French Cay is found in the Caicos Banks 18 miles (29 km) south of Providenciales and 18 miles (29 km) southeast of West Caicos. The cay is a very small low-lying island, and the only island in the Turks and Caicos from which no other island can be seen. The total land mass is about 22 acres (8.9 hectares).
The entire cay is a protected wildlife sanctuary with restrictions on landing. Brown noddies, terns, and gulls can be seen in large numbers in the area, and the cay is an important breeding and nesting site for the sooty tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) and brown noddy (Anous stolidus).
Several modern wrecks can be seen on the horizon in the French Cay area, and are a testament to the shallow reefs and shoals on the southwest edge of the Caicos Banks.
Although a mere speck in the ocean, French Cay has a bit of history. Famous buccaneer captain Françoise L’Olonnois (also known as Jean-David Nau), one of the many pirates that used to operate in the Caicos Islands, was rumored to have used French Cay as a lookout base to scan the deep water south of the Caicos Banks.
It’s likely that pirates operated from throughout the Turks and Caicos during the heyday of piracy in the region, which was around the early 1700s. Places such as Parrot Cay and Providenciales provided places to shelter and replenish water supplies.
Another interesting event is that French Cay was considered for a lighthouse. During the period of time when the French controlled Haiti, a marine engineer (who was based in Haiti at the time) examined the cay to see if it was a suitable site for a lighthouse and if the benefits were worth the expense of construction and upkeep.
Several of the best dive sites in the country are located close to French Cay. Due to French Cay being on the south wall of the Caicos Banks barrier reef, the deeper wall areas are more exposed to the sun than most of the West Caicos and Providenciales wall sites and consequently have better lighting and a bit more vibrant corals. When diving nearby, dive boats often spend their surface interval on the leeward side of the island.
French Cay is known to be one of the best places to see sharks in the Turks and Caicos. Gray reef sharks are the most common variety, yet nurse, hammerhead, bull, lemon, and tiger sharks can be spotted at times as well.
During the June and July mating season, large numbers of nurse sharks may be seen congregating in the shallows on the leeward side of the island.
French Cay is a protected nature sanctuary. Permission is required to land on the cay. It is illegal to disturb any wildlife or take any natural or historical object.