Slovenian Cases

Underground wetlands of Skocjan Caves

an example of sucessful eco-tourism, educational tourism and good protection of the underground wetland

underground wetland
Karst structures
public participation
educational tourism

The Skocjan caves are a part of the Skocjanske jame Regional Park, which is situated in the region called Kras, or Karst. It extends over an area of 413 hectares and encompasses the area of the caves, the surface above the caves, the system of collapsed dolines and the Reka river gorge.


Skocjan Caves as an exceptional system of limestone caves comprises collapsed dolines, about 6 km of underground passages, caves more than 200 metres deep, many waterfalls and one of the largest known underground chambers. This is one of the most famous sites in the world for the study of karstic (limestone) phenomena. The unusual climatic conditions in the dolines and at the cave entrances account for the blended presence of both Alpine and Mediterranean flora. The unique concentration of plant and animal species, cohabiting in such an extremely small space, gives this area a significant value in terms of biotic diversity. Nine species classified as rare in the Slovenian Red Data Book are also present. In addition, the area is very rich also for its archeological, cultural and architectural heritage.

Photo: Arhiv Javnega zavoda
Park Škocjanske jame

Because of their extraordinary significance for the world's natural heritage, the Skocjan Caves are included in the UNESCO's world heritage list since 1986. In 1999, the Skocjan Caves were listed in the Ramsar wetlands list as a first underground wetland in the world. Since 1997, the area is managed by the Park Skocjanske jame Public Service Agency.

Karst is rather vulnerable because of its specific geological structures. Pollution of leeking and running waters can present serious danger for underground waters and ecosystems. Since the area is scarcely populated and extensive agriculture and forestry prevail, the main threat to the caves has been from pollution of the Reka River. Two factories (making organic acids and salonite plates) located 30km away in Ilirska Bistrica were the main polluters. Since then, the water quality has improved with the closure of the organic acid factory in 1986, and the introduction of new production procedures at the salonite factory. A further source of pollution, the former Yugoslavian Military Camp upstream from the park has also been relocated.


Opportunity and Results
The first paths for tourists in the Skocjan caves were regulated already 180 years ago. This fact proves the point that tourism and protection of unique areas can be sustainable on the long run. Even though the number of visitors doubled in the last 5 years (89700 in the year 2004), the area is well preserved. All tourism activities are well thought and carefully planned.

Besides that, tourism strategy is turning towards educational tourism, which seems the most reasonable direction of tourism in the area. In the last five years various educational programs were implemented aiming at an interdisciplinary presentation of natural and cultural heritage, and they are prepared for groups of different ages and different levels of education, such as elementary and high school students, mentors, adult visitors, and experts in the area.

Skocjan Educational Trail was established to enable interdisciplinary links and implementation of the educational purposes of the Regional Park Skocjan Caves. Walking on Skocjan Educational Trail visitors can enjoy intact nature, admire interesting flora and fauna of the Park and at the same time learn about natural and cultural heritage. Within the visit to the interpretative trail, various thematic workshops and thematic guidance through the Park are also organised. Within program »Learning by Observation« knowledge is transferred to the visitors in a pleasant and interesting way, encompassing different scientific areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, history and geography. In May 2003 Regional Park Skocjan Caves and neighbouring school made a international school network in the protected area. Also, there is a great stress on the permanent training of the Skocjan Caves staff.

Photo: Boštjan Burger
Further information

Educational programs well integrated into overall tourist offer are one of the key elements of sustainable tourism. They are adjusted to different groups, and give a new quality to the knowledge of natural and cultural heritage. At the same time, they also raise public awareness, which is another important step for protection of endangered areas and environment in general.


How can educational tourism forster sustainable tourist development?


Prepared by:
IIDE – Institute for Integral Development and Environment (Marta Vahtar, Maja Zdesar and Miran Rusjan)