Turks and Caicos Islands

Map of Turks & Caicos

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 21° 45’ North, longitude 71° 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 29°C and 32°C; in the winter months the average temperature is between 27°C and 29°C. 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 an estimated population of 38,717 (external link). The economy is mainly based on tourism, financial services and fishing.

Endemic Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Little Water Cay

Endemic Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Little Water Cay

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 and legislation

TCI has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government of TCI will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, read the 2016 review report (external link).

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.

Biosecurity legislation is considered adequate through the Plant Health Ordinance 2012, Animal Health Ordinance 2012 and Customs Ordinance 2009. Powers exist with relation to prevent the spread of diseases for animals and plants (powers of inspection, entry, search, restriction of movement, seizure and destruction). Vessels must come in to a recognised port. De-ratting requirements for vessels exist in regulations. Legislation exists pertaining to diseases and infections of animals. To a lesser extent, this also covers control of non-native animals: assessment of importation of non-native considers not only for their health but also their risk as an alien species. Other sectors are involved to some degree. Legislation specifically refers to all islands.

New draft biosecurity legislation in 2019 includes provision for greater biosecurity powers both to prevent the introduction of new non-native species and to manage established invasive species. A biosecurity policy has also been drafted.

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