By Ferdinando Didonna

The use of natural and artificial hypogea as illegal landfills is unfortunately a widespread phenomenon. Damage caused to the karst environment and to deep water resources is incalculable.

Puliamo il Buio (Clean Up the Dark) initiative of the Italian Speleological Society (SSI), now in its 15th edition, aims to bring a light into the dark and report risk situations in a timely, detailed manner to initiate possible solutions. Since 2005, SSI coordinates the events at the end of September throughout the Italian territory with the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) in collaboration with caving associations, companies, local authorities, and municipalities. Hundreds of cavers, speleologists, municipal administrators, and local residents participate.

The initiative, linked by collaboration with Puliamo il Mundo (Clean up the World) from Legambiente-Italy, aims to document natural as well as artificial caves while cleaning up the trash remaining from centuries of human use. The Census of Cavities at Environmental Risk is the fundamental node of Puliamo il Buio and provides a base for collaboration in protecting environmental and water resources, reducing waste, enhancing natural habitats, and fighting against illegal landfills.

Puliamo il Buio counts on a web platform with a register of caves. To date, 171 initiatives have been realized with 85,384 caver-hours donated by speleologists to safely extract waste materials such as plastic residues, glass, metal residues, cardboard, wood, chemicals, and other rubbish. A global sum of 162,680 kg (179 tons) of waste has been removed with an economic volunteer value up to $2,040,801.24 USD.

In addition to cave clean-up activities, educational and outreach events such as conferences, presentations, and round tables are held to disseminate our message and help prevent future cave and karst contamination.

About Me

Graduated in forestry sciences from Bari in1998, today I work in cooperation with Latin America countries as a consultant for a European technical assistance company in the fields of rural and social development, economics, and environment. In 2002, I specialized in rural development with a Master’s degree from Universidad Estatal a Distancia, UNED Costa Rica, and then in micro-finance in 2009 from Université Libre de Bruxelles, ULB Belgium. Honorary member of Gruppo Puglia Grotte (GPG), full member and member of the Board of the Italian Speleological Society (SSI), member of Grupo Espeleologico Anthros (GEA) of Costa Rica, and member of the National Speleological Society (NSS #67673).

In Italy, I joined the GPG of Castellana Grotte (Ba) in 1983 and the SSI in 1989. As treasurer of the Puglia Speleological Federation from 1996–1998, I dedicated myself to supporting and participating in the reactivation of Regional Law LR 32/86 on speleology and cave protection. I have always participated in the development of speleology through various leadership positions, with a strong interest in biospeleology and the protection of caves. I was a Soccorso Nazionale Alpino e Speleologico (CNSAS) cave rescue technician from 1989–1998, and I also served as the Scuola di Speleologia CNSS-SSI as an instructor and director of first-level caving programs at the School of Speleology of Castellana Grotte.

In 2002, I organized the first of a long series of speleology didactic programs of various levels with the Anthros Group (GEA) of Costa Rica (www.anthros.org) and the NSS. We focused programs on the principle that more knowledge leads to more protection. In Costa Rica, I also led the development of an electronic cave registry, which was based on the speleobase software of the Belgian speleologist Paul de Bie and translated into Spanish. Since 2008 I have collaborated with Ecokarst, a trimestral publication of the Commission Wallonne d’Etude et de Protection des Sites Souterrains CWEPSS and was a member of the board in 2009–2010.

In Central America, I have carried out various activities: two speleological expeditions in Honduras, the first regional caving congress, various courses in El Salvador, and caving training days in Nicaragua and Guatemala. In 2009, I also coordinated a study in Guatemala for the National Tourism Institute for tourist and religious cave management and protection. Currently, I am leading the Cave Animal of the Year campaign in Italy and the Clean Up the Dark initiative for SSI. This year, I also successfully initiated and coordinated collaboration with Val Hildreth-Werker and Jim Werker, editors/authors of the NSS volume titled Cave Conservation and Restoration, and hosted them in April for a Clean the Darkness workshop in Sardinia. The workshop provided an overview of current best practices in cave.

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