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Windsor Great Cave

April 4, 2005 - 10:30-14:00 EST


District: Windsor

Parish: Trelawny

WGS84 L/L: 18 21 04.7; 77 38 51.1 (Main)


JAD69: 181449 E, 188714 N (Main)

JAD2001: 681560 E, 689003 N (Main)

Altitude: 135m WGS84

Accuracy: +/- 10m horizontal; +/- 20m vertical

Type: Complex cave

Accessibility: Walk-in / vertical gear

Depth: ~80m

Length: 2980m

Explorers: GSD; JCC; KHE

Survey: BRG McGrath; KHE - 1966

JU Ref: Text - pgs 378-382; Map - pg 379; 380


Entrance size: Main - 1m W x 2m H

Entrance aspect: 0 deg true

Vegetation in general locale: Farm, bush

Vegetation at entrance: Bush

Rock type: White limestone

Bedding: Poor

Jointing: Moderate

Speleothems: Stals, flow, echino, helic, microgours

Palaeo resources: None

Archaeo resources: None

Hydrology: Seasonal river

Siltation: Low

Sink: Dry

Rising: Dry

Stream passage with surface activity: Pooled

Stream passage without surface activity: N/A

Dark zone: 99%.

Climate: Cool, humid.

Bats: >50000

Bat guano: Much

Guano mining: Historical

Guano condition: Fresh/fluff and Dry/compact

Eleutherodactylus cundalli: Yes

Neoditomyia farri: Yes

Amblypygids: Yes

Periplaneta americana: Yes

Cave crickets: Yes

Sesarma: Yes

Other species: Collembola - Troglopedetes jamaicanus.

Visitation: Frequent

Speleothem damage: None

Graffiti: Much

Garbage: Some

Ownership: Private - WWF

Protection: None


Vulnerability: High. This cave has a large bat-roost, a diverse collection of invertebrates, and delicate formations. It has seen much visitation over the years, has been mined for guano, and continues to experience tourism. Further comments will be found in the notes below.


Windsor Great Cave (and Flood Rising)

April 4, 2005

Team: Stewart, Roggy, Loftin.
Notes: RS Stewart

Main Entrance: WGS84 - 18 21 04.7; 77 38 51.1; Alt: 135; Accuracy: +/- 10m
Upper Entrance: WGS84 - 18 21 00.1; 77 38 45.2; Alt: 205; Accuracy:  +/- 25m
Bamboo Bottom Entrance: WGS84 - 18 20 26.3, 77 38 44.4; Alt: 145; Accuracy: +/- 15m
Flood Rising: WGS84 - 18 21 03.9; 77 38 47.7; Alt: 125; Accuracy: +/- 15m

Windsor Cave is one of the better-known caves on the island. This is, no doubt, because it is not only easy to access, but is large, and impressive. The JCO crew know it well, and have visited it a number of times over the years. However, in April 2005, none of us had gone through to Bamboo Bottom in about five years, having concentrated our efforts on trying to find new ground in the Lower Stream Passage. We decided that for the PiP visit to this target, we would attempt to travel through the cave to Bamboo Bottom, and then visit Flood Exit Cave afterwards. It had been very dry for some time, especially in the suspected upstream catchment for the cave at Rock Spring, so we were hopeful that our route would not be flooded in the lower sections of the Bamboo Bottom passage as is common during rainy times. This would turn out to be the case, and during our passage we found the water level the lowest that I have personally seen it in the 7-8 times I've been through.

Before I discuss Windsor Cave proper, I will give a description of the seasonal resurgence found near the Main Entrance, the Flood Rising. We didn't visit it this day, but I have been into it three times in the past.

Not far before the Main Entrance is reached, below a large v-shaped indentation in the cliff, the track crosses over a large boulder collapse. This is the resurgence. In the dry season, by squeezing through the boulders towards the cliff, and worming your way down, you can find a passage that eventually ends at a terminal sump about 50 metres in. This is wide (>12m), and deep (>3). I have been in this several times before, including a session when I swam around the edges of the sump to see if it could be pushed, but have not been able to penetrate beyond this point. It is possible that in extended periods of drought the water level could drop low enough to pass this sump (but this thought may be wishful thinking on my part). I wonder if this may be so because in rainy times, when the resurgence is active, the flow can be very great and seems more than what fractured rock could supply. In the upstream direction, several hundred metres away, is the downstream end of the Lower Stream Passage. We know that this passage is the part of the cave that carries the bulk of the flow in flood-times - in Jun 2002 we observed the passage from Bamboo Bottom, at the base of the First Drop, flooded and flowing down into the LSP. At the end of the LSP, there is a small hole, high in the last little chamber, that leads on, but it is too small to pass through. Down low, there is a sump, and in the past, by kicking my legs in here, it felt like it carried on under the wall above. We surmise that there is a passage that connects the Lower Stream Passage to the Flood Rising. Both ends are sumped even during dry-season, but this does not mean that the entire passage is permanently flooded. We are of the thought that diving with scuba gear at the Flood Rising sump, in mid to late March, might result in interesting discoveries.

Now, we will move on to Windsor Great Cave.

Mike Loftin and Dietrich Roggy, in addition to being members of the JCO, are with the American Peace Corps. As one of their activities with our crew, they had been taking video footage of some of our outings over the last months using a very good camera on loan from the Montego Bay Marine Park, and then assembling this into educational videos. Nothing had been done on this front yet during the PiP Project, and they had asked if they could bring the camera along to Windsor to see what they could get. I saw no problem with this, and when also told that they would have good lighting, the idea seemed even better. In the larger chambers of Windsor, a headlamp shows only part of what is around you - I'd never really seen something like "Wharf" in its entirety, all at once. We would have to keep the lights and camera off while going through the bat-roosts at Jaram Top and Royal Flat, but on the large slimy boulders found at Jaram Top, a person needs both hands available, so footage would not have been possible anyway, bats or no bats. [Two excerpts from the video can be found on the photos page.]

Before I begin the account of the trip, lest anyone think that we lost focus of the priorities of the project on this day, let me assure the readers that specimens were collected, and observations made during our visit; biological notes will be found lower on the page.

Windsor Cave April 4, 2005We arrived at the Main Entrance at a decent hour in the morning, and after a short spiel/intro on camera by me (D and Mike being the videographers, and staying generally off-camera), we headed in. Dietrich had two large handheld lights, blindingly bright if you looked at them, and as I led the way, Mike and D followed, all the while trying to arrange their positions so that they could film me with adequate lighting. It was certainly a different way to move through the cave than what I'm used to. When I looked forward, the view was astounding, but if I glanced back, I was blinded by the lights and completely lost my dark-adaptation (in fact, seeing nothing but glowing after-images of the bulbs for a minute afterwards). I alternated between states of seeing the cave like I'd never seen it before, and stumbling over rocks half-blind, not even being able to tell if my headlamp was on, all the while knowing I was on camera and trying not to blink and squint like a madman. When we arrived at the beginning of the climb up the giant breakdown boulders of Jaram Top, and stopped filming, I was able to get back into my normal mode of travel in a cave, that is, moving however is best, and not thinking about on-film posture.

Once past Jaram Top, and far enough into Royal Flat so that we were well beyond the roost, we resumed filming. Things were better now, because we were in the giant old phreatic tube that heads south to the First Drop, and Mike and D were well back behind me where I wasn't as prone to look at them. Our travel through the cave now became fantastic for me. When the entire extent of the Royal Flat and Wharf chambers is illuminated, the nature of the cave's formation is perfectly displayed. You can see along the entire length the great scallops and swirls created by the old flow through this fossil phreatic passage. What in lesser lighting seems almost like separate chambers, when seen in full is observed to be just minor constrictions in the diameter of the pipe. A perfectly semi-circular cross-section is seen, and it is obvious that you are in the top half of a cylinder that has been filled with sediment in the lower half. As it turned out afterwards, much of this did not show on video, but it hardly matters to me, because it is all still cached in my mind like a film.

The large chambers were soon left behind and upon reaching the low sections before the First Drop the camera was turned off. Now, it was moving on through to the drop, and then rigging of the vertical and a descent into the next section of the cave.

At the bottom of the First Drop, there is a muddy pit to the right (west). To the left (east) through boulders, is a second pitch into the Lower Stream Passage. Straight ahead to the south is a large passage that eventually becomes small and finally exits at Bamboo Bottom. We have spent much time in the Lower Stream Passage, and know it to have Sesarma verleyi in good numbers. I have been into the pit to the right (several years ago), and found it mud-choked and difficult to get back out of. It is still of interest, though, because it has potential for exploration if it ever gets flushed of mud. The appearance of the mud is much like a rising, rather than a sink, but it could easily act as both when this part of the passage floods. I have seen (June, 2002) the water level standing roughly 20 metres higher than the Lower Stream Passage in this part of the cave (most of the way up the First Drop), so there is certainly a lot of water rising and falling as the phreatic zone moves. I note this because I had a close look at the western pit when we were there this time, and it appeared much less muddy than it has in the past. I had not been there since Hurricane Ivan, the autumn before, and it seemed to me as though there might have been a flushing event during Ivan. We had started out with one rope, and it had been left at the First Drop in case we could not get through the Canal near Bamboo Bottom, so there was no way to have a look. This means that I have nothing definite to report on the current status of the western pit, but I present the observation here anyway as a heads-up to cavers in the future - the nature of the mud-choke changes, and it might be pushed in certain years to an area at the same level as the Lower Stream Passage.

We carried on south, towards Bamboo Bottom, using the camera only occasionally, but we did take time to get video of the sand found between the First Drop and the turn down to the east at the start of the low, final Bamboo Bottom passage. This sand, apparently from a cretaceous central inlier, is found in only one place in the cave, and it is a permanent feature despite occasional floods over top of it. Immediately above it is an unexplored gallery. Exploration has never occurred because it is about five metres above the part of the passage closest to it, and will require either bolts or a scaling-pole. This part of the cave is over a kilometre from the main entrance, so a scaling-pole would have to be sectional for transport. Bolts are dicey in the rock in Windsor. As a result, no one has ever explored the gallery to see where the sand is coming from. The gallery will be found easily by watching for the sand, and then looking up to the west.

When we were stopped at the sand, I noticed that there was a good breeze. This was encouraging, as it meant that the Canal was open, and we could indeed pass through to Bamboo Bottom. I should note that one does not usually feel the breeze this deep into the cave. It was apparent why this was so when we reached the Canal, for it was unusually low, and the corresponding air space above relatively large. It should be remembered that we were at the tail-end of a very long, severe drought in the central and western parishes of the island.

After a quick bit of wading through the Canal, and a brief stop to refresh my memory of the final, small side-passage that heads off to the east, we popped out into Bamboo Bottom. We did a last couple of minutes of video, I refined my old GPS position for the entrance (it was pretty close already), and headed for Flood Exit Cave.

Now, I should address the bat-roosts found at Windsor Cave, for they are one of the cave's most important biological features. The part of the cave best known for its bats, Jaram Top/northern Royal Flat, is actually an extension of a much greater roost that is found in a very large chamber to the east of Royal Flat. This chamber has no name, but we usually refer to it as the Main Roost. It leads to the Upper Entrance and is reached from inside the cave via a medium-sized semi-circular opening on the east side of Royal Flat. To find it, journey south over Jaram Top, follow the usual track, and when you've reached the start of the flats, turn left (east) and cross over the large boulders that run along the centre of the passage (note that the main track here is on the west wall). At a point when you're still high on the boulders, carefully scan along the bottom of the east wall with a tight beam on the headlamp and you will see it. If you decide to go through (and we do not recommend this), the route to the upper entrance is along the south side of the Main Roost until the great talus slope of the Upper Entrance is reached. Ascend the talus slope on the north side, not the centre or south, and move carefully - the pitch is close to 45 deg, the material is at its angle of repose, and it is liable to fall downslope. The talus is a mix of dirt, small stones, medium boulders, and large boulders. You do not want to cause this to move when you are on it. The depth of apx 80m given for the cave in the table found above these notes is from this upper entrance to the Flood Rising. This is determined by GPS and could be as low as 65m.

The Main Roost itself is a large elliptical breakdown chamber that in no way resembles the map of the cave in JU. In the centre, the boulders are enormous and covered with thick, moist, slippery guano. If you climb up these, you will see voids between that drop over 10 metres. It is very dangerous. I've been up there twice, while exploring for extensions on the other side (none found), and have no plans to do it again. The poor rendering of this part of the cave on the KHE map of 1966 is no doubt because the entire section is so difficult to move around in. The fungal gnats are also very numerous, and it is hard to use a headlamp because of them (they swarm the lights by the hundreds). In fact, as far as I know, no one has passed through here or come down from the Upper Entrance in over 10 years, other than my own explorations and a trip when I brought Susan Koenig down from the Upper Entrance.

This lack of activity in the Main Roost is fortunate, because there is a corresponding lack of human disturbance. We once saw two men who had come in from the Main Entrance (not local residents of Windsor) taking some bags of guano from just inside the chamber, but there are no signs of extraction further in. This is probably because of the difficulty involved in walking here, and the many gnats.

The guano in most of the main phreatic passage of Windsor, through Royal Flat to Wharf, has been mined and this started many years ago. In the Main Roost, there are still thick, fluffy deposits. In fact, in one place there is a volcano-shaped mound of fluffy guano over two metres high that is directly under a particularly good roosting-spot located above in a large pocket on the ceiling. The significance of these guano deposits is in the biota they support, and the palaeoclimatic records they preserve. Collembola, of the species Troglopedetes jamaicanus, are most abundant here, grazing on the fungi and bacteria growing on the guano. Fungal gnats, dependent ultimately on the guano, exist in great numbers and in turn support a varied collection of invertebrate predators, including troglobitic spiders (Nesticidae fam), and larval Neodytomyia farri. The deeper strata of the deposits will record conditions in the climate of the land outside the cave that could extend back for thousands of years (that is, for as long as bats have been using this chamber as a roost).

We ask that any who read these notes to feel no urge to explore the Main Roost. We have looked carefully several times and there are no extensions. In our opinion, this part of the cave should be considered off-limits, and this includes the JCO.

Invertebrates are also common throughout the rest of the upper, dry parts of the cave, and amongst these is the invasive roach, Periplaneta americana, possibly carried in during guano extraction, hitch-hiking in with fertilizer bags that were used repeatedly. The numbers are not staggeringly great, as at some other bat-roosts (e.g. Geneva Mountain, St Clair Cave), but this could be just a matter of time. The damage that these pests cause is primarily a result of them out-competing other scavengers for food resources. In St Clair Cave, it is difficult to find any invertebrates other than roaches (and some S. verleyi). It might be instructive to conduct a long-term monitoring project of the P. americana density at Windsor by counting numbers in selected marked quadrats. This might only need to be done several times a year (March, June, August, November), and would not involve much time or investment.

Monitoring of the bats at Windsor Cave has been carried out by the Windsor Research Centre, and they have found there to be at least 11 species, with a possible 12th, Ariteus flavecens, using it as a temporary roost. The WRC work has shown the most common Chiropteran species to be: Mormoops blainvilli, Pteronotus parnellii, Glossophaga soricina, and Artibeus jamaicensis.

Far beyond the roosting chambers, and past the First Drop, is the section of the cave that is hydrologically active. The entire southern section floods in particularly rainy times, and the lowest passages regularly go underwater in May-Jun and Oct-Nov. This is where the cave's stygobites are found, cave-adapted crabs of the species Sesarma Verleyi. Curiously, the mis-named S. windsor, is not in Windsor Cave, but is found in the SE Cockpit Country at Rock Spring (noted and identified by the JCO at Printed Circuit Cave during the PiP Project). The numbers of S. verleyi are high throughout the southern part of the cave (dozens seen), but even more so in the Lower Stream Passage during dry-times. Despite looking, we have not found the trog shrimp, Troglocubanus jamaicensis that is found in the nearby Flood Exit Cave. This does not mean that they aren't in Windsor, but if they are, they're not common.

The hydrology of Windsor Cave has already been addressed in the introductory notes for the caves of the Windsor district, and we will not go into it further here than to again note that the upstream activity of the Windsor system is not entirely understood, and could use further investigation.

We are listing Windsor Great Cave with a high vulnerability for two reasons: the possibility of the resumption of guano extraction (and especially the damage that would be caused by this occurring in the Main Roost), and the tourist activity that is not as controlled as it might be.

Although there is a Cave Warden, of sorts (un-paid at this time other than his tourist activities), he has no current official status, and no way to report to the owners (the World Wildlife Fund). If a truckload of guano miners suddenly arrived, courtesy of some fly-by-night exporter such as the well-known "Bat-shit Bob", there is no mechanism in place to stop them. No doubt, NEPA would be informed, and they would be concerned, but if the owners, the WWF, cannot be contacted easily, and if there is no liaison in place on their end, much destruction could result before the situation is resolved. The foregoing is hypothetical, but not unrealistic.

With regard to tourism, we can make several recommendations on how damage can be at least mitigated, because it seems unlikely that tourism will be halted here at any time in the immediate future:

First, traffic must be restricted to the most commonly used track in the cave. At present, people wander wherever, especially from Royal Flat south, and the material on the floor is churned or compacted over a great area. A solution would be to mark one definite track with reflective flagging on PVC pipes stuck into the mud on the floor, and put a sign at the entrance that states visitors must stay on this route. Granted, there will be a continuous linear feature of compacted sediment as a result that will act as a barrier for microinvertebrates in the material on the floor. But, the effect on the current microinvert biota would not be so great for two reasons: The sections of the cave now used for tourism already have a track, well-used, that grows ever wider, and the material on the floor where the current track runs is not loose, fluffy guano - it is well-trodden dirt and mud. Restricting the traffic to one narrow track, where occasional bat-roosts are found (i.e. Wharf to Brer Rabbit) will allow areas on either side to recover. The marked track would end at the First Drop. This is, of course, not as good a solution as banning tourism from the cave entirely, but it is doubtful that this could be done.

Second, disruption of the bat-roost along the track is also a concern, with bats in a panic and using valuable energy reserves every time tourists go through and try to have a good, well-lit look at the bats. A possible improvement on this is a sign that asks people to move through here quietly, and to not shine lights on the ceiling. There will still be disruption, but perhaps it will be lessened somewhat.

Lastly, the Cave Warden should have some sort of official status and be able to communicate directly with the WWF. Commensurate with this, the Warden should receive further education on the vulnerabilities of the cave. Occasional monitoring of his activities should take place to ensure that he is indeed attempting to assist in the preservation of the system. At present, his income is primarily derived by taking tourists into the cave (he receives no pay from the WWF), thereby creating a real conflict of interest. He will not be inclined to say "No" to a tourist, if this is where he gets his daily bread. However this situation is resolved, it is clear to us that the current state of affairs is not adequate and there must be an improvement if preservation is to be effective.

Windsor Great Cave

April 4, 2005

Notes: DK Roggy

Stefan, Mike and myself went through this cave from the entrance all the way to the end, at Bamboo Bottom.  I carried a dual lamp 10W HID Scuba light that we'd borrowed from Mike's office.  Mike video-ed and Stefan put on a show for the camera.  This rig was seriously awesome, and allowed us illuminate some of the larger spaces. 

We dealt with the difficulties of carrying the equipment and filming the video while all the little insects at the main bat roost flew into our eyes, noses, ears, etc.  We took the equipment down the first drop and continued on, through the 1m water in the streamway, until we emerged at Bamboo Bottom. 

In retrospect, I'd have liked to have had 3 times the light in order to cover the entirety of some of the larger passages.  I also think it might have been nice if we'd had a wide angle lens to capture the size of some of the larger passages and to get a better sense for the perspective of the first drop.  Mike and Stef were placed at the bottom of the first drop and filmed myself descending.  Because they were so close to the muddy slope that I was descending, the perspective is a little weird, and I think a wide angle lens might have helped that a bit. 

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