Turks and Caicos Islands

About

Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) lie SE of the Bahamas and 145 km north of Hispaniola. Together with southern Florida, the Bahamas and northern Cuba, they are part of a platform of rocks formed as limestone deposited in shallow seas as the crust slowly subsided. Virtually all these rocks of the area, to a depth of several thousand metres, are directly of marine origin, except some fossil soils and sand-dune rock (aeolian limestone). The region has always had a marine environment from the time of its formation until the present.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are on two shallow banks (Turks Bank and the larger Caicos Bank), with deep-ocean between them. The maximum altitude is about 50 m asl. There are further shallow banks, Mouchoir, Silver and Navidad, to the south-east but without islands; some of these banks are within TCI territory. They are important for whales and probably for feeding seabirds. The Bahamas lie on separate banks to the northeast, and share some aspects of the geography.

About 500 km2 of land is divided between 120 low islands and cays situated on shallow banks. Eight of the islands are home to 22,000 people; the majority reside on Providenciales, which is a major tourist destination, receiving approximately a million visitors each year, driving the local econom. Grand Turk receives many day-visitors from  cruise-liners.

Because of its exceptional biodiversity importance, TCI is one of very few sites on UK’s current Tentative List for World Heritage Site status.The East Caicos, Middle Caicos and North Caicos wetland complex forms one of the best examples of natural marine to freshwater transitions in the Caribbean. It is also one of the most natural amongst some 160 wetlands of international importance listed by UK under the Ramsar Convention. The coral reefs, flats and mangroves, marshes, tropical dry forest and salinas (salt-pans) provide a haven for wildlife and the natural basis of fisheries and tourism. The historically important salinas at Grand Turk and Salt Cay are internationally important for migrant and breeding waders and terns – and also provide some of the best bird-watching in the world of normally shy water-birds. There are endemic subspecies of two land-birds, and several species which are endemic either to TCI and the Bahamas or TCI and Cuba. Offshore cays hold the largest Caribbean breeding populations of several sea-bird populations, as well as nesting turtles and land reptiles.

The islands support five endemic reptile species, including the curly-tailed lizard Leiocephalus psammodromus, pigmy boa Tropidophis greenwayi – the world’s smallest boa, the rock iguana Cyclura carinata carinata, Caicos barking gecko Aristelliger hechti and an unknown number of invertebrates. The turtles Chelonia mydas, Eretmochelys imbricata, Caretta caretta, nest on several beaches within the islands.

Butterflies endemic to the TCI include the swallowtail butterfly Papillo andremon bohontii, deadleaf butterfly Anaea intermedia, blue butterfly Cyclargus thomasi chenchi and to Bahamas and TCI sulphur butterfly Eurena chamberlain.

The native flora of Turks and Caicos is extraordinary, with over 550 plant species recorded. Nine of these are endemic to the islands and they include the endemic Turks & Caicos heather Limonium bahamense [despite its scientific name, restricted to TCI and not the Bahamas], an endemic orchid, Encyclia caicensis. Conservation programmes exist to ensure the protection of the Caicos pine-yards, important habitat for the threatened Caicos pine Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis, found only here and a few sites in the Bahamas.

The marine environment is rich, and the waters around TCI contain many species of coral, which attract divers to the islands. They are breeding areas and migratory routes for humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae, which are frequently seen here.

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE). 

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Turks and Caicos Islands – wildlife and heritage

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE).