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More notes for Gourie Cave: Feb 16, 2007

Gourie Cave

June 29, 2013
Fieldnotes: RS Stewart
Team: Stewart, Pauel
Main entrance: 18 11 17.7, 77 30 34.9, +/- 5m, Alt 840m, +/- 15m
High resolution video (826 MB MP4)

Gourie Cave - Stream Entrance - June 29, 2013
Gourie Cave - Stream Entrance - June 29, 2013
Gourie Cave was visited on June 29, 2013, by R.S. Stewart and J. Pauel of the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO) to establish if the outer part of the cave, between the three entrances, can be visited safely by the general public during the rainy season. Our investigation indicated that this is so if certain precautions are taken.

Gourie, with 3,505 metres of mapped passages, is the longest known cave in Jamaica. It is vadose developed along a series of rifts and faults in what we believe to be yellow limestone of the Troy formation (although our understanding of the lithology is uncertain). Even during the dry season, water flows through much of the cave. During the rainy season, it floods to the roof in parts of the downstream section. During very heavy rains, the entire system becomes submerged except for a couple of metres of airspace in the area of the entrances - this evidenced by stranded logs and sticks in fissures most of the way to the roof.

Biologically, the cave contains accidentals such as terrestrial snails and spiders in the outer section (defined as the area between the three entrances), and troglobitic invertebrates such as Neoditomyia farri in the downstream section. The outer section is also intermittently occupied by bats, as evidenced by staining in bell-holes, but there were none present on June 29, 2013. We suspect that the staining is from the large Jamaican fruit bat, Artibeus jamaicensis, which is often found roosting near entrances as it is light tolerant, and is known to frequently change roosts according to local foraging availability. Artibeus are common and numerous throughout their range, and are not considered threatened.

Neoditomyia farri
Neoditomyia farri
One other notable accidental (or perhaps troglophile might be a better term since the species is often found in such circumstances) observed during the site visit was a colony of White-collared Swifts roosting just inside Entrance 2, the stream entrance. There were at least six, and possibly as many as ten, that made quite a racket when we disturbed the birds while passing through. However, most of them remained in the cave, and those that left were seen to return soon after.

Artibeus jamaicenses - range
Artibeus jamaicenses - range
With regard to hydrology, the cave is certainly an important component of the local system. It serves as a natural drain, and apparently also serves as a spring where its waters eventually rise. However, the location of the rising is a mystery. We can find no records of tracing, and there is nothing indicated on the topo maps that suggest where it might be. The only thing we know is that it must be at least 3 km to the west of the stream entrance, and it is probably part of the Gut-Alligator Hole Watershed. It must be noted, though, that the stream entrance is only several km's to the west of the central inlier (basal aquiclude), which divides this watershed from the nearest other two - Rio Bueno and Milk River. Input of pollutants is relatively low when compared to a site such as Wallingford Cave in St Elizabeth that has many km's of open river before it sinks. Water quality at the unknown rising for Gourie Cave must be correspondingly good.

Gourie Cave plotted on a Digital Elevation Model
Gourie Cave plotted on a Digital Elevation Model
With regard to public visitation, we will first describe our visit, and then make some general recommendations.

We entered via Entrance 1 (Steps entrance), and found the flow to be appreciable, but not extreme. We then swung upstream, and after passing a low section of about 3m with 60cm of airspace reached high passage (~4m). Beyond, there are two choices - on the left side of the passage through a small squeeze, or straight ahead through a small plunge pool and a scramble up a 1m waterfall. We chose the squeeze to avoid deep, chilly water. From here, the light of Entrance 2 becomes visible, and the passage widens. It is here where the Swifts were roosting. Soon after, we reached Entrance 2, which is large, and showy.

We then surveyed back to Entrance 1, took a short break, and then carried on downstream to Entrance 3 (Sinkhole entrance). The passage narrows at this point, and begins to descend on the right. N. farri were noted at the start of the continuing passage. We then scrambled up, and out Entrance 3 (on the left of the passage), where a GPS point was recorded, and then returned to exit at Entrance 1.

At no point was the water depth and current a concern, but beyond Entrance 3 it certainly would have been.

Our traverse through the outer part of the cave did not involve any particular expertise, other than a familiarity with caving. The general public, if equpped with helmets and lights, and accompanied by a guide, could have done the same. However, the route could be made safer with the addition of stairs or ladders in several places. This would have no impact on cave biota, and would not damage formations (there are very few due to the cave being formed in non-porous Troy limestone). That said, there should be a sign where the passage extends past Entrance 3 that warns of flood risk and death due to drowning. The only people to go beyond this point should be experienced cavers who are familiar with conditions in Jamaica river caves during all seasons. The JCO, and in the past, the JCC, have safely done so, but we know when it's safe, and when it isn't. During times of particularly heavy rains when the outer cave becomes flooded, it will be quite obvious that it isn't possible to enter. The river will cover the lower section of the steps, tearing past with a strong, loud flow, and only the suicidal would plunge into the river at that point. Nevertheless, a sign that warns of the danger should be posted at the top of the steps just under the dripline.

There is still much biological research to be done in the downstream section of Gourie Cave, and the JCO has it high on our to-do list when the dry season returns late this year.

Gourie Cave

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