JIS News

A cave survey to formally classify and evaluate over 70 caves within the Cockpit Country ring-road, is currently underway.
Funded at an estimated cost of $500,000 by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the survey is being carried out by the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO) and will be completed by May 22.
Kimberly John, Freshwater Conservation Specialist with TNC told JIS News that the assessment was necessary to gather information required to manage and conserve the caves, which would be added to a cave database.
“We are looking to categorise them into those that are biologically important, those that have eco-tourism potential as well as those that can be left for guano [bat dung] harvesting and so on. We really want to manage them based on their status,” she explained.
By carrying out the survey, Miss John said the JCO would have the georeference, which is the exact longitude and latitude of each cave.
Additionally, the survey would enable the collection of more biological information pertaining to the bat population as well as invertebrates that are found in the water in caves and also terrestrial invertebrates.Currently, bats are a significant population in the caves in the Cockpit Country, with the Windsor Great Cave and Marta Tick Cave notable for the size and diversity of their bat colonies.
Miss John also pointed out that several animals could be found in the caves, with some of them adapting to the darkness, which meant having no eyes but extra long feelers to compensate.
“You will see the odd cave crab or a blind cave shrimp dash out of the corner of your eye, which makes it so fascinating just how much life there is in the most unlikely places,” she said.
The survey will also assess the status of the caves with respect to the human impact and disturbance.According to Miss John, some of the caves were being targeted for a lot of human activity such as guano collection. The guano, she stated, was considered “an expensive commodity, because it is so very fertile and good for agriculture”.
“Essentially we know that there is a need to do something about these caves before there is more impact on them,” she said.
“Resources such as in the case of guano can be over exploited, and like in all types of harvesting, it will need to be managed or otherwise we will lose it all. We have found cases where persons go into the caves and take out large amounts of guano and chase the bats out in the process. Some of the bats never return to make any guano deposits,” Miss John added.
The assessment has been divided into two phases. The first phase took place from March 26 to April 9, when members of JCO focused on the caves, that were hydrologically active and best visited during the dry season.
“The caves that are hydrologiccally active are the ones that will flood in the wet season, so we started in the dry season with these caves because it was much safer to explore them,” Miss John noted.
Priority therefore was given to the river caves of the Rock Spring district of Trelawny, Maroon Town and several caves near Accompong Town.
In addition, members of the party managed to include other dry caves into the schedule. In all, the JCO covered 28 caves in the first phase, in addition to discovering a number of new ones.
The second phase commenced on May 4, primarily targeting caves in the areas of Accompong, Quick Step, Nassau Valley, Balaclava and Troy. These, Miss John explained were drier caves, which did not flood in the dry season.
She pointed out that after the survey, the TNC and JCO would be working with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), to develop a national cave policy.
“This policy will help to determine how much resources can be extracted from the caves and what types of usage, such as eco-tourism or resource extraction, can take place. It will also determine, which caves need to be set aside for biodiversity,” she informed.
Although the Cockpit Country is famous for both its flora and fauna, it is home to some 300 caves.

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