Turks and Caicos Islands

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) consists of two groups of islands, the Caicos Islands and the smaller Turks Islands, separated by the Turks Island Passage. They are located at latitude 21o 45’ North, longitude 71o 35’West and consist of eight main islands, about 30 smaller islands and numerous minor islets and rocks. The total land area is about 430 km2. The islands lie at the southeast end of the Bahamas and to the north of Haiti.

During the summer months the temperature averages between 29C and 32C; in the winter months the average temperature is between 27C and 29C. Average rainfall varies between 60 and 120 cm on different islands.

The first documented European sighting of the islands was in 1512 by the Spanish Conquistador, Juan Ponce de Leon. Bermudian salt collectors settled on the Turk Islands around 1680 and after the American Revolution fleeing loyalists settled the Caicos Islands. In 1799 the islands were annexed by Britain as part of the Bahamas. Between 1873 and 1959 they were a dependency of Jamaica. Subsequently, although independence has been proposed the islands were governed as an autonomous Overseas Territory until 2009 when, due to internal political problems direct UK Government rule was introduced. The islands are home to a population of about 30,000. The economy is mainly based on tourism, financial services and fishing.

Biodiversity

The Kew online Herbarium database states that 550 plant species are native to TCI of which nine are endemic to the islands. There is little information on the invertebrate fauna but a subspecies of Drury’s Hairstreak Butterfly Strymon acis leucosticha is endemic.

The islands support 15 species of native and two introduced species of amphibians and reptiles. There are four endemic lizard species and one endemic subspecies: Aristelliger hechtii, Sphaerodactylus caicosensis, S. underwoodi , Leiocephalus psammodromus and Cyclura carinata carinata. The Caicos Dwarf Boa Tropidophis greenwayi is endemic as is the Turks Island Boa Epicrates chrysogaster chrysogaster (Edgar 2010).

There are 204 recorded bird species, of which 58 are recorded as breeding and a further 110 as regularly occurring non-breeding species. No species are endemic to the islands but there are two endemic subspecies, the Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris stalagmium and Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea ofella(Sanders 2006). There are no endemic mammal species but a number of bat species have ranges restricted to parts of the Greater Antilles and Bahamian Archipeligo.

Policy/Strategy background

In 2001 The Turks & Caicos Islands Government and the UK Government signed an Environment Charter for the Islands. Guiding principle 7 aims to “safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species.” Under the section on commitments, the TCI Government commits to “…attempt the control and eradication of invasive species” (Commitment 2). Subsequently, a Strategy for Action to Implement the Environment Charter was agreed by the Executive Council in 2009. This includes priority actions to create the means to identify exotic animal species which could become invasive, create means to prevent their import and create the ability to identify and extirpate harmful species already present on the islands.

In addition there is a priority action to amend the Plant Protection Ordinance dealing with invasive plant species – both those which might be imported and those already present. It is also proposed to carry out a major project to implement port environmental security in order to control invasive species and for other environmental health reasons. This project would include restricting ports of entry, introduction of new legislation, establishment of quarantine facilities for both plants and animals and technical training for Customs and other officials.

A Climate Change Green Paper produced by the Climate Change Committee in 2011 highlights the potential impacts on both biodiversity and agriculture of increased pressure from invasive species as the climate changes. It proposes measures such as an early warning system and improved management for both marine invasive species and invasive agricultural pests.


Thin strip of image show tree trunk and bark