Belize

Braving the Cave

by Marissa Minnick
Boone, NC, United States

Traveling from Belize City to Punta Gorda, our three-Jeep caravan pulled over at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. Having just arrived at the site of St. Herman’s Cave, we began furiously applying bug spray with the promise that it would ward off the jungle pests. Once we were fully prepared to meet these anticipated creatures, we began our hike to the cave.

Hiking Through the Jungle

Along the trail, I was fascinated with the canopy of green trees and vibrant yellow flowers stretching to meet the horizon. The jungle presented itself as calm and endearing, shading us from the sun’s rays with its overlapping leaves. Immediately, my misconception of swarms of jungle bugs began to melt and was replaced with the unfolding beauty of our surrounding scenery.

Soon our walk ended, and a small clearing in the forest greeted our group with a sign pointing towards the cave. We began the slight ascent up to the cave’s opening.

Discovering the Cave

Visible from an overlook, St. Herman’s Cave awaited us down a length of stone carved steps and vines dangling from the cliff above. Although our group only paused along the outskirt of the cave, where daylight met the cave’s dark cavern, I could peer into its opening to see stalactites and stalagmites developing in the cave’s interior. The stalactites, hanging from cave’s ceiling, and stalagmites, protruding from the cave’s earth, are said to grow at a rate of one inch per 800 years.

As we turned our backs to the cave to begin our trek back to the Jeeps, the cool cave air reached through the opening and brushed the backs of our legs. I cannot wait to return!

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Math Questions

  1. How many years would it take for a stalactite to measure 3 feet from its base on the ceiling to its tip?
  2. How many years would it take for a stalagmite to measure 2.5 feet from the its base on the earth to its tip?

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Extension Questions

Read the supplementary resource on white-nose syndrome and respond to the following questions:

  1. Combining your knowledge about white-nose syndrome and the fact that bats live in St. Herman’s Cave, explain the potential consequences of allowing humans to tour the cave.
  2. Consider the effect of tourism on Belize’s economy. Predict any impacts of not allowing tourists to explore caves in Belize. Identify any conflicts between tourism and bat conservation.
  3. Create and explain a possible white-nose syndrome prevention program for St. Herman’s Cave.

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Resources

  1. Source for stalactite and stalagmite growth rates
  2. Supplementary information on white-nose syndrome
  3. Ted Radio Hour podcast on exploration, featuring cave explorer Bill Stone

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