Limestone Caves Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The more than 100 limestone caves within Carlsbad Caverns National Park are outstanding and notable world-wide because of their size, mode of origin, and the abundance, diversity and beauty of the speleothems (decorative rock formations) within. On-going geologic processes continue to form rare and unique speleothems, particularly in Lechuguilla Cave. Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave are well known for their great natural beauty, exceptional geologic features, and unique reef and rock formations. The Permian-aged Capitan Reef complex (in which Carlsbad Caverns, Lechuguilla and other caves formed) is one of the best preserved and most accessible complexes available for scientific study in the world.

Limestone Caves Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Continent: North America
Country: United States of America
Category: Natural
Criterion: (VII)(VIII)
Date of Inscription: 1995

Karst Landscape

This karst landscape in the state of New Mexico comprises over 80 recognized caves. They are outstanding not only for their size but also for the profusion, diversity and beauty of their mineral formations. Lechuguilla Cave stands out from the others, providing an underground laboratory where geological and biological processes can be studied in a pristine setting. The park covers a segment of the Permian fossil Capitan Reef. An extensive cave system has developed within the reef as a result of sulphuric acid dissolution and of the 81 known caves, Carlsbad Cavern is the largest and Lechuguilla Cave is the most extensive and decorated cave in the world.

The Capitan Reef complex dates back to the Permian period, some 280-225 million years ago. The exposed sections of this reef lying within the park are among the best preserved in the world accessible for scientific study. Geologists are able to study the rock formations not only through cave passages which penetrate the reef but also in exposures uncovered through erosion. Fossils include bryozoans, pelecypods, gastropods, echinoderms, brachiopods, fusulinds, sponges, trilobites and algae. Above-ground vegetation communities range from desert to coniferous forest.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Limestone Caves

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Some 800 plant species have been identified, of which three are internationally threatened: Sneed pincushion cactus, Lee pincushion cactus and Lloyd's hedgehog cactus. The fauna inventory includes 64 mammals, 331 bird and 44 herpetofauna species.

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The caves are noted for their migratory bat species, especially the Mexican free-tailed bat. Various species of fungi and bacteria growing in the caves are of particular scientific and medical interest.t

Disturbances within the park include permanent damage incurred to speleothems and the cave ecosystem from tourism, decline in bat populations from the use of DDT as well as attempts to eradicate them in Mexico, oil and gas exploration, grazing by trespassing livestock, invasion by exotic fauna and the hunting of puma.

Carlsbad is radically different from the other existing World Heritage caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park is distinguished by its huge chambers which are far larger than similar other as well as for its decorative mineral.

Since its initial exploration in 1985, Lechuguilla Cave has been strictly managed, allowing only closely monitored visits by researchers. This cave is particularly noteworthy as an underground laboratory where geological processes can be studied in a virtually undisturbed environment. The only threat that faces the park is oil and gas exploration near its borders.

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