As is the case in any healthy Caribbean environment, sharks can be seen throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands. On our extensive barrier reef, gray reef sharks are common, and in the wetlands, nurse sharks and lemon sharks (often juveniles) can be spotted.
A great place to see tiny sharks is the Princess Alexandra Nature Reserve off the east coast of Providenciales. At low tide, the sandbars and mangrove channels here trap lemon sharks and nurse sharks in pockets of deeper water until the tidal changes.
There have been only a few recorded shark attacks on humans in the Turks and Caicos.
Although the common perception of sharks has been changing over the last few decades, it’s important to understand the situations of shark attacks on humans.
In the vast majority of cases (especially if you do not count the admittedly dangerous waters off of certain parts of Australia and southern Africa) shark attacks on humans have been caused by mistaken identity.
A good example of this fact is the June 2015 shark attacks at North Carolina, United States, where three people were attacked over a matter of days. The ocean along much of this coastline has terrible visibility, often less than a foot. Sharks are apex predators (alpha predators at the top of the food chain), and have comparatively poor eyesight, so they may bite at anything that remotely resembles their typical dinner. Once their prey doesn’t respond normally, they release their bite.
Sharks at Popular Beaches
Sharks are generally quite rare at the popular beaches of Grace Bay, the Bight Beach, Leeward Beach, and Long Bay Beach. When the occasional shark is sighted in these areas, it’s almost always a mid to small-size nurse shark, which is a very docile shark.
Shark Attacks in the Turks and Caicos
There have only been three few Turks and Caicos shark attacks in recent recorded history here, and all victims survived.
Although these three cases may make you nervous, keep in mind that the Turks and Caicos sees over one million visitors per year, and the majority of these guests spend quite a bit of time splashing about in the ocean.
The 2023 Grace Bay Attack
On 24 May 2023, a 22-year-old visitor was attacked by a shark, resulting in her foot being bitten off. The tourist was snorkeling near the barrier reef off Grace Bay.
The 2021 Bight Reef Attack
On September 3rd, 2021, a male visitor was reportedly bitten on the wrist by a seven-foot (2.1 meter) lemon shark or tiger shark in shallow water near the Bight Reef (Coral Gardens) snorkeling site. The shark was afterward filmed swimming east in the shallow water directly off Grace Bay Beach.
The 2011 Mudjin Harbour Attack
This attack occurred close to the rocks, where breaking waves and bubbles in the water reduced visibility to about a foot. The victim, a 28-year-old male visitor, was snorkeling in shallow water quite close to the rock and received a quick strike and laceration to his shoulder.
The tooth pattern suggests that the shark was about 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.9 meters) and may have been a gray reef shark, but it’s certainly not definite. The victim received local medical attention and 18 stitches.
The 2011 Caicos Banks Spearfishing Attack
This incident happened between Providenciales and French Cay. A local 35-year-old fisherman was spearfishing (which is illegal in the Turks and Caicos, and which results in blood in the water and thrashing fish) in the relatively shallow waters of the Caicos Banks.
It’s not clear, but the fisherman may have had an intention of spearing a shark. At any rate, he received a bite from a 5-foot shark (1.5 m) to his lower right leg.
He was treated locally.
The 2002 French Cay Snorkeling Incident
A group of experienced dive photographers from a large regional live-aboard boat was snorkeling after the morning’s first dive.
The victim, a 41-year-old female visitor, was in the water taking photos. She was approached quite closely by a 6-7 foot (2 m) gray reef shark, which brushed against her. As the shark began to turn away, it made a quick strike to the victim’s shoulder and upper arm. This resulted in a very serious injury and critical blood loss.
Fortunately for the victim, a surgeon, physician and ICU nurse were part of the dive group, and they had a decent selection of medical equipment and supplies. They were able to stop most of the bleeding in time.
After being transported by a Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force vessel to Providenciales, the victim was airlifted to Florida for emergency surgery.
These toothy hunters are a common sight in most marine environments in the Turks and Caicos. Capable of lightning-fast speeds, these animals thrive on a diet of small fish.
Although they give off quite a menacing appearance, they should not be considered dangerous. The very few barracuda attacks that have happened have always been the same scenario: a quick strike at something shiny (usually in poor visibility) followed by a rapid retreat after discovering that they didn’t bite a fish.
Barracudas are very curious fish. Although easily spooked, they will often follow snorkelers and divers. If the Barracuda happens to be Elvis, the five-foot-long giant of Grace Bay, it can be a bit startling when you first notice him!
In many cases, Barracudas likely view humans as larger predators and are hoping to get scraps of a feast!
Any page covering dangerous Caribbean marine animals should mention Lionfish. This invasive species from southern Asia can now be found in the warmer Atlantic waters.
Unaggressive, this fish has spines on its back that are capable of giving nasty stings, which in very rare cases can cause temporary paralysis.
Lionfish are found hiding close to the reef, and are not common to the open water of the country’s popular beaches. You’ll only likely to encounter them if you touch or walk on a reef.
We are unaware of any lionfish stings occurring in the Turks and Caicos.
Reducing the (Already Low) Risk of a Shark Attack
You’re probably a lot more likely to be in a serious car accident on your way to the airport than being a victim of a shark attack in the Turks and Caicos Islands, yet if you’re looking to reduce shark attack risks, consider the following:
- Sharks tend to be more active in the evening and early morning, so if you’d like to reduce any possible risk, consider not swimming at these times, especially in areas of poor visibility.
- Don’t wear shiny or flashy jewelry. This can appear to sharks and barracudas (which have poor eyesight) to be small silver fish and can (potentially) provoke an attack.
- There have been no reported attacks in these areas, however, sharks are regularly spotted off the cliffs at West Harbour Bluff and in Leeward Channel between Providenciales and Mangrove Cay.