Black River, Clear Water and Crocodiles in Jamaica
As the Black River Safari boat moves slowly down the river, you begin to understand the true meaning of a “lazy river”. In the distance the herons fly back and forth to their nests in the mangroves, and the teeming unseen wild life makes their presence heard. The Black River welcomes you: an ecological paradise that was once thought to be the longest river in Jamaica at 53.4 km, but is only surpassed by the Rio Minho at 92.8km. A boat tour is the best way to experience this magnificent river.
The Black River gave its name to the capital of St. Elizabeth parish, through which it runs. The backdrop of the river is a town that was run by wealthy merchants and was the first to have electricity and cars in Jamaica.
Originating in the mountains of Cockpit Country, Jamaica, the river runs underground and then emerges in St Elizabeth. There is a point where three rivers, Black, Great Morass and Milk River converge. Although it is called Black River it is actually clear, as we noticed when a private guide for a German couple on our boat, took a dive in the water. We were invited to join him, but gracefully declined. He could be seen very clearly, and the blackness of the river framed his body like a photograph. We knew that if we saw him that clearly in the water, so too would the American crocodiles. We did notice that his bravado was quick, and not without careful glances in the surrounding waters.
Why the River is Black
On the bottom of dark coloured river bed is the decomposed flora of the area, this is reflected back to make the water appear black. The smell of methane exudes from the rich peat soil that surrounds the river. Sometimes the sun ignites the methane and the resulting will fire smolder for days. There are giant Red, and two other species of Mangroves which provide a sanctuary for a variety of wildlife, with over 100 species of nesting birds, including Bitterns, and Egrets feasting on all the river wetlands has to offer. The lianas dangling into the river provide a mysterious backdrop for the most famous inhabitants of river, the rare, endangered American crocodiles.
The boat captain knew the names of particular crocodiles along the river, and some seemed almost tame, although one can never be sure with crocodiles. I wouldn’t want any to shed crocodile tears over me.
The largest crocodile found in the river was 16 ft, and we were told that they can live up to 100 years. This species is known to be more docile than other crocodiles, and attacks on humans are rare. In fact, our captain and guide reached out to touch the snout of a crocodile before we started on the tour.
Fishermen trap lobsters and crabs along the river. The captain had one of the traps handy and the hand woven baskets are a work of art themselves. The intricate weaving on the basket is said to have originated in Africa in the Congo region and arrived in the country with the transported slave population. The trap allows the lobster to crawl in, never to escape.
The attached Sanctuary helps with the preservation of the crocodile and its habitat. Young crocodiles are nurtured until they are strong enough to be released into the wild.
A tour of the Black River is a wonderful opportunity to experience a beautiful and rare ecosystem and encourages local participation in ecotourism.