Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Caves, humidity, bugs and beasties

My arms and legs look like successful taget practice for the bug and mosquito bite-fest that was seemingly taking place in Cayman Brac. My blood is clearly the preferred diet of beasties as my colleagues appear untouched...so much so, I am now considered the best insect repellent to have along in the field. Trying to avoid bugs, we started to explore some of the subterranean lairs of the 'Brac'...with our splendid local guide, TJ. As we climbed the relatively sheer wall of the Brac, it was clear there were dark recesses lurking in some of the karst limestone. This was where we were now headed.


As we climbed higher up the sheer wall of the Brac, we could finally see the ocean again as we topped-out over the canopy that cloaked the base of the cliff. TJ then disappeared ...into a hole in the wall (Alice in Wonderland style!), just large enough to scramble inside on your belly. Looking back over our shoulders  all you could see was the bright light of day, however the direction of travel was rather dimmer...


This was no tourist attraction, but a cave that had only been visited a few times by TJ and very few others. In terms of caving, you rarely get a chance to tread where only a few have trodden...humans that is! All we had to light our way were a few flashlights that our friendly guide had brought along. Every now and then TJ would call back offer say helpful advice, like..'This is a tight squeeze...you might have to breathe in a bit' or 'This is a great entrane, I got stuck here for half an hour last time...till I could free myself!'...I looked at TJ's stature and realised I was approximately twice his body mass and circumference...this was going to be a fun and rather tight subterranean trip!


As we pushed deeper into the limestone caverns, I could see we were travelling back in time though a coral reef system that was once teeming with life. The fossil evidence of corals and shells was all around us. We were literally walking on shells...albeit fossil ones. I have to admit, that crawling on my belly in the pitch-black, in what seemed 100% humidity and 35 Celsius plus...is not usually my idea of fun...but then a cavern or two would open-up and make the trip so worth while....


The caverns and tunnels have been etched away through the action of ground waters over the past few thousands of years, fuelled by slightly acidic rain and the organic rich soils that cap the whole of the Brac...courtesy of all that vegetation. This was one of many sites that TJ kindly extruded our bodies to see though the sharp, karst limestone...but I also promised you some animals of the Brac...this will be my next blog....as it is some of these animals that might hold clues into dinosaur physiology.

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