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small limestone islands and turquoise water at Chalk Sound National Park Chalk Sound National Park on Providenciales.

Turks and Caicos Nature & History

The Incredible Environment of the Turks and Caicos!

freediving in the clear blue water off the cliffs of West Caicos
Freediving the incredible ocean water at West Caicos.

In this section, you’ll find articles on the history, plant and animal life, and geology that makes the Turks and Caicos such a spectacular tourism destination.

There are about a hundred named islands, cays and rocks in the Turks and Caicos, many of which are quite small.

Our islands are home to a delicate eco-system balance that creates perpetrates our exquisite beaches, reefs and wetlands. Barrier reefs and coral surround much of our archipelago, and as they grow and are naturally broken-down by fish species, produce the white, peach and pinks beach sands that the Turks and Caicos are famous for. In turn, the wetland and mangrove channels act as nurseries and fisheries for the marine wildlife that support and maintain the reefs.

The selection of animal life in the country is amazing. In the ocean, reef fish, stingrays, sharks, dolphins and turtles are common, and bird life that can be seen in the wetlands is just as impressive, with sighting including many varieties of egrets and herons, pelicans, ospreys, kestrels, owls, long-tailed tropic birds and flamingos.

Many types of seasonal and migrational visitors make their way to the Turks and Caicos as well. During the winter months, humpback whales and pilot whales and manta rays make an appearance. On land, peregrine falcons, rosette spoonbills, cormorants and frigatebirds can be seen at times.

Forces of Nature

aerial photo of giant blue hole on East Caicos
A blue hole in the Turks and Caicos.

Many of the top scenic sites in the Turks and Caicos exhibit the powerful forces of the wind, waves and water.

Our islands are supported by a submerged marine limestone plateau, and as such there is very little rock in the county that isn’t limestone. This rock, largely due to the general softness and varying compositions and levels of lithifications, can present in a tremendous array of surface textures and appearances.

Limestone is highly susceptible to dissolution by carbonic acid, and this action, referred to as the Karst Process, is seen almost everywhere in the Turks and Caicos where the limestone bedding is exposed.

The more-impressive Karst features in the county are our larger caves, sinkholes and blue holes, some of which are notable on a region and global scale. Two such sites stand out, the Middle Caicos Ocean Hole, probably the widest blue hole known, and Conch Bar Caves, the largest dry cave system in the Antilles.

History and Previous Ways of Life in the Turks and Caicos

British 1700s cannons underwater at the site of Fort Saint George in the Turks and Caicos
Snorkelling at the former site of Fort Saint George, Turks and Caicos.

As a small country that largely lacked the natural resources that were sought after in previous times such as agricultural lands, fresh water supplies and mineable minerals, early European and Bermudian visitors and colonists to the Turks and Caicos developed unique industries as a means of economic income. Such industries included salt production, bat guano mining, and sponge, turtle, crab and conch farming.

It’s quite in interesting how many of these industries are thought to have actually been conducted at least on a limited scale by the aborigine Tainos (also known as Lucayans). Very little is known about these initial settlers, yet evidence suggests that salt trading occurred with the inhabitants of Hispaniola, cotton was introduced to the islands by the Tainos, and conch were raised in rock pens in the wetlands.

What is known about the Taino epoch of history is constantly changing as new discoveries are made. As information is uncovered, the academic perspective adjusts. One such example of this is the distribution and size of the Taino populations both in the Turks and Caicos and surrounding region. Due to the evidence left in caves, early 1900s historian and anthropologist Theodoor de Booy believed that East Caicos supported the largest population of Tainos in the Antilles. However, recent archaeological digs conducted on Providenciales have suggested that Frenchman’s Creek may actually have had greater numbers of inhabitants.

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