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Chris Grooms (Queens University), and Ronald Stefan Stewart (Jamaican Caves Organisation) completed a week of fieldwork yesterday. Seven pond sediment cores, and about a dozen water samples, were collected from various sites around the island, and a night was spent at Home Away Cave for capture/release and ultrasonic recording of bats. We'll post details and photos in the next few days.
Jan has posted a great video of our visit to Noisy Water Cave on February 14. Be advised that it's very large (1.2 GB MP4), so don't attempt to download it if you have slow-speed, and/or a low bandwidth cap. JCO at Noisy Water Cave, Valentines Day, 2015.
Stef and Chris have been very busy coring pond sediments. As of this morning, we'll have no internet access until Friday.
Dr John Smol's lecture at UWI on Thursday was excellent (apologies, but we couldn't record it). He's the same as Dr Brock Fenton, who initiated the guano sampling project along with the JCO - a total expert in his field who loves to share his knowledge in a way that everyone can understand. Much respect.
Chris and Stef will spend Friday taking core samples at ponds in Worthy Park to tie in with the Home Away samples collected previously in the project. On Saturday, we'll move on to the Moneague lakes, and Crystal Lake at Discovery Bay (near Green Grotto).
Jan was on the radio Tuesday morning, Love 101 FM, talking about the importance of bats in Jamaica. We've posted a copy on our server, Bats in Jamaica - Feb 17/15 (29 MB MP3).
Stefan was at St Clair yesterday with some folks from Kingston. We only went as far as the Junction - was a cool little trip, and it helped to keep him in shape.
John Smol, one of the principal academics in the Home Away guano sampling project, will present a lecture at UWI tomorrow afternoon. Stefan and Jan will be there - we'll try to record it. The next day, Stefan and Chris Grooms will launch themselves into a week of serious field research - sediment coring/sampling in various spots around the island - capture and release, and ultrasonic recording of bats at Home Away - as part of the same, continuing project. We won't have internet access for most of it, so there will be no updates until we're done, and no email contact.
We were contacted yesterday by Richard Swindells, who was with the Jamaican Caving Club in the past, with some very cool information on the "putative" blind cave fish at Jackson Bay Great Cave that we searched for last Nov 8. It isn't putative, and it really did get eaten by a cat before identification.
Richard, Mike Ashcroft, et al, were true pioneers, they did incredible work, and the JCO wouldn't be able to do much of what we do without them. Receiving that email was a wonderful thing We quote excerpts from it lower. Scans of a paper on the work, published in the Bulletin of the Scientific Research Council Vol 6 No 1 pp 13-19, forwarded by Richard, can be found in pdf in the following four files, JBC, 1965, 1, JBC, 1965, 2, JBC, 1965, 3, JBC, 1965, 4. A photo from the outing posted here can be clicked on for full size.
"I, along with others discovered parts of the cave system which was mapped with the resources we had at that time and the results were published in the Bulletin of the Scientific Research Council Vol 6 No 1 pp 13-19. Jackson's Bay Great Cave JCC. I can confirm that yes indeed we did find a "blind fish" which I clearly remember had what appeared to be scales over it's eyes. It was placed in a fish tank at the home of Dr Mike Ashcroft and I was told by Mike that his cat had caught and eaten it before any examination had been made. Mike (Medicine} and I (Chemistry) were at UWI Mona at the time. We made several visits to the cave late 64, early 65 and I have many photographs both colour and B&W. Hope this adds to the history of the cave. I now reside in Canada and have fond memories of my time in Jamaica especially on days like today when the wind chill makes it seem -37 C!!" [Email from Richard Swindell to the JCO, Feb 15, 2015].
Truly excellent stuff, and we're honoured that he contacted us.
Adam Hyde, loyal and longstanding JCO member, has plans afoot to launch a much needed magazine, Caribbean Geographic, later this year. Stefan (JCO webmaster) will take care of the website side of things. We posted a place-holder page today. There's no content yet, just a cool photo of Jan's Defender at Noisy Water on Saturday, but we're linking to it now to give the search engines a heads-up for when it becomes what it shall be. Caribbean Geographic.
Stefan was rock-climbing at Lluidas Vale, St Catherine, with four visitors to the island on Monday. This weekend, a large group of folks from Kingston will hike the circle route out of Windsor in the Cockpit Country with the JCO. We appreciate the funding - it helps with the pro bono side - maintains the Land Rovers, website, gear replacement, etc, which is what makes it all possible.
The next JCO group outing will be at Noisy Water, Cave River System, on Feb 14 ('cause we love caves). Should be very cool. More to follow.
Lavinia, who was with us recently, has posted some cool stuff with great photos on her blog about the visit, here and here.
Stefan and Cliff were at Swansea Cave beyond the third collapse on Tue, Jan 27. We've posted a few short video clips on the JCO Facebook page.
Bogdan Simandan has forwarded a great report on a recent visit to Boss Hill Cave in St Andrew. Good stuff.
Stefan and Cliff visited Worthy Park Cave 2 today, reached the end at the fault, explored every possibility for continuation (we were in there for about 5 hours), and are fairly certain that it closes down too tight for humans to pass through. At the furthest accessible point, after a low pool, there is a bedding plain at the roof, flowstone on the floor, and a vertical height of about 20cm in between. Water, crabs, crayfish, etc, can continue, but not us.
Tomorrow, we'll push Swansea beyond the third collapse entrance to see if it continues past the mapped section (which we strongly suspect it does). It will involve a lot of crawling, and our knees will be beat up as hell by the end of it, but we're up for it. This is another main item on the to-do list.
Cliff is taking photos and video non-stop in the course of things, so we should have some interesting stuff to post in the next few days.
Stefan and a visiting caver (Cliff) will be at Worthy Park Cave 2 tomorrow. It's our first visit to the site in about a year. The mission is to check the low, wet part at the end where it hits the transverse fault-line to see if there might be serious continuation. We certainly know that water gets through there somewhere heading to Riverhead Cave, or at least has in the past before the active flow moved lower to Worthy Park Cave 3 - it's just a question of if it's large enough for humans to access.
Stefan has spent the last five days either hiking in the Cockpit Country (Windsor) or caving. Much of it has been with a caver volunteer from Romania via the USA, Lavinia, who if she were to move here would definitely be a core part of the JCO. Solid, fun to be with, and never complains. Unfortunately, she'll be gone on Saturday.
The next few days after that will be spent with more hiking in the CC, including a crossing of the Troy Trail, and two days of caving (Thatchfield and St Clair).
The guano sampling project will resume in February with Chris Grooms (Queens Univeristy). This time, we'll collect pond core sediments to tie in some external data, and record time-expansion echolocation calls at Home Away to determine the species make-up. Should be cool.
Jan has recently assisted UWI herp researchers (led by our bredren, Dr Byron Wilson) in the Cockpit Country at Quick Step. We should have news to post on how it went soon.
Worthy Park started pressing cane today. The Acheron at St Clair Cave is now off-limits for the next six months.
However, we have much else to do in the interim that doesn't involve poisonous air. High on the to-do list are New Green Cave to complete exploration and mapping, Morgans Pond Hole (second deepest cave in Jamaica) for water sampling, the Cave River System for monitoring and capture of the invasive Australian Red Claw (which tastes great with garlic and butter), and Coffee River Cave to video document the entire extent. We'll also strive to update the website more often to share our discoveries.
Stefan was at St Clair Cave yesterday with two Canadian visitors (Vincent and Rebecca, who were very solid and cool, as most Canadians are). All went well despite spending more time finding the Zambia entrance than we'd planned - between deforestation that altered the look of everything since the last visit a year ago to that entrance, and changes in the older tracks that got us there in the past, it came down to a GPS point and vague memories of the topography.
Before exiting the Polly Ground entrance, we went a little way into the Inferno passage (largest bat-roost in Jamaica). There had obviously been a flushing event during the rains of Nov-Dec - the water was fairly clear. Worthy Park will probably start pressing cane in a few weeks, and the waste water input to the Acheron will again create the high BOD that makes the air poisionous (O2 down to 7.5%). So, any further exploration in the Acheron has to be done as soon as possible. This is the last part of the window of opportunity for this year.
The JCO would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. For us, 2014 was a wonderful year, and we expect 2015 to be just as good, or better. There are many caves for us to still explore, and depths of the Cockpit Country still to reach. Our best days are in the future, as are all of yours.
Jan has posted the full video of our outing at Windsor Cave on Dec 20 (Warning: Very large file - 917 MB mp4), from the main Windsor entrance through to Bamboo Bottom. This is the first good video recorded for the entire tranverse. It's also going up to the Facebook page and the Youtube channel (still in progress, takes a while), but they'll be lower-res once they're processed. The highest-resolution copies will always be found here on the JCO server.
Stef was at Thatchfield Cave yesterday with a couple of very cool visitors to the island. We came across a second species of Amblypygid during the course of it, quite different than the usual one we see. Identification is on the to-do list.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Instead of posting a Christmas card this year, we're putting up a great video of Jamaica's only large snake, the Yellow Boa, recorded by Jan last Saturday at Windsor Cave. This version is a high-res mp4, 408 MB, so right-click, and save. A lower-res version that will stream is on the YouTube Channel.
We've done a little house-cleaning on the JCO News page and shunted the items from January, 2011, to January 1, 2013, onto a separate page, JCO News Archives - Volume 10. We need to make way for all the great stuff we'll post in 2015.
The JCO had a Christmas outing at Windsor Great Cave yesterday. The participants were Ivor Conolley, Lupe Malagon and her daughters, Daniella and Diana, Silvia Kouwenberg, Jan Pauel, and Stefan Stewart. We travelled from the Windsor entrance to the Bamboo Bottom entrance, then retraced our steps, covering about 4 km total underground. As usual with Windsor Cave, it was a bit tough, but everything went well. Despite all the rain recently, the main passage wasn't flooded at the south end, or as far as we could determine, in the lower streamway.
A wonderful bonus for the trip was the observation of a Jamaican Yellow Boa ( Epicrates subflavus) on the way out (spotted by Lupe), which was spending the day curled under a breakdown boulder about 150m inside of the main entrance. Jan recorded some great video and photos, one of which, the snake, is posted here (click on the pic for high-res). We'll put more on the server and the Youtube channel as soon as possible.
A planned JCO outing (Stewart, Pauel, Conolley, Hyde, Kouwenberg, Malagon) last Saturday to St Clair was cancelled due to very heavy rains and the associated danger (getting swept away into the river on either the approach, or retreat). As it turned out, it was a wise decision - the Bog Walk Gorge flooded that afternoon, and even if we'd managed the cave, it would have been extremely difficult for the Kingston-based crew to reach home.
However, the next group outing will be in just a couple of weeks. This time, we'll be overnighting it in the Cockpit Country at the Last Resort from Friday to Sunday, and on Saturday, we'll make the first full traverse of Windsor Great Cave (Windsor to Bamboo Bottom) in several years. Should be epic. We'll have more light than ever before, and better video cameras than ever before. We'll be able to give everyone else an idea of what it's really like.
In support of it, Stewart was in the Cockpit Country at Windsor yesterday, December 3, sussing things. There was no flow from the resurgence entrance, and the upper Martha Brae springs were dry (indicating a lowered phreatic zone compared to a month ago, during the Knox College hike, when they were active). We anticipate total success on the mission. Either way, we'll try it come hell or high water.
The JCO was at Jackson Bay Great Cave last Saturday, November 8, in search of a putative blind cave fish. Vague stories have been handed down over the years of a cave-obligate fish collected there decades ago that was then eaten by a pet cat before identification. If true, it would be the only known record for a stygobitic fish in Jamaica.
We were successful in that we did capture and release two fish, both the same species, but neither had reduced eyes or lack of pigmentation. Identification is pending, however, we do not believe it to be cave-obligate.
A video of the outing has been posted on YouTube, and a higher-resolution version is on our server in mp4 (WARNING - very large file - 628 MB).
Our bat survey work at the Wigton Wind Farm is now part of the public record (via NEPA), so we feel it appropriate to post the report in its entirety on our server in pdf. We hope the data recorded may be of value to others.
We've posted a statement on our activities at Retirement Cave, St Elizabeth, July 24, 2014 (pdf)..
The bat survey reports for the proposed Malvern Wind Farm, Santa Cruz Mountains, are now part of the public record (via NEPA) so have accordingly been posted on our server: Malvern - Rainy Season (pdf); Malvern - Dry Season (doc).
Our apologies for the lack of updates lately - we've been busy with research fieldwork (wind farm bat surveys). There's much to share, which we'll attend to. For now, we unfortunately have to report that we're removing another body from a deep sinkhole tomorrow, this time in north St Elizabeth. We've been told that it's 175 feet deep (~55m), but we won't know for sure until we go down.
We're not looking forward to this, but the day will end with bat fieldwork at the Wigton wind farm expansion (body in the morning, bats at night), which will be much more enjoyable. We'll post reports on all of it early next week.
The rainy season component of the Malvern wind farm bat EIA was finished last weekend. So far, we've collected data for bats at 18 sites. Next comes an interim report that puts the information into a useable form for NEPA, et al, which will be soon done. A few weeks after that, we return to look at all of the sites again in the dry season.
The photo to the right is of the smaller of the two fruit-eating bats found in Jamaica, Ariteus flavescens (aka the Jamaican fig-eating bat), taken last weekend (capture and release). The Ariteus is endemic to Ja (only lives here), and is also the only species in its genus. Quite a cool, little critter, and we're always glad to find them.
During the EIA hiatus over Christmas, we'll arrange a JCO group caving outing or two. We need to take a break from the ratbats, and get some of our bredren and sistren underground again. Sites that need work are Crofts River Two for mapping and exploration, St Clair Zambia Entrance to recover gear and finish exploration, and possibly a return to the Acheron at St Clair.
For long term projects, 2014 is a brand new year, and we intend to stay busy. The possible blind cave fish at Jackson's Bay is high priority, as is mapping and assessments of a number of sites on our to-do list, and research into the caves of the Goat Islands.
Stewart and Pauel will be back in St Elizabeth tomorrow working on the wind farm EIA. We would like to note that the company constructing the turbines is receptive to our suggestions with regard to minor changes in site location (micro-siting) based on our research so far. It could be key in preventing a negative impact on the bats living in the area, and we're glad to see their recognition of the importance of bats to Jamaica.
Our apologies for the lack of News items recently, but we've been busy, and will make amends for it now.
First off, Stewart and Pauel have to date completed 13 nights of capture and release netting at the Santa Cruz Mountains as part of a wind farm environmental impact assessment, which leaves 7 more nights to go as part of the rainy season component. We'll be back at it this weekend. Along with netting at the turbine sites, we've determined that Blair's Cave is a duplicate of Campus Cave, and have good recon info for another, with a visit planned for this wekend. Our main priority is to locate the site listed as Palm Tree Cave, which we believe to be the best/only real bat cave in the area.
Also, Stewart has recently assisted several arachnologists studying cave spiders at Carambie Cave, and Hartie Caves 1 and 2, plus visited the Peterkin-Rota system in St James, St Clair Cave in St Catherine, and taken a large group of people from the NHT across the Troy-Windsor Trail.
With regard to the St Clair visit, which happened this morning, feces of what we believe to be a yellow boa, Epicrates subflavus, were found inside of the main, Polly Ground, entrance, and in the Junction area of the cave. We've seen it before at the Zambia entrance, but not there. It seems there's a viable population hanging on in the hills south of Ewarton.
Pauel and Stewart will begin fieldwork next week on the bat component of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a planned wind farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, St Elizabeth, being constructed by Blue Mountain Renewables. This component will be a first for Jamaica, so we intend to be very thorough, and try to establish a method that might serve as a model for future projects here, and in the wider Caribbean. The funding we receive as part of it will also enable us to carry out more of our pro bono work, for which we are very grateful. The data collected will initially be proprietal, but at some point it will become public, and we hope to receive permission to publish a paper based on it once it is.
The website admin was off-island for the last couple of weeks, with no internet access, but is back a yard and tings a gwaan. First up, some info on the cave in St Catherine visited by Pauel and Conolley on August 25. Locally, it is known as Archer Cave, but we believe it is the site listed as Top Mountain Cave in Jamaica Underground. The cave was found to contain a Taino petroglyph by the JCO crew, and is now listed in the JCO database with that information.
November is shaping up to be quite busy, with a couple of crossings of the Troy-Windsor Trail planned, a search for the giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio homerus) in the Cockpit Country, and probable work on an EIA for a project in south St Elizabeth. We're hopeful that we'll be able to post more on that next week.
A group led by the JCO was at Swansea Cave in Lluidas Vale over the weekend. The visit went well and we'd like to thank everyone who was with us for coming along. We'll do something similar at a different cave in a month or so.
Please have a look at the following items regarding the threatened Portland Bight Protected Area: Press Release - Goat Islands and Jamaica Observer - Goat Islands.
The JCO is very concerned about GoJ plans to give the Goat Islands to the Chinese, which will have a severe impact on the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). The PBPA is the most pristine area of dry coastal forest left in Jamaica, and harbours many rare species (e.g. the Ja iguana). There are also a number of important caves that have Taino artefacts, Neogene fossils, and large bat colonies. We will post a dedicated page soon that supplies more information.
The Jamaican Caves Organisation will carry out a fund-raising outing at Swansea Cave on either the weekend of Aug 31/Sept 1 or Sept 7-8, depending on interest.
Swansea Cave, in Lluidas Vale, St Catherine, was first recorded by De la Beche in 1827, and first mapped by the Geological Survey Dept of Jamaica in 1960. It is quite long (over 1km), and still not completely explored in its further stretches. Physically, it is beautiful, with many fine formations, and biologically, it is important, with a large bat-roost, and a variety of cave-adapted invertebrates that include the rare endemic Onychophoran, Speleoperipatus spelaeus, which is known from only two sites in Jamaica.
The hike to the entrance is easy, and takes only 10 minutes, and the drive to where we park is 1 1/2 hours from Kingston, mostly along the A1. On the way, near Worthy park, we will visit a location with several fine Taino petroglyphs, and then head to the cave itself where we will spend about two hours underground.
Videos of previous visits to the cave can be found on YouTube at: Swansea - January 2011, and Swansea - January 2013.
The cost of the outing is 2,000 J$ per person. We do not supply food, but we do supply helmets, headlamps, and expertise.
For more information, please contact Stefan at email@example.com or 876 397 7488.
Friends at UWI have forwarded some interesting aerial photos of a cave entrance in Hellshire, one of which is posted to the right. At this point, we don't know if it's listed, or unlisted and unexplored, but we intend to find out first chance. This depends on funding (more on that lower).
What we can deduce from the photos is that it seems to be rift-developed, and there appears to be some degree of continuation (it certainly isn't a shelter cave). If it's similar to caves in the sister karst of Portland Ridge, it could be extensive, and because of a relatively thin layer of surface material above, could have multiple collapse entrances. With regard to biota, notable likely residents are bats, and yellow boa (Jamaica's largest snake).
On funding, in a general sense - we're going to post something we usually don't - a proposal, with a budget (although we often write them). It has to do with a search for a possible blind cave fish that was reported at Jackson's Bay Great Cave (JBC) several decades ago. We have reason to think it still exists, and if it does, our research will be the only definite record of a cave-obligate fish so far in Jamaica. The odds are good that it will be a new species.
The JBC proposal posted here was written in response to a request from an environmental foundation in the Portland Bight area. However, to date, they don't have the funds to go ahead, and we don't have the funds to do it pro bono. We invite sponsors to help make it possible. More details are available upon request.
A few of the principal JCO members have been on hiatus this month for various reasons, but things will kick up come August. On the to-do list are Jackson's Bay Cave (in search of a blind fish), Thatchfield (in search of an undiscovered entrance), the rest of the sites we haven't assessed yet in St Elizabeth (mostly pro bono for NEPA), and possibly some bat monitoring near Smokey Hole (the only large bat-roost in south Manchester). We also hope to arrange a group outing or two - more to follow on that, here and on the Facebook page.
Pauel and Stewart (JCO) were at Jamaica's longest cave, Gourie, last Saturday, June 29, 2013, 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. We've posted an interim report here, Gourie Cave - June 29, 2013, as well as a video that accompanies it, which is available in high resolution on our server, Gourie Cave Video - June 29, 2013 - High Resolution (826 MB MP4 - Very large file!), and in lower resolution on our YouTube channel, Gourie Cave - YouTube.
We've posted a video clip of Professor Silvia Kouwenberg on rope at Thatchfield Cave last Sunday (59 MB WMV).
Pauel and Stewart will be in the field this weekend at Gourie Cave, in Manchester.
Kouwenberg, Pauel, and Stewart were at Thatchfield Cave last Sunday, June 16, with two guests. An interesting observation was made - one of the frogs, Eleutherodactylus cundalli, was heard deep in the cave in the area of the avens. This frog is only found in caves near entrances. We have been sure for some time that another entrance exists somewhere within the "new" cave, as evidenced by a constant breeze flowing inward at the constriction that leads from the "old" cave. We've suspected that the unfound entrance might be in the area of the avens, and we now have another data point that reinforces the possibility.
In April, Van Rentergem and Stewart carried out an accurate line survey from the avens to the lighthole entrance, where a good GPS position has been recorded. The survey stations for the avens were then turned into GPS waypoints so that a surface search for the entrance could take place, similar to how we found the new, third entrance of St Clair Cave. However, the positions were found to be on the other side of a cow pasture (with resident cows), and as we had no pyro (tick spray) with us, and no desire to become infested with nasty, little ectoparasites, we declined to complete the search. A return, armed with pyro, is now very high on our to-do list.
Stewart will make a solo run across the Troy Trail this Sunday/Monday in support of future work. No one has been across in over a year, and considering that Hurricane Sandy came through last October 24, we expect the trail to be a bit of a mess. Recon is in order. The plan is to hike to the south end (Tyre, near Troy) on Sunday, overnight it, and then hike back to Windsor on Monday. If he goes missing in the course of it, he'll have at least disappeared in the part of the world that he loves the most.
The following weekend, Stewart, Hyde, and others will be in the field working on JCO projects. The tentative plan is a return to Swansea Cave to search for more Onychophora. This critter, Speleoperipatus spelaeus, also known as a velvet walking worm, is an incredibly rare cave invertebrate known from only 5 specimens, one of which the JCO found in the past at Swansea (the other 4 were found by Peck at Pedro Cave, not far away).
Another fund-raising hike will take place in the Cockpit Country on May 18. We'd like to thank Marguerite Phillips for helping to set it up. If possible, we'd like to do these outings every other weekend. More info can be found at a new page we've put online, Caving and Hiking for Jamaicans.
Stef and Carema were hiking in the Cockpit Country yesterday, Saturday, with some JCO supporters. It went well, and we all enjoyed it, We'd like to thank Nicole, Johan, Yanique, Nick, Marta, and Isabella for being with us.
Adam Hyde, Silvia Kouwenberg, and Stefan Stewart were at Worthy Park Cave 2 on Sunday, April 28. The team succeeded in reaching the known end, 750m into the cave, and searched out potential routes for continuation. On that, time ran short, but we found at least one possibility that we will return to when time permits.
A different species of roach than what we're familiar with in Ja caves (P. americana) was found in abundance at the only roosting area for bats, about 200m in. One specimen was collected, which has been stored in 70% ethyl until we can forward it to our friends at UWI for identification.
The morphology of the cave is very particular. Bedding is strong and distinct throughout. In parts, it's controlled by the strike (90 degrees to the dip/slope), although this is less apparent in other sections. At the very end of the passage is an obvious fault, perpendicular, which is very impressive. At this point the passage is mostly blocked by large breakdown slabs, but a way can be found through that leads to what might be a sumped continutation through a bedding plane. Although much of the passage is relatively low (1-5m), several large chambers open up en route where obvious joints intersect.
The entire cave is well-decorated, with very fine formations (stals, columns, flowstone, rimstone pools), and it is truly one of the more beautiful caves on the island. That said, periodic flooding has deposited very slippery silt/mud in parts, the rock is sharp (echinolith), there's a vertical pitch of 12m through rocks to even enter it, so it's not particularly easy to explore. Along with that, there's a flood-risk during heavy rains. We ask that any who read this post not get themselves into trouble just to have a look.
JCO members Conolley, Hyde, and Stewart attended an interview at the Institute of Sustainable Development - University of the West Indies in Kingston yesterday regarding the Cockpit Country boundary. We'd like to thank Dr Webber and his associates for the opportunity to share our view of the boundary, and also supply reasons why we think it is so important to preserve the area within.
The JCO will be underground this weekend at Worthy Park Cave 2. None of us have been to the furthest part of what is one of Jamaica's more impressive river caves, and we're very much looking forward to it.
A meeting of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group took place last Friday, April 19, at the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) offices in Kingston regarding the recently released University of the West Indies (UWI) study (8 Mb pdf), commisioned by the government in 2007 to define the Cockpit Country boundary. RS Stewart attended for the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO).
The JCO generally supports the UWI study. It is a close match to what we used as the boundary in 2005 for the Parks in Peril Project, funded by The Nature Conservancy, and agrees with what our group has always thought of as the Cockpit Country. We would like to commend the authors, Mitchell, Miller, Ganapathy, and Spence for producing what we believe is a fine piece of work.
We don't know where things will go from here - whether the GoJ will again consider mining in the Cockpit Country, for bauxite or limestone - but whatever happens, the members of the JCO commit themselves to helping to protect Jamaica's last wilderness area. It's the heart and soul of the island, and can't be lost.
The JCO has been very active lately, despite the lack of News updates. We'll start posting reports, photos, and videos very soon on what we've been doing. For now, the first order of business is to address the passing of our dear friend and JCO member, Dr David Lee, on April 2, 2013.
Dr Lee's participation in Jamaican caving extended for decades. He was one of the first members of the University Caving Club, which went on to become the Jamaica Caving Club. Afterwards, he became part of the JCO, thereby being part of every organised caving group in existence in Jamaica from the very beginning until his recent passing. For us in the JCO, he was not only a fine man, and caver, to have with us, he was our continuity with the past, and a wonderful source of stories on how things were in the early days.
To give you an idea of how fine a man Dr Lee was, we'd like to relate a story that came into all of our minds when we heard of what had happened:
On May 18, 2005, a group from the JCO descended into a deep shaft called Minocal's Glory Hole located in the wilds of the southern Cockpit Country near a small village called Quick Step. With us were several people from an environmental group, and also two employees of the Jamaican Information Service, JIS. As usual, we needed someone we could trust to watch the rope at the the top, and take care of other important matters at the surface. This would be Dr Lee. With him were a couple of others who declined to descend into the depths.
Because there were so many of us, it took a very long time to get everyone down, and back up the shaft. In fact, the last of us weren't up until 10 PM. Rain had begun to fall steadily in the afternoon, and continued until we were finally done. In that non-stop drenching downpour, Dr Lee remained at his station, hour after hour, with no shelter whatsoever. The others who had stayed above retreated to their dry cars, parked on the road nearby, well before dark, and as the people from the enviro group and JIS reached the top, they also retreated. But not Dr Lee. He stayed there at the top of that pit, soaking wet, until the last of us were up, this happening as people much younger than him fled to get warm and dry. The JCO members who came up last never forgot that day. He stayed in place until he knew we were all safe, on the surface. We cannot tell you how much we respected and loved him for that.
For us, Dr Lee will never be gone. He will always be in our hearts and minds, and he will always be part of the JCO.
We received sad news earlier in the week - Dr David Lee, one of Jamaica's most stalwart cavers for decades, has passed away. There will be a memorial tomorrow, April 11, at the UWI chapel in Kingston, which will be attended by several JCO members. We'll post information here soon on Dr Lee's great contributions to speleo research on the island.
The JCO has been in the field for the last ten days. Amongst other things, we've descended Dunns Hole Cave, determined that Entrance 2 at Thatchfield Great Cave does not connect to the rest of the cave for anything larger than a cat, and found that the sump from Peterkin Cave to Rota Cave could be dived (the passage is wide enough to have allowed a very large log to pass through). More on all of this soon.
Jan Pauel will deliver a presentation at UTech this Thursday, February 28. The flyer advertising the event can be seen to the right.
A report on the caves of Portland Bight has been sent to the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) at their request. It has also been posted on the website in pdf via the link above.
The JCO met with a consultant (pro bono) from UTech yesterday, Sunday, regarding Forestry Dept plans for recreational activity at the Gourie lands, which includes the longest cave in Jamaica. Generally, we have no objections. If it's done properly, it will conform to the JCO cave protection guidelines.We appreciate being kept in the loop, and will be glad to be of further assistance as things proceed.
Stewart was at St Clair Cave yesterday, February 9, with Michelle and Andy Svoboda, and their two children, Andrew and Curtis. During the course of it, he made a quick foray into the Inferno passage to check conditions. The water is still fairly clear, without too much bat guano accumulated yet since last autumn's flushing, and the biological oxygen demand (BOD) seems to be low. We can surmise that there's still access to the Inferno+, but the air quality at the Acheron is probably very poor because of WP input as indicated by last weekend's visit to Riverhead Cave. This matches the conditions during the Acheron discovery visit by Stewart and Van Rentergem in March, 2006.
Also, the first definite plans for the April expedition with Guy Van Rentergem are in place. On Mar 31 - April 1, we'll be on the Quick Step - Windsor Trail in the western Cockpit Country. As far as we know, no one has crossed it in well over a year. We'll start from Windsor in the north, overnight it near the south end (still in the depths of the bush, and the middle of the Cockpit Country is magical at night), and then hike back to Windsor the next day. Any others who would like to join us for our little adventure are welcome to do so as long as they're prepared to rough it, be brave (no whining allowed, and we really mean that), be good on their feet, and kick in 2,000 J$ each toward JCO funding.
Stewart, of the JCO, was contacted yesterday via email and phone by Alison Gillespie, a reporter for the magazine, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, regarding proposed international guidelines on bat guano mining. The JCO policy is that there is no such thing as sustainable guano mining, at least in a Jamaican context, and he did his best to share arguments in support of that position.
Pauel, of the JCO, forwarded a photo yesterday (pro bono, and by request) of a Taino petroglyph taken at Lluidas Vale on January 26 to an author, Fred Kennedy, who has a second book coming out this year from Ian Randle Publishers, which deals with the life of a Taíno cacique in Jamaica at the time of the arrival of Columbus.
Stewart will be in Lluidas Vale this weekend continuing the search for incredibly small snails (2mm), Carychium sp., in assistance to Adrienne Jochum, a European researcher.
Hyde and Stewart pushed past the first sump of Riverhead Cave yesterday, but terrible air made any further exploration impossible. By comparison of physical symptoms to previous cave visits when an O2 metre was available, we estimate the oxygen to have been under 14%. The return swim through the sump was one of the more frightening things that the writer of this, Stewart, has done so far in a Jamaican cave - he felt suffocatingly close to blacking out. We'll have some photos and a bit of video to post in a day or two.
We've posted the video for the recent Swansea visit on January 26/13 (210 MB MP4). You can right-click the link and save it from our server, and you can also stream it from the JCO YouTube channel.
Please note how strongly-bedded the cave is, as shown by the flat roof, and distinct strata on the walls. This may be part of the reason why the cave is collapsed in three places - the lateral development is very much horizontal, and the resultant cross-section isn't as structurally stable as if it were circular. The initial development does appear to have been phreatic (totally submerged) as evidenced by scalloping on the roof, which in poorly-bedded limestone would have created a cylindrical passage - here, most of the mechanical erosion was sideways.
. (Jan 29/13)
The Lluidas Vale outing on Saturday, January 26, went well. Everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves, plus we documented some very well-preserved petroglyphs. The group consisted of Michelle Braham, Tom Casali, Dr Ivor Conolley, Gigi Forbes, Professor Silvia Kouwenberg, Jan Pauel, Stefan Stewart, Claire Turner, Roger Turner, Andrew Wildish, Tanya Clarke Wildish, and William Wildish. Two sites were visited - the Taino petroglyph location, and Swansea Cave. The photo seen above was taken after Swansea - as you can see, there's a bit of crawling through mud involved in spots. More details will follow, and we'll post a video here, and on the JCO YouTube channel, in the next couple of days. Two other photos, of the glyphs, can be found on the JCO Facebook page. - no need to sign in if you don't have a Facebook account - it's available for everyone, just like our website.
The group visiting Swansea this Saturday will include, along with the Potoo Hole crew, a few friends from Worthy Park in Lluidas Vale. We would like to remind everyone that the official rum of the JCO is Rum Bar, from Worthy Park Estate. It tastes the best, it's the strongest, and reasonably priced.
As mentioned in the last item, Guy Van Rentergem will be back with us in April. The videos from our first major expedition with Guy, in 2006, have finally been posted, something we should have done years ago. One, the website admin's favourite from the exped, can be clicked on to the right to stream a YouTube version (Rudist Rock Cave, with the most impressive fossils to be found on the island). We're all a little older now, but also wiser, and better cavers. We expect to have some truly spectacular video (two-camera, high definition shoots) available online later in the year. For now, please enjoy these: St Clair, Discovery of the Acheron (77 MB MP4), Vaughansfield Cave (40 MB MP4), Rudist Rock Cave, St James (50 MB MP4), Smokey Hole - The first descent of the deepest cave in Jamaica (75 MB MP4), The second known exploration of Dunns Hole Cave, the largest chamber in Jamaica (70 MB MP4)
Stef was at Lluidas Vale yesterday with Gordon Clarke of Worthy Park learning the location of Taino petroglyphs found on the walls of a rock shelter fairly close to the village itself. A visit with many of the same team who were at Potoo Hole on January 12 will take place this Saturday, followed by a visit to Swansea Cave. We'll have some good photos and video to post next week.
The JCO is pleased to announce that one of our most important members, Guy Van Rentergem, will be on-island for a two-week expedition during the first half of April. We're starting a to-do list that will include some of the most challenging work we've intended to do for some time. More to follow as plans progress.
We've posted the video for Potoo Hole (200 MB MP4), taken during our visit on Saturday, January 12, 2013.
Several members of the JCO were at Potoo Hole, Portland Ridge, Clarendon, on Saturday with a group of archaeologists and adventurers from the University of the West Indies, in Kingston. The full team consisted of Diana Pena Bastalla, Michelle Braham, Norris Campbell, Dr Ivor Conolley, Trécharspoetica Dacres, Adam Hyde, Professor Silvia Kouwenberg, Jan Pauel, Heidi Savery, Stefan Stewart, and David Twyman. We'll post a video later this week.
Conolley, Hyde, and Pauel will be at Portland Ridge, south Clarendon, this weekend investigating Amerindian pictograms and petroglyphs with several guests.
We were at Jackson's Bay Great Cave on Saturday, January 5, and managed to find two more of the entrances from the inside, the Hendricks Holes. Today, we'll be at the Peterkin-Rota system in St James for monitoring. On Tuesday, we'll be in Windsor, Trelawny, trying to find very small snails (<2mm), called Carychium, in assistance to a European researcher. Later in the week, we'll probably be with the Water Resources Authority at Riverhead cave, near Ewarton, in St Catherine.
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Editor: RS Stewart.
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