East Caicos has several impressive cave systems. This cave was mined for bat guano.
East Caicos is the largest uninhabited island in the Turks and Caicos and has an area of roughly 32 square miles. Located between Middle Caicos and South Caicos, the island was once home to several agricultural attempts over the past two centuries.
About half of East Caicos is flat saline tundra and mangrove marshes, with the remaining being the typical low dry brush common to the country. The island’s north and east coasts are almost completely beach, collectively over ten miles (16 km). The southern half of the island is largely wetlands, swamp, and red mangroves.
Much of East Caicos consists of low-lying wetlands and marshes. The plants here are especially suited to salty environments.
Several scenic cave systems are found on East Caicos, and although not quite as extensive as the
Conch Bar Caves system on Middle Caicos, they are probably more visually impressive. Bats and owls thrive in the caves, and the occasional objects left by 1800s era guano miners can still be seen. East Caicos also supports more
blue holes than any other island in the country, especially when compared by island mass. These blue holes vary quite a bit in size, and a 200-foot diameter example (60 m), found nearly one mile (1.6 km) from the coast, is actually home to barracudas and other open water fish!
The island has been largely uninhabited for the last 100 years.
There’s a wonderful diversity of landscapes on East Caicos. Small brackish water ponds surrounded by sabal palms are sprinkled across the central plains, extensive saline tundra covers much of the southern side of the island, and coastal cliffs stand at Drum Point, the extreme north-eastern point of the island.
Ponds on the island are home to a wide array of birds, including the threatened West Indian whistling duck and the Caribbean flamingo.
This Taino pictograph was documented by explorer Theodore de Booy in the 1800s, but the whereabouts of this inscription was unknown until it was recently discovered by local writer and photographer Kim Mortimer.
There’s not much recorded history about East Caicos before the 1800s, yet it is known that Taino natives (also known as Lucayans) lived on East Caicos, and, according to research by famed early 20th century explorer and anthropologist Theodore de Booy, Middle Caicos and East Caicos supported the largest Taino populations in the entire Bahamas – Turks and Caicos archipelago.
The famous Spanish slave-ship Trouvadore sank in the treacherous reefs off the northern coast of East Caicos.
East Caicos has quite a few ruins from the sisal growing days.
During his visits to East Caicos, Theodore de Booy made records of Taino petroglyphs found on some of the caves on the island. The whereabouts of these carvings were subsequently lost until recently, when a few were rediscovered by local photographer and writer Kim Mortimer and later on by a team sponsored by the
Turks and Caicos National Museum.
Unfortunately, there is very little evidence of pre-Columbus Taino history on East Caicos other than these small inscriptions.
In the center of East Caicos is Flamingo Hill, the highest point in the country. At 156 feet (48 m), a breathtaking view is obtained over the completely undeveloped island, and many of the different terrains found throughout the country can be seen from here, along with nearly fifteen miles (24 km) of the treacherous barrier reef that surrounds the island.
Caves and Guano Mining
caves on East Caicos were mined for bat guano, as was the
Conch Bar Caves system on Middle Caicos. This material was an excellent fertilizer and was exported to be used on the sugar cane plantations in Jamaica.
J. N. Reynolds of Ireland carried out these excavations, and due to the moderate success of excavations at Conch Bar Caves on Middle Caicos, he optimistically constructed an impressive causeway and donkey rail track, along with a dredged mooring area on the west side of East Caicos to facilitate the rapid removal of the guano. Unfortunately for the project, the eventual total output available from the caves never made it worthwhile.
Railroad causeway, East Caicos.
Jacksonville, Sisal, and Cattle
In the late 1880s, sisal growing was tried and became the largest export East Caicos ever saw. Sisal (in the past also called pita) is an agave plant that is grown for its very strong fibers that are used to produce rope and twine. At the height of production, much of the suitable ground was planted, but not for long. Due to poor global demand, the industry was abandoned on East Caicos by the early 1900s.
In the late 1800s, cattle ranching was also carried out by J. N. Reynolds and for years was moderately successful. The beef was considered to be quite good, and was especially appreciated in Grand Turk considering that the alternative usually consisted of canned and salted meats. After the abandonment of the island, remnants of these herds existed for decades, but were eventually hunted to extinction.Today, only donkeys can still be found in the wild on the island.
Located on the west end of the island, Jacksonville was the social center of East Caicos. Sisal processing stations, houses, a company store and barracks capable of holding up to 400 people were all part of Jacksonville. Only a few ruins remain of this small settlement.
Significant acreage was planted with sisal, yet the infrastructure and field walls were never quite as extensive as what was constructed for the
Loyalist cotton plantations on North Caicos, Middle Caicos, and Providenciales.
Small stations and residences were built at various points across East Caicos and the adjacent
Hog Cay to facilitate the workings of sisal, guano mining, and the cattle industry. Some of these lone stone building ruins still stand in the dense brush. One such site is the house ruin at an elevation near Breezy Point, where date palms can still be found growing. Due to seasonal mosquitos, the common choice for the plantation house was at the height of an elevation, where the typical eastern trade winds afforded a little shelter from the pests.
Visiting East Caicos
Ruins at Jacksonville, East Caicos.
East Caicos is quite remote and only accessible by boat. Only one business offers expeditions to East Caicos, and due to the low demand and specialty of the excursions, costs can be high. We highly recommend taking an experienced guide, as the waters around East Caicos can be very difficult to navigate and many of the points of interest are difficult to find.
East Caicos is an amazing birdwatching destination. There’s a wonderful variety of wading birds, ducks, and tropical dry forest species. East Caicos is one of the largest uninhabited islands in the Caribbean, and the list of endangered plants and birds and endemic Turks and Caicos species found on the island is truly impressive.
Because of the many brackish water blue holes and the small ponds found in the caves, East Caicos at times has huge numbers of
mosquitoes, so be prepared.