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Turks & Caicos Islands

Last edited: Feb 7, 2022, 3:49 PM

About the territory

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.

Map of Turks & Caicos

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.

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 the Turks & Caicos rock iguana Cyclura carinata carinata. The Caicos Dwarf Boa Tropidophis greenwayi is endemic as is the Turks Island Boa Epicrates chrysogaster chrysogaster (Edgar 2010).

Endemic Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Little Water Cay

Endemic Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Little Water Cay

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 Archipelago.

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.

Invasive species and biosecurity

A total of 136 non-native species (marine and terrestrial) was recorded for TCI by the RSPB Stocktake (Churchyard et al 2014).

Taxon

Total species

Non-native species

Invertebrates

480

9

Vertebrates

560

16

Plants

809

111

Problems with invasive non-native species

The native Caicos pine Pinus caribaea var. bahamiensis has been widely infected with introduced Pine tortoise scale Toumeyella parvicornis; most of the pine trees have been killed and research is underway into methods of control. Native reptiles are threatened through direct predation by cats and dogs and by competition for food and nest trampling by goats, cows, donkeys and horses (Varnham 2006).

As with other Caribbean Overseas Territories, Lionfish Pterois volitans are posing a major threat.

Native Caicos pine forest destroyed by pine tortoise scale

Native Caicos pine forest destroyed by pine tortoise scale. Photo credit: Chris Malumphy

Priority invasive non-native species and actions

Pine Cay was de-ratted through the ‘Save the Iguana’ project in August 2019, costing in excess of USD 500,000.

A prioritization workshop for existing, established invasive species was held in Anguilla in March 2020. Thirteen established invasive species were rated high and very high feasibility of eradication from TCI, including three vertebrates (Green Iguana, Feral Cattle, Red-eared Slider), five plants (Mexican Fan Palm, Fountain Grass, Tamarisk, Dandelion, Henna) and five ant species (Fire Ant, Longhorn Crazy Ant, Big-Headed Ant, Little Fire Ant, Raspberry Crazy Ant). The Green Iguana was included in this study as a precaution, even though it is not yet thought to be established in TCI.

In terms of preventing spread to other islands within the territory, the number one threat was from Malaysian Inkberry spreading to the Ambergris Cays. However, a further 19 species were considered particularly high risk, including Black Rat, Brown Rat, Feral Dog, Feral Cat, Green Iguana, Fountain Grass, Casuarina, Cowbush and four ant species posing a threat primarily to the Ambergris Cays and the Leeward Cays, as well as the Southern Cays. The Ambergris Cay were most at risk from the spread of invasive species, with the Leeward Cays, Southern Cays and West Caicos also particularly threatened.

Six species that posed a high risk of spreading to new islands and causing negative impacts were also rated as high or very high feasibility for complete eradication from TCI: Green Iguana, Fountain Grass, Longhorn Crazy Ant, Big-Headed Ant, Red-imported Fire Ant and Little Fire Ant. These species are a particularly high priority for eradication.

Biosecurity enhancements, awareness raising, early detection and rapid response procedures are needed in order to reduce the risk from these threats.  The Ambergris Cays were highlighted as particularly important islands on which to focus these activities.

Read full details of the prioritization workshop.

Biosecurity

In 2017 a biosecurity gap analysis (PDF) was completed. Overall, capacity is weak, and particularly for pre-border and border controls. Pest risk analysis is carried out for both phytosanitary and zoosanitary risks. There are no contingency plans in the event of a new invasive species incursion. Border operations focus on plant and animal health, with good public awareness and compliance in terms of deliberate introductions. There is also the issue of private islands in the Turks and Caicos and the possibility of introduction of non-native species in that context with possible risk of spread to other islands.

Baseline inventories are poor across all taxa.

In 2018 a pathway analysis (PDF) was completed. TCI currently has two full service international airports, the main one on Providenciales, and a smaller one on Grand Turk servicing mainly domestic flights and charter flights. All other inhabited islands have domestic airports, some with limited international entry, such as Ambergris Cay, have long runways capable of receiving private jets.

There is a cruise ship terminal in Grand Turk, and at least seven marinas for yachts and private boaters. In addition, there are a number of private docks at larger houses where boats can arrive unchecked. It is known that small fishing boats arrive from Haiti carrying produce, live chickens and other commodities which land outside official ports of entry on beaches.

Cargo ships bring fresh produce, containerised goods and break-bulk cargo, mainly from the USA. Cargo includes topsoil, construction materials, and used vehicles, including used garbage trucks from the USA. The TCI imports nearly all goods via its marine ports and South Dock Providenciales receives more than 85% of such imports.

Local ferries move between Providenciales and North and South Caicos with numerous sailings each day; there are no international ferry services. There is also a private ferry connecting Grand Turk and Salt Cay.

Horizon scanning was carried out in 2019, identifying a total of 24 new invasive species of concern which have the potential to arrive within the next 5 – 10 years; read a report on the horizon scanning (PDF).  

Projects

In response to the large scale loss of the endemic Caicos pine to Pine tortoise scale a project was initiated to build capacity and awareness to save the national tree, partnered by Kew Gardens. Around 500 trees are growing ex situ in North Caicos, and at Kew in the UK. Research is underway to determine if the small pine populations from TCI were genetically different from the larger and healthier Bahamas populations. Saplings from North Caicos have been used to establish six Restoration Trial Plots on Pine Cay and a seed orchard on North Caicos in TCI. Core Conservation Areas (CCAs) for the Caicos pine forests have been identified and mapped. To date, forest within the Pine Cay CCA has been supplemented by planting more than 450 pine trees, which have survived at a high (>80%) rate (Sanchez et al 2019). Read more information on the project (external link).

Also in 2010 the UK Government funded, via the JNCC, a Lionfish Control Project which aimed to raise public awareness, purchase control equipment, promote Lionfish as a food, carry out population studies and support the funding of a Lionfish Tournament. Lionfish are the only marine species that can be legally speared in the Turks and Caicos, the only fish or marine product that can be collected in a nature reserve or national park, and the only marine product that can be gathered with scuba diving equipment. Sightings can be reported online with the Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (external link).

Drawing on commitments made under the Environment Charter, Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) four OTEP funded projects (external link) were delivered in total between 2004 and 2012.

TCI has received a number of Darwin Initiative funded projects, listed below. For more information read the project reports (external link)

  • Upgrade and revision of reef survey resource (DPLUS004)
  • Seed conservation in the Caribbean UKOTs (DPLUS006)
  • Caicos pine forests: mitigation for climate change and invasive species (DPLUS016)
  • Luc Clerveaux Fellowship (DPLUS032)
  • Regional collaboration to achieve sustainable Caribbean fisheries management (DPLUS067)
  • Mapping for evidence based policy, recovery and environmental resilience. (DPLUS081)
  • Regional-scale marine conservation through multi-territory tracking of frigatebirds (DPLUS097)
  • Restoring and safeguarding wetlands of the Caribbean UKOTs (DPLUS098)
  • Sustainable solutions for Sargassum inundations in Turks & Caicos (DPLUS100)

The project ‘Tackling invasive non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories’ was implemented between 2016 and 2020 to strengthen biosecurity in the OTs, funded by the UK government Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). TCI benefitted from a number of activities to strengthen its biosecurity, including: pathway analysis, horizon scanning, pathway action planning, legislative support for drafting biosecurity legislation, access to online learning, and technical support. Read further details.

TCI was involved in the CSSF project ‘Natural Capital in the Caribbean and South Atlantic Overseas Territories’ from 2016 to 2019, and delivered to four OTs in the Caribbean by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The programme of work involves mapping and valuing the participating OTs natural capital assets through integrating ecological data, satellite data, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and economic assessments. Read project details and reports (external link).

Useful information

Information for visitors

Before travelling please ensure all items are clean, free from organic materials such as mud, faeces, seeds and invertebrates:

  • Check your footwear, outdoor clothing and day packs to make sure they are clean and free from weed seeds, mud, invertebrates and plant material. If possible we recommend that you travel with new outdoor clothing and equipment. Shake out or vacuum all the compartments and pockets before you pack.
  • If you have been camping, check that your tent and other equipment is clean, dry and free of dirt and invertebrates such as ants and spiders. Shake it out before you pack it up for travel and ensure no soil remains on tent pegs.
  • If you have been hiking, visiting a wilderness area, farm or zoo, make sure your footwear and clothes are clean and free from seeds, mud and faeces. Check boot soles for mud between the treads, Velcro fastenings for seeds and plant material, and shake out or vacuum pockets to remove any dirt and plant material.
  • If you are carrying golf, fishing or other sports and outdoor equipment with you, make sure they are clean, dry and free from dirt and any live creatures.

Biosecurity information for traveling with plants and animals to TCI (external link) 

Application forms for importing the following to TCI are as follows:

Contact

Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR)

Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Culture and Heritage (MTECH)

Lower Bight Road,

Providenciales,

Turks and Caicos Islands

British West Indies

Tel: +1 649 338 4175

Department of Agriculture,

#16 Parade Avenue, 

Buttersfield PLaza,

Providenciales,

Turks and Caicos Islands

British West Indies

Tel: +1 649 338 5264

Documents

  • Barnsley, S., Cary, E., Pienkowski, M. and Wensink, C.(Eds) (2016).  Review of performance by 2016 of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in implementing the 2001 Environment Charters or their equivalents and moving towards the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Targets. UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, April 2016.
  • Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R. and Stringer, C.  (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories.  Sandy, UK: RSPB.
  • Edgar, P. (2010). The Amphibians and reptiles of the UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and Sovereign Base Areas: Species Inventory and Overview of Conservation and Research Priorities. Bournemouth, UK: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.
  • Proctor, D. and Fleming, L. V., eds. (1999). Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Peterborough, UK: JNCC.
  • Sanders, S. M., ed. (2006). Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
  • Varnham, K. (2006). Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. Peterborough, UK: JNCC Report No. 372.

Websites