South Caicos is the seventh largest island in the Turk and Caicos at about three and a half miles across and has a population of a little over 1000. Geographically the last island to the southeast in the Caicos Islands group, South Caicos has the low hills and dry bushy vegetation common to the Turks and Caicos. Due to being bordered on one side by the uninhabited East Caicos and sparsely populated Middle Caicos, and separated from the Turks Islands by the twenty mile Turks Island Passage on the other, South Caicos feels a bit more isolated than the rest of the country. See our Where We're Located and History of the Turks and Caicos articles for more information.
The main settlement on South Caicos is Cockburn Harbour, named in 1840 after an official visit by the then Governor of the Bahamas – Sir Francis Cockburn. Many of the older buildings in Cockburn Harbour reflect the British Colonial heritage of the country, with Bermudian Architecture and cut limestone block construction. Donkeys and horses still roam the island, a remnant of the salt producing days. South Caicos has some excellent reefs, but unfortunately doesn’t at this time have any established dive or water sport operators. A dive company did operate out of Cockburn Harbour as of a few years ago, but Hurricane Ike destroyed the business in 2008.
Currently, the main economic income for South Caicos comes from the fishing industry. Conch, lobster and fish are caught, processed, packed and shipped to the international market. Several new condominium and resort projects are being built at this time, so the future of South Caicos could start to change. South Caicos also home to The School for Field Studies' Center for Marine Resource Studies, which currently occupies the old Admiral’s Arms hotel building.
This island has had a varied history. According to the theory that Columbus first made landfall on Grand Turk (on his historic 1492 voyage to the New World), South Caicos was probably the second island sighted by him. South Caicos subsequently got its heads start from the fact that it has a sheltered natural deep water harbour, something the other islands in the country really don’t have.
Along with Grand Turk and Salt Cay, South Caicos produced salt by evaporating sea water in shallow ponds. This industry was begun on South Caicos in 1850 when the output from the rest of the country failed to meet demands. South Caicos eventually came to actually produce most of the salt exported from the islands. Today, dividing walls, windmills and sluice gates can still be seen in the salinas, along with the Boiling Hole, the unique subterranean underwater passage that filled the salinas with sea water.
Over the years, several different ventures were started on South Caicos. Sea sponge farming was tried in 1930s and was initially somewhat successful, but a fungus disease killed off the sponges and put an end to it. A lobster cannery was also tried. In the 1950s, a Canadian businessman started exporting conch shells to the United States for ornamental purposes. None of these attempts lasted long, and South Caicos has generally seen a bit of a downturn over the last few decades.
The United States Government also used to have an interest in South Caicos. In 1944, the US established an anti-submarine base on the island, along with the first airstrip in the country. Later, the U.S. Coast Guard constructed a LORAN station on the north end of South Caicos. This site was completed in 1959 and was part of the low-frequency radio signal navigation system that was eventually replaced largely by satellite GPS. Both bases have long been decommissioned, although much of the LORAN station facilities still exist.
A thorough history of South Caicos would have to include the unfortunate mention of narcotics smuggling. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Caribbean was plagued by drug runners on the sea and in the air, and the Turks and Caicos was no exception. Because the Turks and Caicos lies about halfway between Colombia and the United States, and due to the seclusion, the island proved to be a popular refuelling stop. Many planes and ships were confiscated by the authorities and it was during this period that South Caicos picked up its nickname of “The Big South”.
One annual event that temporarily swells the population on the island is the link. This Caicos Sloop sailboat race is a tradition that commemorates Queen Elizabeth’s visit to South Caicos on 1966.
The Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park is a designated National Park protecting a large portion of the sea and parts of the coast.