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Unraveling the depths

Updated: 2024-05-04 10:12 ( China Daily )
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A view of the Shier Beihou scenic area.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Clad in mud-caked shoes and equally dirtied clothes and carrying a small cloth bag, French cave explorer Jean Bottazzi navigates the winding caverns deep within Suiyang county's mountains in Southwest China's Guizhou province with ease. His journey to Guizhou is fueled by a passion for caves that borders on obsession, as reported by Guizhou Radio TV Station.

Discussing the allure of cave exploration, Jean likens it to playing chess, not to capture the king but to "find it" in uncharted territories. "Cave exploration starts with imagination — pondering the cave's location, the mountain it's in, its entrance, and its exit. Then comes action: physically exploring and immersing oneself in the cave. Our role is to document and measure, paving the way for future explorations," he explains.

Born into a family of cave explorers in 1962, Jean joined the French Federation of Speleology at 16 and dedicated his life to exploring caves. His passion and commitment have earned him international recognition and the position of vice-president of the federation. This same passion draws him to Guizhou.

In 1986, at the invitation of the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (IGCAGS), Jean and a team of five began their cave explorations in Guizhou, marking the start of his annual visits to China ever since.

Guizhou is a prime area for karst development, making it rich in cave resources. Along with Chinese and international experts, Jean has conducted nearly 20 joint scientific explorations in Shuanghe Cave in the Shier Beihou scenic area, establishing it as Asia's longest cave.

Shuanghe Cave, hailed as a "natural karst cave museum", is China's largest karst cave group and the world's longest dolomite cave and largest celestine cave.

To date, the cave extends over 409.90 kilometers and reaches a depth of 912 meters. Explorations have uncovered fossils of ancient vertebrates, including giant pandas and bears, highlighting the site's paleontological value.

Today, the complex cave systems in Suiyang are no longer seen only by Jean and his team. More and more cave resources have been developed, becoming mysterious tourist attractions.

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