Jamaican Caving Notes
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June 6, 2006 - 17:00-18:00 EST
June 6, 2006
Team: RS Stewart, J Pauel, M Taylor
Notes: RS Stewart
Oxford Cave was visited immediately after our failed attempt to reestablish the Second Entrance at Golding River Cave. It is closeby (to the south), and on the roadside, so this was a good opportunity to have a quick look at the Oxford batroost.
The batroost at this site was one of the few known to harbour the species, Phyllonycteris aphylla, now possibly extinct. The species was limited to Jamaica, and had few known roosts. Oxford Cave was known in recent decades to have had good numbers of various bat species, but has suffered due to its proximity to the road and consequent use as a party spot by local residents. During my previous visit, a decade before, it had struck me as being highly degraded, but I had not recorded any information on bat numbers. Today, we would take a closer look and see how things stood in 2006.
The cave is a fossil stream passage, 10-15m wide, 10-12m high, and 765m long that eventually chokes. Great damage has been done to the formations over the years, and there is much graffiti on the walls. Garbage is found throughout, with this made up of bottle-torches and the regular trash found after a bashment has taken place. On this visit, incredibly, we found a half-burned tyre several hundred metres into the cave that had apparently been burned for lighting purposes. How those who set fire to it managed to breathe while this happened is a mystery, but it can be said with some assurance that the fumes that gathered at the ceiling were not helpful to the bats that hung there. In short, this cave is a disgrace at present.
This day, Jan, Martel and I covered the entire length of the cave looking carefully for roosting bats. They were only found in any real number at one place, a small side chamber on the north side about 600m in (marked on the map that accompanies this report). There were a few in other parts of the passage, but truly only a few. Ninety-nine percent of the available roosting space was unused. This should be contrasted to the state during Dr. Don McFarlane's visits in the past: "When I first visited Oxford back in 1977, it was a pretty important roost. Certainly, the bats were roosting in large numbers along the roof of the main passage. We bivouac’ed in the entrance and were being shit on most of the night with bats coming and going. The cave is just too damn accessible!".
As Dr McFarlane notes, the cave is indeed too accessible, and this is the entire problem. Although I'm not a fan of "gating" caves, this is one where it should perhaps be considered. We believe that it is under the management of TPDco at the moment, who are considering using it for tourism. This is again something that would best be avoided for such an important site, but if it were done in a careful manner (headlamps only for lighting, no damage to speleothems, no trash), with low numbers of visitors, and there were a gate that lets bats in and out, but not humans, it would probably be an improvement on the current situation. At least there wouldn't be a regular input of kerosene fumes, and large groups.
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