Andrew James Eavis
Andrew James Eavis or fondly referred to as Andy, used to imagine himself as an explorer in his early days and was always keen on deep cave explorations. This childhood desire and interest in cave exploration eventually led him to become an explorer of the underground in real life – his expeditions have discovered more territory on earth than anyone else alive. He is well known for his discovery of the Sarawak Chamber, the largest known cave chamber in the world by area.
Andrew was born on 6 January 1948 in Alton, Hampshire, England. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Hons) at the University of Leicester, England and Bachelor of Science in Mining (Hons) at the University of Leeds, England in 1971 and 1973 respectively. From his humble beginnings as a farmer to becoming one of the most accomplished cave explorers in the world, Andrew lives a life envied by many. He was brought up on a farm in the South West of England and worked the farm together with his family.
After the demise of his parents in his early teen years, he left to pursue his studies in General Engineering at the University of Leicester. During his time there, he discovered his passion for cave explorations and the love of his life, Lilian Olds. Andrew went on to marry Lilian and six years later in 1978, the couple had the first of their three children. Lilian Olds played a huge part in Andrew’s life as her understanding of his passion and her unwavering love enabled Andrew to juggle his cave exploration activities, his career and education.
In 1973, Andrew was offered a position with the National Coal Board which allowed him to do a second degree in the University of Leeds. It was an easy decision for him who did not have to think twice about accepting the offer. On top of being a top-class varsity, the University of Leeds was also renowned for its caving club, which was something he had always wanted to be part of.
At the age of 26, Andrew organised his first expedition to Papua New Guinea where he was noticed by the Royal Geographical Society. He was invited to join in an expedition to an area of rainforest in Mulu, Sarawak. The spring of 1978 saw Andrew join six other speleologists in one of the largest scientific expeditions to survey and explore over 50 kilometres of the cave passages at the Gunung Mulu National Park.
The expedition marked the beginning of a prolific partnership between him and Sarawak as the partnership played a pivotal role in initiating the Mulu Caves Project. Andrew has been fundamental in the Mulu Caves Project as he managed to help organise and coordinated a series of Anglo-Malaysian expedition for over thirty years.
Today, Andrew is one of the leading speleologists in the world and he has devoted over forty years of his life to the fields of geomorphology, hydrology and cave science in the discoveries and mapping of details of Mulu caves at Mulu National Park. He is also widely known as the pioneer cave explorer who discovered the Sarawak Chamber, the largest known cave chamber in the world by area and the second largest by volume in 1981.
Apart from his expeditions, Andrew was also quite successful with his business venture in the plastic moulding field. Capitalising on the booming caravan spare parts market in 1978, Andrew, together with his two friends, founded and successfully ran a plastic moulding company which was later sold off in 2008. Finding leisure time in between his heavy schedule is often difficult but when it is time to relax and unwind, Andrew enjoys going out for long drives as he is able to relax behind the wheel and just breathe in some fresh air.
Since the start of his exploration journey in 1977, Andrew has been responsible for coordinating 18 expeditions involving more than 300 British scientists in Mulu. To date, the expeditions have managed to survey some 362 km of cave passage within the national park.
Andrew regards this as a truly satisfying accomplishment as very few people have achieved this feat. In addition to the Mulu expeditions he has organised, Andrew has also led more than 40 other cave exploration expeditions and has subsequently published one publication for each of the expeditions he led.
Andrew regards two of his major discoveries in the caves of Mulu as among his proudest achievements. “The first was Clearwater Cave where my team and I explored and surveyed five kilometres of some of the biggest cave passages in the world, on a one day caving trip and the second was the discovery of the Sarawak Chamber,” he said. His extensive mapping of the complex Mulu caves system has opened avenues for a wider range of studies and successfully established Mulu as an outstanding example of Earth’s geological history, a location of exceptional natural beauty with significant natural habitats for the conservation of its biological diversity and the protection of threatened species. This also led to the Mulu National Park being listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 2000.
Understanding the need to incorporate technological advancements to the field of cave exploration, Andrew and his team successfully applied LiDAR (light detection and ranging) at the Mulu Cave Project in 2011. This is a new technology to plot and study vivid maps of underground spaces at Mulu caves with stunning accuracy. To date, the biggest challenge Andrew has faced is to convince people that cave explorations are valuable activities that can benefit many parties. Andrew firmly believes that exploration of caves is equally as important as exploring deep space and oceans although he admits that it can be quite an uphill battle at times to convince people about the benefits of cave exploration.
Andrew is ever ready to continue his exploration journey as he is set to lead another expedition in 2019 in Mulu. He will also be handling a unique project to recreate part of the caves of Mulu in Singapore. He believes that the project will benefit Mulu in terms of public outreach and will also help gain commercial strength for the national park.
“I believe we have to fully understand something before putting in our efforts as working hard in the right direction is essential to success.”
Message to young Malaysians
“In the search for greatness, it is common to meet failures but it is important to keep going and not to give up. Choose a path you think is right, be confident with it and move forward.”