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Norwood Ratbat Hole

January 30-31, 2010

Video: Norwood Ratbat Hole (15 MB wmv)

District: Norwood

Parish: St Ann

WGS84 L/L: 18 14 22.2, 77 23 53.2

JAD2001: 707895 E, 676554 N

JAD69: 207784 E, 176265 N

Altitude: 565m WGS84

Accuracy: +/- 10m horizontal; +/- 15m vertical


Type: Dry Passage

Accessibility: Vertigear

Depth: 30 m

Length: 135 m

Explorers: GSD/KHE

Survey: KHE, 1965

JU Ref: pg 274

JU Map: pg 275

Entrance size: ~20 x 25m W

Entrance aspect: Zenith

Vegetation in general locale: Scrub/farm

Vegetation at entrance: Scrub

Geology: Porous white limestone

Bedding: Moderate

Jointing: Poor

Speleothems: Stals

Palaeo resources: Breccia

Archaeo resources: None

Hydrology: Dry

Dark zone: 0%.

Climate: 25 deg C, semi-humid.

Bats: None (seasonal?)

Bat guano: Some

Guano mining: Frequent

Guano condition: Wet

Visitation: Frequent

Speleothem damage: None

Graffiti: None

Trash: Some (bottle torches)

Ownership: Private

Protection: None

Vulnerability: Low.

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Norwood Ratbat Hole - January 31, 2010. Photo: J Pauel.
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Norwood Ratbat Hole
January 30-31, 2010
Team: RS Stewart, J Pauel, A Ekparian, L Henriques, A Palmer.
Notes: RS Stewart

Norwood Ratbat Hole was visited as recon for the biodiversity section of NEPA who had the site on their list for bat capture and release netting. Unfortunately, no bats were observed. Possible explanations follow lower in the report.

I arrived in Norwood on the morning of Saturday, January 30 after driving from Coxheath via Browns Town. It didn't take long to get info on the precise location of the target - the cave is well known locally. Before I set out on the hike to the entrance, I obtained permission from the man whom I thought owned the land. Through some sort of miscommunication, it turned out that I'd asked the wrong person, this learned by having the true owner, Anthony Palmer, vigorously object as I began the hike. After a bit of heated discussion (I assumed he was being less than honest and trying to rush me for dollars), I realized my error, apologized, and then everything was good. In fact, Mas Palmer and I were on the friendliest of terms by the time the visit was over, and we can now count him as one of our best bredren in the district.

My guides on the approach were six local children, aged 8 to 13, who knew the location well: Ricardo Higgins, Antonio Higgins, Ricardo Brown, Dalmane Brown, Day Bingham, and Kimar Bingham. The approach route follows: Take the Norwood - Linton Park track for 900m, then down a hill to the west for 125m, swing south for 50m, and look for a wide collapse pit.

The collapse pit that gives access to the cave entrance is about 25m wide, and 15m deep, with a wooden ladder on the NW side. I did not descend this, just recorded the position, wrote down a few notes, and then returned to Norwood with my guides. As it was now 16:00, and I had accomplished what I could for the day, I switched to outreach mode. This consisted of drinking cold Red Stripe while chatting up the locals on the importance of caves. Several hours of this followed, then dinner, then bed-time at 22:00 at Sweets, our local hostess.

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Amy on rappel. Photo: J Pauel.
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The rest of the team arrived at Cave Valley at 9:00 the next morning (Sunday, January 31), Jan and Louise having driven from Kingston, and Amy coming via route taxi from Browns Town. I met them there, and soon after, we drove in the two Landrovers to Norwood. Gearing up followed, and then a party consisting of the four JCO crew, Tony Palmer, Sweets, and six or seven children, made the 20 minute hike to the cave. Once at the pit, we tied a 10mm line to a tree, and Jan, Amy, and I rapped down. An inspection of the ladder from below indicated that it was fairly sound, so Louise used it to join us, as did Tony and the children. Our assessment of the cave follows:

Physically, the site is formed in porous, soft, white limestone, with a 60m dry passage on the NE side of the pit, and a breccia-choked short passage on the SW (breccia forms the wall in an area about 3m high by 10m wide). Many stalactites hang from the passage ceiling, as well as under overhangs around the collapse pit. These stals, as well as those in the outer part of the main passage, curve outwards, toward the centre, this presumably because of a higher evaporation rate on that side caused by sun, and wind. The passage has a boulder breakdown hill in the central section about 8m high.

No bats whatsoever were seen, although wet guano covers the rocks in parts of the passage. The locals stated that bats are present during mango season, so we assume that it is a seasonal roost for Artibeus jamaicensis, the large Jamaican fruit bat. The roof of the passage is very drippy because of the porous rock, and is thick with stalactites, with no bell holes. None of the cave is in true dark zone. Visitation is frequent to remove bat guano for fertilizer, with lighting supplied by kerosene filled bottle torches. We believe that all of this combines to make the cave uninviting for bats during much of the year. That said, judging by the guano still in place, and accounts of how much has been removed, bat numbers must occasionally be in the high hundreds or low thousands.

Cave-adapted invertebrates are poorly represented, and there are very few fungus gnats. To speculate, the miners preferrentially remove fresh fluff guano (Tony indicated that he only takes wet guano when nothing else is available), which is the best habitat for gnat larvae. With this important base of the food-chain absent, predators such as spiders have little to eat. Cave crickets were seen, but in very low numbers (I didn't spot any myself, but Amy said she saw one). Indeed, all that I found during much searching were small isopods (~2mm) on a tiny patch of fluffy guano, and a couple of very small spiders (~1mm), species unknown. The roach P. americana was seen, but not many.

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Left to right: Tony, Amy, Stefan, and the kids. Photo: J Pauel.
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In many places on the walls of the passage, there are small niches holding what may be bat bones, or perhaps insect body parts. Specimens were collected, which we'll photograph through the scope and forward to those who may be able to identify them. We do not know what mechanism is causing it. No bat staining was seen in the upper part of the niches to suggest insectivores feeding on captured prey, and if they are indeed bat bones, we can't speculate on what is killing them. Tony said that he never sees rats, and considering the number of niches, he should have seen at least a few if they were responsible.

Netting, if carried out, will be best done with a mist net at either the top of the pit on the NW side, or at the bottom of the pit in front of the passage.

We've designated the vulnerability as low for the following reasons: Although the cave may have once housed a larger number of bats, it is currently a minor roost, with no bats at least some of the time. The cave is a drain for surface water only during heavy rains, and it is a minor component of the local hydrological system. The cave is unlikely to have been used by Taino - we saw no evidence for it, and the location/structure doesn't seem suitable (too far inland, too deep, and too wet).

Contact numbers for the owners are: Anthony Palmer - 484 4421; Adrail Jarrett - 401 2182. The approach route in JAD2001 is at shp, shx, dbf.

Once the assessment was complete, we all hiked back to Norwood to have a few refreshments, and discuss important matters (cave preservation, common courtesy and the lack thereof in certain parts of the island, lack of water in the local community, etc). At about 17:00, Jan and Louise headed out, dropping off Amy en route in Cave Valley so she could catch a taxi to Browns Town, while I remained to carry out a little work the next morning. This consisted of me showing Tony the upstream sections of the Cave River system so that he could see where the water comes from that passes through the Noisy Water caves, which are located on his property. He found this quite educational, realizing just how polluted the water is (bacteria from cattle manure, agricultural chemical run-off, and trash in the river). I also investigated the situation with the broken pump that supplies the community. To my horror, I found that much oil was on the concrete base, and dripping directly into a branch of Noisy Water Cave 1. I then spoke with the man in charge of it, and he assured me it would be cleaned up in the next few days. I will check to make sure it has happened next week, Feb 9-16.

Later in the day, Monday afternoon, I drove to Jan's in Kingston to nurse my many tick bites (in the hundreds, and I'm scratching as I write this on Tuesday morning).

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