Maroon Town

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Jan 26, 2004


Position: WGS84 - 18 23' 37.1" N, 77 53' 06.6" W +/- 30 m

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, S. McCall,

Time in: 16:30 EST, Time out: 17:00 EST


This third day of the first JCO expedition of 2004 was devoted to the St James assessment project. Earlier, we had explored a new cave, that for inclusion in the Register was assigned what seems to be the local name, "Whelton Cave". Our next target was Micey Gully Cave, first explored by the GSD in 1951. With a couple of local crew who knew of it as "Micey", we drove up the small, secondary roads that led to the Windsor Castle district, found a parking spot at the head of a logging trail, and began the hike to the cave.

The hike to Micey Gully is less than a km. One follows a trail that contours into the first cockpit found beyond the bottom-land through which the road runs. There is extensive small-scale logging occurring throughout the entire area.

Our local crew had told us en route that the cave held many bats and had been used occasionaly for mining guano, (ratbat dung). I had hopes that this would be one of the more biologically valuable caves that we would visit in St James, without too much degradation by human activity, due to it being at least some effort, (a hike of about 30 min's), to reach it from the road. This was not to be.

The entrance is found high in a saddle, with good forest cover in the immediate vicinity. It is large, some 15 m wide, by 10 high, and is accessed without the need of scrambling or ropes. A passage about 10 x 10 m gradually descends until a large breakdown chamber is reached, (about 25 m wide and 20 high). This is the full extent of the cave.

It was immediately obvious that the cave has been extensively used for guano mining. This activity is on-going. Bottle-torches are the preferred source of lighting as evidenced by the number of discarded bottles. The guano deposits were mostly gone, and as often seen, the miners are now primarily digging clay that has had some nutrients permeate it. The few areas that have extant deposits are highly compacted.

Despite the local belief that this cave has many bats, it in fact reflects the historical record rather than the present-day situation. There were very few bats during the time of our visit, perhaps 50 Artibeus in the twilight zone. What was originally the main roost, the large breakdown chamber where the mining has taken place, (and the only section of the cave that is truly dark), had no observable bats. What seems to have happened is that the species that require dark roosting conditions have been driven out by regular human visitation with kerosene torches, leaving only the common light tolerant fruitbats near the entrance.

As one would expect, there were few interesting inverts, just crickets really, due to the habitat having been destroyed through compaction and elimination of the guano food resource. Surprisingly, there were few roaches.

I must note a rather curious conversation that took place in the cave between myself and the local men; I noted that there were far too few bats to have caused the accumulation of guano that had once existed, and that they had departed. The local men denied this claiming that there were many bats and that this cave was in fact known for having many bats. Even though I was shining my light on the ceiling for them, and pointing out that there were no bats in the large chamber, they continued to insist that the cave was full of bats. The sad truth is that, yes, there were once many bats but they have mined-out. Apparently, those who have removed the guano, and the bats, would rather see it as it once was than how it now is, even when they are standing in the middle of it looking around.

After we had left the cave, I had great difficulty getting a GPS position due to poor satellite orientation and also our location in a forested saddle. In the end, we had to survey out for 120 m before I could get a fix. I am therefore listing the accuracy as +/- 30 m. Topographically, the stated position plots well on the 1:50 k map.

Unfortunately, Micey Gully Cave is severely degraded, and although I am listing it as having a high threat vulnerability, it would be better classed as "lost cause".

Whelton Cave, St James, Jamaica
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