The Geoaware team has been working for a month or more on updates to the new guidelines. There are not actually many changes on the surface. If you are making your first Earthcache, and you are diving into things you will not have much to worry about.
This goes over some of the changes, and just to describe them.
Ultimately the purpose was to clarify things. Dealing with complaints from cachers, community, land managers, and the review team. We have a lot of people repeating the same process, and the same errors. Sometimes cache after cache. I will toss a few of the small changes, and go through them here. In the past things may have been interpreted more liberally, so you may hit some roadblocks.
1. Earthcaches must provide an earth science lesson.
This is the shortest guideline (now). Yet it is the one that I see the most problems with. What is your cache about? Does it teach? These are the core parts of an Earthcache.
Earthcaches focus on the solid earth and the processes that shape it.
That means that many of the things that are submitted do not fit. Biology, Botany, Zoology, Ecology, Atmospheric observations, Oceanographic observations, Geodesy, Archeology, History, and Engineering, are normally not accepted. They fall outside the solid earth. Many get upset at the reviewers, or point at other caches, but currently we do not.
2. Earthcaches must be educational
I see many submissions that do not teach a lesson. Taking someone to a pretty view, or showing them a cool site is not enough. Education is the second most important part of an Earthcache.
I see two common errors. Many caches I received take people to a hillside and ask people to tell me the number of a sign. There is not educational material on there. The second would be one that someone writes a lot of information on the plants and animals in the marsh. When the reviewer lets them know that they need to do more, they then add to the 2000 word document another 1000 words and diagrams. We now have a massive document.
Hint. Teach people, but stay on topic. Oh, and don't write a book on it.
Also, if you are a geologist, or know a lot about the geology, look at it from the level of a 14 year old. You may have to describe a few more things for that level.
3. Earthcaches must highlight a unique feature.
We see many listings that are something that is not unique. If a cache is written about the erosion of an area, you may not be able to do one on the same cache 30 minutes away. You may be able to if you are teaching something different.
That said, there can be a few Earthcaches at the same location. A cache on the stones, and another on the erosion could be at the same location (depending on how they are written up).
The feature should also be unique. A river stone is not necessarily unique. In fact this is why waterfalls, glacial erratics, springs, etc are no longer accepted. They are not unique.
4. Earthcaches must have approval from the Land Manager prior to submission
Some parks, cites, forest, etc have developed policies about containerless caches. If they have that policy online please point to that in a log. If you think that you do not need permission explain why. Just because the location is public does not mean you do not need permission.
Note for a National Park, you will need written permission. It is part of the agreement with the National Park Service in helping with the program. The email should be sent directly to the reviewer.
5. An Earthcache can be a single site or multiple sites.
You have to have visited to location. Do not toss out a site that you have never been to. You may have problems in the review if you have not. You need to get the coordinates there, and make sure the area is open to the public.
Your cache can be at one location, or ask people to visit 4-5 locations. I do not think this means that you can pick one of a number of locations to actually answer the question. But I would have to see on a case by case basis.
6. Logging an Earthcache requires visitors to undertake a site-specific task which provides a learning opportunity related to the topic.
You must use information from the cache page, and the location, to perform a task to help the person learn. Those tasks needs to be about the geology of the site. A word off a sign, couning fence posts or stairs, pillars, etc does not have anything to do with geology and will not be accepted as an Earthcache logging task.
That task is the proof of a visit. Photos are still not allowed, and you have to be able to send your answers to the cache owner through the Geocaching profile. That also means that auto-responders are not allowed. Why? You are not maintaining your cache. You are creating something to take care of the work for you. Also auto-responders do not allow you to have good logging tasks. You want an answer like 7, or green. Not a logging task that makes someone think, or educate.
Also when you submit your cache, place your answers in a reviewer note.
7. The Earthcache text and logging tasks must be submitted in the local language.
I think the is obvious.
8. Respect Trademarks and Copyright and only use text, images or logos if you have permission.
We have seen more and more caches where someone is copying entire web pages, logo or diagrams without permission. Many state agencies, or other organizations would like a reference to the book or website where you got the information. Just because it is on the internet, does not mean you can copy it entirely.
9. Earthcache sites adhere to the principles of geocaching and Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.
Don't dig a hole, tear up the ground, paint something, or leave a cache or other materials at the cache site. Try and stay near trails/roads. Stay away from fragile ecosystems.
We had a number of problems, small and repeated. So some tweaks were made. Sorry for those that wanted photos back.
On that note. I was one of the most vocal at first that the photos were needed. Taking them away was stupid. I think that was the term I used. I now disagree. This is not a virtual cache, it is an educational experience. A photo means the person does not have to actually answer the questions, and the owner does not have to actually see that they learn.
Earthcaches is education about geology and this earth. Not photography, not numbers. Take some time, and enjoy the world around you.