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The unfinished Mandarin Oriental project on Dellis Cay.

Dellis Cay

The beach at Dellis Cay.

Dellis Cay is a 560 acre (2.3 sq km) island located in the string of cays between Providenciales and North Caicos. This cay is currently uninhabited without any hotels or residents.

Unfortunately, the island is marred by unfinished structures on its western beach. This uncompleted resort scheme was part of the 2008 luxury Mandarin Oriental Dellis Cay Project and the future of development on the island is unsure. It's unclear when construction will resume.

A beautiful beach wraps around the northwest point of this cay, and Dellis Cay has had the reputation of best beach in the country for seashell beachcombing.

John Dellis and the History of the Island

The cay was named in the late 1800s after Greek John Dellis.

In 1879, expert skin diver John Dellis moved to the Turks and Caicos from the island of Hydra in Greece to begin the sponging industry in the islands. His base of operations was Dellis Cay and the islands between Providenciales and North Caicos.

The unfinished Mandarin Oriental Dellis Cay Project.

Initially, sponges were harvested directly from the reefs surrounding the Caicos Islands, yet they were overfished and became depleted within decades. After that, the sponges were farmed in sheltered lagoons, including Chalk Sound, where some ruins still remain in the water.

The process was simple; small pieces of “reef” and “wool” types of sea sponges were harvested from the reefs, cut into small pieces, and then anchored to concrete and rock bases. In 2-3 years, the sponges would be large enough to harvest, after which they would be cut, dried and exported.

Two occurrences rapidly put an end to the industry: a blight disease and the introduction of synthetic sponges. It’s quite interesting that another significant means of income to the Turks and Caicos died at the same time for similar reasons. Sisal, a fibrous agave exported to make rope and raised on almost every major island in the country, became unviable to raise due to the invention of plastic fibres.

The Dellis Cay Project

The ruins of the Dellis Cay Project today.

The ambitious project that was planned for Dellis Cay in the early 2000s was to combine the design work of several of the world’s top architects.

David Chipperfield Architects, Lissoni Associati, Kengo Kuma, Zaha Hadid, and Carl Ettensperger each designed various elements, including the hotel, villas, residences, the spa, restaurants and boutiques, the marina, and coastal features. It’s interesting to consider what the project could have become if completed. Unfortunately, due to the caustic marine environment, the unfinished structures are unsalvageable and will likely have to be demolished for future development to occur.

The Dellis Cay Project is one of a few such projects that fell through during the 2008 financial crisis, including the Royal Reef resort at Sandy Point on North Caicos, and the Molasses Reef Project on West Caicos.

Terrain and Geography

The terrain of Dellis Cay consists mainly of low-elevation sandy soil and low marine sedimentary stone bluffs. Medium-density salt-resistant coastal vegetation covers all of the solid ground that wasn’t bulldozed by the resort project.

As is the case with many of the islands in the area, the entire southern side of Dellis Cay consists of wetlands. Much of the wetlands are marine mangrove, but some of the interior ponds are brackish, which is an unusual environment in the Turks and Caicos.

Narrow channels separate Dellis Cay from Parrot Cay and Fort George Cay.