George Veni is an internationally recognized hydrogeologist specializing in caves and karst terrains having conducted extensive karst research throughout the United States and in several other countries. He is Executive Director of the US National Cave and Karst Research Institute and was elected President of the International Union of Speleology (UIS) in 2017.
❓ Why caves, and what is karst?
❓ What is the importance of the caves and karst system to the biodiversity of the planet?
❓ Do caves and karst need more visibility in the minds of policy-makers and the public?
What have you accomplished in 2021, during the first half of the International Year (2021 – 2022)?
The greatest achievement lies in new partnerships. We currently have 258 national and international partner organizations from 50 countries, including the ISC. Without partners, a successful International Year of Caves and Karst (IYCK) would neither be possible nor impactful. Together, we have made 2021 a success for the Year by carrying the theme of “Explore, Understand, Protect” around the world.
This year, we have – so far – organized over 360 events and activities together with our partners. We are yet to count all of the individuals who were engaged in the activities throughout 2021, but we estimate that we have reached over 50 million people through the events and activities as well as media outreach in 2021.
Several proclamations were made by cities, states, and provinces in multiple countries. In addition, many books are being written and completed on or in dedication to the International Year. Strangely, the pandemic has helped the International Year to increase its outreach since most of the events were organized online, enabling people to engage from anywhere in the world, in real time or post-event through the published recordings.
The most important IYCK event was held in September 2021 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France – under the patronage of UNESCO – where we were invited to celebrate with UNESCO ambassadors, staff, and other dignitaries as well as with hundreds of people joining via Zoom and YouTube. ISC Past-Secretary Dr. Alik Ismail-Zadeh moderated the event, which very much energized the cave and karst community to continue promoting the importance of caves and karst throughout 2022.
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What is planned for 2022?
We will certainly continue to conduct more events and activities and seek to establish additional partnerships. From what we learned in 2021, even if pandemic conditions will allow us to organize local in-person events, they will need to be conducted in a hybrid format with an online component to ensure the participation of people from all over the world.
One of our 2022 highlights and the major event for the International Year will certainly be the UIS International Congress of Speleology, which is scheduled to be held from 24 – 31 July 2022 in the heart of Savoie (France) at the foot of the Bauges Massive, a UNESCO World Geopark. Since we are expecting many from the UIS community to attend, we will be holding the closing ceremonies of the International Year during the congress, however, this will only be in a ceremonial frame since the Year will continue until December 2022.
Most importantly, we will aim to engage with new friends at UNESCO and globally throughout 2022 to create measurable and impactful results from the International Year that will extend for decades beyond. At the UNESCO celebration in 2021, we encouraged UNESCO in particular to consider inventorying karst, caves, and their contents in protected areas to assure adequate protection measures (this tends to be forgotten because caves and karst are oftentimes hidden and still poorly understood).
Moreover, we invite everyone to join the UIS in 2022 and beyond by supporting our initiative to establish an international ban on the trade of cave materials, such as speleothems, animals, bones and cultural items. These materials cannot be harvested sustainably from caves – their displacement is permanent and their removal from cave ecosystems causes great losses to science and society.
The International Year of Caves and Karst is organized by the International Union of Speleology (UIS), an Affiliate Member of the International Science Council. The UIS and its 57 member counties are joined by (as of 8 December 2021) 258 partnering organizations from around the world in celebrating the International Year of Caves and Karst, which thus far have conducted over 360 events and have many more planned.
Photo: Cave Skalarjevo brezno in Slovenia by Peter Gedei