling struggle to find a good excuse to pass through caves and enter into the vast world of nature’s magnificent phenomena!” says Rivadossi of their Samar caving expedition.
He adds: “The objective of this geographical activity is to discover the unexplored side of the earth where no satellite nor robot can ever see. The cavers are not paid for their extraordinary curiosity. The passion and intrigue on the magical possibilities and to search for new discoveries in the underground river (from the top to the spring) have become their passion for years. With the cave exploration, it’s possible to make a deep investigation about the biology, hydrology or geology” of the Calbiga Caves.
Recently, Calbiga Mayor Melchor Nacario discloses that American researchers from the University of Texas in the US have recently communicated with him, signifying their intention to conduct a study of the the Calbiga Caves in relation to climate change.
Nacario, however, says the scientists did not give him details of what they would actually be doing inside the Calbiga Caves.
In their studies of climate change, however, some scientists are said to have explored caves to study stalagmites, which are known as “archive” of the climate history — dating back tens of thousands years – in a particular area. The caves hold records that could provide clue to climate change.
Stalagmites are formed as rain water, mixed with calcium carbonate and other elements, makes its way through the ground and onto the cave floor, creating in time a column of rock. Scientists would then cut open the stalagmite, study its chemical content to determine the relative moisture of the climate at various periods in history, starting from the the oldest layers at the bottom to the present at the top.
By analyzing stalagmites, the pilar-like rock formations that stem from the ground in caves, scientists were able to produce a high-resolution and continuous record of the climate in a particular area. The process is quite similar to charting climate variability by studying tree rings. But unlike stalagmites, trees don’t live long.
On May 27-29, a caving expedition organized by Bonifacio’s Trexplorer group will once again hold a caving expedition inside the Calbiga Caves.
Aside from the fun and excitement the Calbiga caves network gives to cavers, it could also gives us clues as to what happened in the past in relation to the present.
BY VEN LABRO
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