Times of the Islands Fall 2021

Presents the "soul of the Turks & Caicos Islands" with in-depth features about local people, culture, history, environment, real estate, businesses, resorts, restaurants and activities.

Presents the "soul of the Turks & Caicos Islands" with in-depth features about local people, culture, history, environment, real estate, businesses, resorts, restaurants and activities.


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Epic battle off West Caicos


Meal prep Taíno-style


Real estate sales soar

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*Visit www.beaches.com/disclaimers/timesoftheislandsspring2021 or call 1-800-BEACHES for important terms and

conditions. Beaches ® is a registered trademark. Unique Vacations, Inc. is an affiliate of Unique Travel Corp., the worldwide

representative of Beaches Resorts.



6 From the Editor

17 Looking Back to Look Ahead

The Natural World

By Diane Taylor

22 Talking Taíno

Not a Pot to “Cook” In

By Bill Keegan, Betsy Carlson, Michael Pateman

and Lindsay Bloch

47 Poetry

Summer in the Turks & Caicos Islands

By David P. Carroll ~ Photo By Marta Morton

64 Business

Striving for Gold

By Kathy Borsuk

77 About the Islands/TCI Map

80 Subscription Form

82 Classified Ads


30 Pearls of the Sea

Story & Photos By Kelly Currington

48 Pirate Attack!

By Ben Stubenberg

Green Pages

37 Here with a Roar!

By Ben Farmer, SFS

42 If Rocks Could Talk . . .

By Carmen Hoyt, SFS


70 Small Island, Big History

By Dr. Carlton Mills & Debby-Lee Mills





On the Cover

Agile LeVin—photographer, explorer and chronicler of

everything TCI on his website www.visittci.com—took

this drone photo of the multi-textured wetlands of West

Caicos. He was part of the expedition that investigated

the site of the historic pirate attack in the area. For more

information and photos, go to page 48.


Ben Stubenberg and Captain Ernesto Von Der Esch measure

the cannon they found off the coast of West Caicos.

Could it have been the one used in Thomas Brown’s battle

against the pirates?



4 www.timespub.tc


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Bernadette has lived in the Turks and Caicos

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Bernadette’s reputation and success has been

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Bernadette delights in working in the real

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from the editor


This view of Mudjin Harbour on Middle Caicos is from a small hidden cave accessed from the top of the cliffs. These caves were formed

millions of years ago.

6 www.timespub.tc

Digging Deep

This magazine’s intended audience has always been people who want to learn more about the Turks & Caicos Islands,

those who enjoy peering well beneath the surface of the turquoise sea and ivory beaches. In this issue, readers will

be digging deep into the Islands’ history—in fact, all the way back to when the land was formed. Skip forward millions

of years and you will learn about the Taínos’ meal preparation—a long way from UberEats but quite similar to

home-cooking techniques today.

Then we jump ahead by centuries to author Ben Stubenberg’s article on a pirate attack off West Caicos, where

Loyalist cotton planter Thomas Brown enlisted his enslaved Africans to fight alongside him! Ben spent much time

and effort researching this unusual event, and even went so far as to boat to the possible site of the battle with a

group of interested residents. I am so appreciative that he shares these articles with us; they greatly contribute to

the quality and depth of the magazine.

Local historian and author Carlton Mills ushers us into modern times with his fascinating review of the history

of Grand Turk, while Diane Taylor presents the story behind a natural history book from the 1980s that has been

revised for childen today.

Finally, we land in the 21st century, to learn about the ongoing saga of the lionfish and local efforts to eradicate

this intrusive predator. On the flip side, Kelly Currington shares her emotional connection with an endearing jawfish.

Layered on top of this all are the Turks & Caicos Islands present. Currently, the country is a strong draw for

visitors seeking a healthy, peaceful place to vacation and escape the troubles of the world. The real estate market is

soaring for the same reason—reflecting an urge to make “paradise” a permanent or part-time home.

Every day, I thank God for the opportunity and His help in putting out another issue of our magazine. And I thank

the advertisers and contributors who so steadfastly support this rather non-commercial compilation of material that

is designed to tap into the heart and soul of these “Beautiful by Nature” Turks & Caicos Islands.

Kathy Borsuk, Editor • timespub@tciway.tc • (649) 431-4788


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2 All Closet Accessories

3 Air Ducts

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6 UV-LED Lights
















7 Bed Frame & Furniture





Beaches guests are never left to fend for

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Placement Of

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9 Carpeting And Floors

10 Soft Furnishings

11 Bedding & Mattresses





Hand Sanitizers For All

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Placement Of Anti-Bacterial

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3 Floors

4 Electrical Aerosol Sprayers

5 Shower

6 UV-LED Light





8 Air Ducts



9 Hard Surfaces
















1 Arrival At Our Airport Lounges

2 Guest Transfers To Our Resorts

3 Food And Beverage Outlets

4 Housekeeping & Laundry



5 Butler Elite Services

6 Maintenance

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18 HVAC Systems


to slide








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Beaches ® is a registered trademark. Unique Vacations, Inc. is an affiliate of Unique Travel Corp., the worldwide representative of Beaches Resorts.

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Experience Our Sister Lslands

Each Island in our Turks and Caicos Islands chain is a destination on its own.

Experience the unparalleled beauty and exciting excursions that make our

'Beautiful by Nature' islands special. Retreat to one of our majestic Sister

Islands for the perfect family or solo getaway!


Call: (649) 946-4970






Kathy Borsuk


Claire Parrish


Dr. Lindsay Bloch, Kathy Borsuk, Dr. Betsy Carlson,

David P. Carroll, Kelly Currington, Ben Farmer,

Carmen Hoyt, Dr. Bill Keegan, Dr. Carlton Mills,

Debby-Lee Mills, Dr. Michael P. Pateman, Ben Stubenberg,

Lisa Turnbow-Talbot, Diane Taylor.


Kelly Currington, Ben Farmer, Anna Handte-Reinecker,

Melissa Heres, Carmen Hoyt, Sara Kaufman–Middle Caicos

Co-Op, Agile LeVin–VisitTCI.com, Dr. Bill Keegan,

Marta Morton, Mark Parrish, Lynn Pelowski, Ted Philippona,

Provo Picture, Shutterstock, Diane Taylor, Turks & Caicos

National Museum, Lisa Turnbow-Talbot, World Nomads.


Alejandra Baiz, Augusto Brunias, Richard McGhie,

Theodore Morris, Wavey Line Publishing.


PF Solutions, Miami, FL

Times of the Islands ISSN 1017-6853 is

published quarterly by Times Publications Ltd.

Copyright © 2021 by Times Publications Ltd. All rights reserved

under Universal and Pan American Copyright Conventions.

No part of this publication may be

reproduced without written permission.

Subscriptions $28/year; $32/year for

non-U.S. mailing addresses

Submissions We welcome submission of articles or photography, but

assume no responsibility for care and return of unsolicited material.

Return postage must accompany material if it is to be returned. In no

event shall any writer or photographer subject this magazine to any

claim for holding fees or damage charges on unsolicited material.

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+1 649 332 1393 or +1 649 431 4242


While every care has been taken in the compilation and reproduction of

information contained herein to ensure correctness, such information is

subject to change without notice. The publisher accepts no

responsibility for such alterations or for typographical or other errors.

Business Office

Times Publications Ltd., P.O. Box 234,

Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands, BWI

Tel 649 431 4788

E-mail timespub@tciway.tc

Web www.timespub.tc

Advertising tfadvert@tciway.tc

16 www.timespub.tc

looking back to look ahead

This is the new cover of The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands, originally written by Katherine Orr in 1983. It has been revised

and updated for today’s times and may be used in TCI primary schools this fall.

The Natural World

New edition breathes fresh life into a timely subject.

By Diane Taylor

In a very real scientific sense, the Earth breathes us and we breathe the Earth. This has to do with the

exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide. Now, however, excess carbon in the atmosphere puts

all life at risk. One way to reinstate balance is to ignite in children a love for the wonders of the natural

world. Yes, hook the kids.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 17

Author/illustrator Katherine Orr has had a passion for

nature since she was young. This passion to understand

the natural world led her to become a marine biologist.

While on South Caicos researching the life history of the

queen conch, she realized the importance of educating

children about the natural world so they would grow up

to respect nature and become wise stewards.

With that idea in mind, she wrote and illustrated a

68-page book called The Natural World of the Turks and


Caicos Islands. It came out in 1983 with the help of Jane

Halaby who undertook the publishing. After living on

South Caicos for two years studying the queen conch for

her Master’s degree, then four years working on Pine Cay

as a marine biologist, Katherine felt the book was a good

way to pass on her love for the Islands and the people.

Katherine Orr (known at the time as Kathy Hesse) left

Pine Cay during the planning stages of the book, just

days before I arrived on the island in the spring of 1980.

We corresponded over the months and at one point she

asked me to fly to as many of the islands as I could, as

soon as I could (to meet publishing deadlines), to take

photos of local children that would be inserted into the

story. Great!

And so, a young Clifford Gardiner (now deceased),

first Belonger pilot in the Turks & Caicos, wearing his dazzling

white pilot’s uniform and an equally dazzling smile,

picked me up at the small Pine Cay airstrip. Here, someone

with a sense of humour had installed a sign post that

read: Greater Pine Cay International Airport. He flew me in

his red and white Cesna into the limitless blues of a clear

sky and dropped me off on Salt Cay, Grand Turk, North

Caicos and South Caicos where I approached elementary

schools to borrow children for photos. The students were

only too eager to pose for the shots, which we organized

with much chatting and laughter, and teachers happily

let them out of school for an adventure. They climbed

This 1982 photo of the young Clifford Gardiner, TCI’s first Belonger

pilot, shows his dazzling pilot’s uniform and equally dazzling smile.

This 1982 photo shows a young Holly Bassett on South Caicos, posing

for a shot that appeared in the 1983 edition of The Natural World.

casuarina trees (click), displayed baskets and hats woven

by women on Middle Caicos (click), gathered a variety of

sea beans they found on a beach (click) and more. I sent

the rolls of film off to Jane Halaby to incorporate into the


Some months later, a package arrived in the mail. The

book! The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands

was in print. The topics cover everything that comprises

the land and sea environments in which island children

play and learn, and all are introduced with inviting colours

and action drawings of children, plants, land and sea animals—fish,

crabs, turtles, birds, butterflies—and more.

Every page is fun and engaging and makes us want to

read on.

The book is captivating, from both academic and artistic

points of view. It proceeds in a friendly manner as

if talking directly to young readers, every now and then

asking a relevant question. For example: “There are more

ways plants are important to us. Can you think of them?”

And “More animals live in sand which is always underwater.

We can find their empty shells washed up on the

beach. Can you find some clam shells? A sand dollar?”

Now, over 40 years later, Katherine and I, with input

from Dr. Bill Keegan, Marsha Pardee, Alizee Zimmerman

and Dr. Della Higgs, have revised The Natural World of

the Turks and Caicos Islands. This new edition opens with

a tribute to the indigenous Lucayans, the first people who

lived in these Islands, and outlines conservation lessons

we can learn from them. It ends with action strategies

children can take to protect species at risk such as the

rock iguana, the queen conch and coral reefs.

Katherine Orr captures the beauty and ecological connections

of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Her book would

make a good addition to primary schools across the

Caribbean. The material is relevant; it honours Caribbean


18 www.timespub.tc

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Times of the Islands Fall 2021 19

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Live and in the flesh . . . the Turks & Caicos Rock Iguana (Cyclura carinata), found only in the TCI, is the star attraction of a visit to Little

Water Cay.

students’ world and connects them to it. The Natural

World of the Turks and Caicos Islands is appealing to children

because of the imaginative and whimsical full-page

illustrations and also because there are real photos of

real children smiling out at us—25 children whose names

are all included at the end. Holly Bassett, Neville Missick

and Karen Forbes are a few of them.

Katherine Orr dedicated this book of natural history

“to the now and future children of these Islands” because

today’s children are tomorrow’s fishermen and women,

lawyers, scientists and citizens—the partners who will

lead us into a sustainable future.

I believe The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos

Islands is as relevant today, if not more so, than it was 40

years ago. Fast forward to 2021, where the most critical

issue facing the world is global warming, which is largely

caused by overconsumption of gas and oil, as well as vast

livestock industries. It’s no secret that habitats of animals

and humans are being destroyed around the world and

that this is contributing to the rising temperature. For

instance, the sand in which female turtles lay their eggs is

becoming too hot. Eggs are reaching lethal temperatures

and some do not hatch at all. (Naomi Klein, This Changes

Everything, Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014, p. 434.)

20 www.timespub.tc

Walkin May2017_Layout 1 5/28/17 5:45 PM Page 1

Notable naturalist Rachel Carson said, “I believe

that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the

wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less

taste we shall have for destruction.” The Natural World

of the Turks and Caicos Islands is in tune with this philosophy.

It’s impossible not to be filled with wonder

when exploring Katherine Orr’s delightful drawings and

understanding her messages of conservation and interdependency

of all life forms.

As global awareness of the environmental crisis grows,

this revised edition is a significant addition to the readings

of children (and people of all ages) at home and

in schools. Indeed, copies of the book may be used in

schools across the TCI in the near future. Stay tuned! Our

grip on ego is tenacious, but it is loosening to embrace

the eco era—and none too soon. a

For more information and to see more children’s nature

books by Katherine Orr, visit katherineshelleyorr.com.




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Times of the Islands Fall 2021 21


talking taíno

Opposite page: Zamia is a toxic, indigenous Caribbean cycad whose “stem” is only edible with proper preparation.

Above: This Theodore Morris painting depicts a Taíno sitting at the entrance of a cave grilling fish over the fire. To see more of this talented

artist’s paintings, visit tainopaintings.weebly.com.


Not a Pot to “Cook” In

The TCI’s Indigenous people were quite creative in food preparation.

By Bill Keegan, Betsy Carlson, Michael Pateman and Lindsay Bloch

Irving Rouse, the doyen of Caribbean archaeology, once estimated that pottery comprised 90% of all artifacts

found in the region. It should come as no surprise then that the precontact history of the Islands is

written as if broken pieces of pottery (called sherds 1 )—not people—were the main actors. Pottery vessels,

like the one recovered underwater from a TCI cave, still contain a wealth of information. And though potsherds

may be the most abundant product of human manufacture, far greater quantities of things that

people used are preserved in archaeological sites.


Lexical note—sherd versus shard: sherd refers only to broken pieces of pottery, while shard may be used for any broken bits of

glass, metal, rock and pottery.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 23

People were living in the Caribbean for about 5,000

years before pottery became widely available. So how

did they cook their meals? Unfortunately, we don’t really

know the answer because food preparation has not

been investigated for these first inhabitants. After pottery

came to dominate archaeological assemblages, we

tended to assume that its superior qualities as cooking

vessels made other cooking techniques unnecessary. We

have recently learned that clay pots did not completely

replace other cooking methods. Because the Lucayan

Islands were settled last, and their settlements moved

frequently, preparing meals without having to carry heavy

and fragile clay pots facilitated the exploration of new

islands and the short-term exploitation of resources away

from settlements.

Even today, different meals require different cooking

methods. Some foods are roasted, broiled or grilled, and

others baked, boiled, blanched or even eaten “raw” (like

conch salad, “cooked” with lime juice). Pottery vessels are

best suited for slow cooking stews. Diversity in cooking

methods can be seen archaeologically as grilling, stone

boiling, earth ovens and the use of sea turtle shells and

baskets. Let’s look at the evidence.

The most widely recognized technique is the use of

a green-wood lattice raised above a fire to grill meats. In

fact, our word barbecue comes from the Taíno word barbacoa.

When Columbus went ashore at Guantanamo Bay,

Cuba, he observed an untended barbecue on which fish

and iguana were roasting. His men helped themselves to

the fish, but they left the iguana whose appearance they

found too disgusting-looking to eat. Grilling on an open

flame or roasting in the hot coals have passed the test

of time and remain popular, practically a national pastime,

today. But not all foods lend themselves to cooking

directly on the heat source, especially liquids.

Several aboriginal cooking methods involve the use

of “hot rocks,” with these distinguished by differences in

the types of rocks used and their placement in relation

to the heating source. Hearths are an example of rocks

arranged in a pit below the fire. When the fire burns down

to coals, the stones lining the hearth radiate heat and

facilitate cooking on the coals. At the Coralie site (GT-3)

on Grand Turk we found hearths constructed from limestone

and conch shells on which the shell (carapace) of

a sea turtle was used as a cooking vessel. Some of the

turtle bones were still in place on top of hearths and they

showed charring from having been burned on one side.

GT-3 is the only site in all of the Caribbean where this

cooking method has been reported.

A second type of hot rock cooking involves the place-


This complete pottery bowl from Hispaniola was recovered underwater in a cave in the Caicos Islands.

24 www.timespub.tc

Above: Artist Alejandra Baïz shares this digital drawing of a Taíno

family surveying the “catch of the day.” To see more of her images,

visit alejandra-baiz.weebly.com.

At right: This photo compares burned corals from modern-day “coral

boiling” experiments (at top) with corals from archaeological deposits

on Middle Caicos (at bottom).


ment of stones on top of the coals. Called “earth ovens,”

they may be the most common form of baking found

around the world. These ovens are comprised of seven

parts: prepared basin, fire, layer of hot rocks, lower packing

layer, food, upper packing layer (composed of green

vegetation, the packing layers protect the food from contaminants)

and an earthen cap. Some will recognize this

description as a New England clam bake or southern pig

roast. Earth ovens are reported for “preceramic” (Archaic

Age sites) but their first discovery in a context where people

made ample use of pottery vessels occurred recently

on Long Island (The Bahamas).

The Long Island ovens were found at three sites on

top of sand dunes along the Atlantic coast. The sites

appear to have been of short duration, perhaps fishing

camps or seasonal farmsteads, where it was inconvenient

to carry heavy and fragile cooking pots from the settlement.

Indeed, very little pottery has been found at any


Times of the Islands Fall 2021 25


Discovered at this site were remnants of an earth oven on Long Island, The Bahamas

of these sites. These pit features are about three feet in diameter and about two feet deep. The rocks are clearly

positioned on top of the dark earth and charcoal from the fire that was built in the pit first. Fish bones and lobster

and clam shells found at the sites suggest ancient clambakes.

26 www.timespub.tc

In order to determine what vegetable foods may have

been cooked in these ovens we sent several shell and

stone tools for starch grain analysis. Over the past decade

archaeologists have refined techniques for extracting

starch grains from plants from a variety of tools. Every

plant has its own unique grain shape, much like pollen

(or fingerprints). The analysis identified corn, manioc and

zamia on clamshell scrapers and a limestone grater board


We can’t let mention of zamia pass without taking a

brief side trip. Zamia, also known as coontie, is a tropical

cycad that is native to the Lucayan Islands and grows

along the Atlantic dunes. In a strange twist of botanical

trickery, it is the stem that develops into a thick tuberlike

growth below ground. Zamia was an important food

source in the precontact Caribbean, especially in the arid

eastern Dominican Republic.

Like bitter varieties of manioc, zamia contains toxins

and cannot be eaten raw. It is processed in a manner very

similar to making cassava bread. The stem is grated on

a wooden board into which small sharp pieces of stone

have been set. Liquid is squeezed from the pulp, and then

balls of the mash are set in a cool dry place to ferment.

While fermenting, the balls become infested with beetle

larvae. The balls are then flattened and baked, larvae and

all (extra protein)!


Excavations at the GT-2 site exposed an earth oven and circular

cement platforms. Note the wide distribution of darkened fire-cracked


The discovery of earth ovens on Long Island led us to

reconsider the archaeological evidence at the Governor’s

Beach site (GT-2) on Grand Turk. GT-2 reflects seasonal

visits to Grand Turk from Haiti that are dated to the end

of the 13th century. The main activity was the manufacture

of shell disc beads from the cherry jewel box shell

(Chama sarda). The shallow deposits indicate that these

were temporary visits. The site contained very small quantities

of pottery sherds, including several sherds from

Taino Paintings

by Theodore Morris



3910 Longhorn Dr - Sarasota, Fl34233

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 27

small effigy bowls brought from Hispaniola. The pottery

at the site was inadequate for cooking meals. Instead, the

main deposit was a dense layer of fire-cracked limestone

with interspersed circular compact-sand features of about

10 inches in diameter. The features formed a compact

surface about three centimeters thick that produced a

ringing sound when struck with a trowel, and were clearly

different from the surrounding sand matrix. X-ray diffraction

analysis identified these hard-packed features

as a form of cement. The original thought was that they

were constructed for use as bead-polishing surfaces.

However, none of these features exhibited any evidence

of use-wear from polishing beads, most were surrounded

by large quantities of fire-cracked limestone, and their

arrangement appears too haphazard to facilitate simultaneous

use as polishing stations. It now seems likely that

these are places where baskets, or other porous containers,

were set in an earth oven.

The hot rocks often are rearranged prior to the addition

of plant materials and foodstuffs. We propose that

spaces were cleared among the rocks for the placement

of baskets containing mollusks and that they left their

mark as circular features caused by “clam juice” (liquid

calcium carbonate and minerals) mixing with the sand to

create a cement-like pad.

Cooking in baskets would allow for a substantial

number of small mollusks and crustaceans to be heated

at one time without them being scattered in the fire. For

example, tiger lucine clams (Codakia orbicularis) are very

common in Lucayan sites, and a ten-inch wide by five-inch

tall basket could hold about 100 clams. Similarly, nerites

are marble-size snails that occur in large numbers along

rocky shorelines. In archaeological sites, the lip (with its

“bleeding tooth”) is usually separated from the rest of

the shell. We found that striking the fresh snail on a hard

surface, like cracking a nut, produces a mass of flesh and

smashed shell. But when the snails were parboiled for a

few minutes, the lip easily separated with a light tap.

We know that the Lucayans made basketry because

their impressions are found on pottery vessels. The

majority of basket impressions are observed on flat clay

griddles as if the clay was pressed out on a clean, dry

mat. However, basket impressions are also found on

hemispherical bowls. A diversity of weaving styles has

been identified which may represent the work of particular

individuals. In other words, leaving something akin

to a maker’s mark. In addition, the Spanish chronicler

Bartolomé de las Casas reported seeing Indigenous watertight

baskets in Cuba in the early 1500s.

Water-tight baskets made from “fanner” grass are still woven by

craftswomen from the Caicos Islands. The Middle Caicos Co-op has

created a vibrant market for TCI handcrafts.

Water-tight baskets opened a new line of investigation.

Prior to the adoption of pottery vessels, “stone

boiling” was among the most common preparation methods

for cooking food in a liquid. It involves the transfer

of rocks heated in the coals of a fire to an impermeable

container of liquid and food items. The red-hot rocks substantially

raise the temperature of the contents, but not

to the boiling point of water. The process is more similar

to near-boiling or rapid steaming, although when hot

rocks are added to the liquid the water does appear to


Boiling cobbles typically are spheroid shapes measuring

four to six inches. They are smooth-surfaced, hard,

resistant to thermal stress and minimally soluble. Stone

boiling experiments show that a significant percentage of

the rocks crack and fracture during the cooking process,

especially when heated multiple times. Different types

of rock fracture at different rates and in different ways,

sometimes in the fire, but more often from the thermal

shock that occurs when they are dropped into cool liquid.


28 www.timespub.tc

There are no typical boiling stones available in the

Lucayan Islands because they are composed entirely of

soft and soluble limestone. In contrast, coral cobbles of

appropriate sizes are readily available and easily collected

along Atlantic coast beaches. And we find lots and lots of

burned coral at Lucayan sites, despite no ready explanation

for why corals were being burned. With this in mind

we conducted a series of experiments. Coral cobbles

were collected from a beach, heated in an open fire, and

transferred with tongs into a container of water. The cobbles

quickly raised the temperature of the water to just

below the boiling point. Success! But best of all, the cobble

were discolored and fractured into shapes that match

those observed in archaeological deposits. Although our

experiments do not prove that the Lucayans used “coral

boiling” to cook particular foods, our results are consistent

with the archaeological evidence.

It is perhaps unfortunate that archaeologists often

describe ancient foodways as subsistence, as if people

only eat from necessity. The modern diversity of regional

“cuisines” highlights the rich cultural heritage of cooking

found around the world. There is no reason to assume

that the Lucayans were any less creative when it came to

cooking and eating. Moreover, we tend to assume that

when something new comes along it will replace what

came before. The evidence of traditional methods of food

preparation we now see in the Lucayan Islands offers a

window into Indigenous Caribbean cooking before and

after pots. Even with a pot to cook in, some foods are

better prepared without. a

Dr. Bill Keegan is Curator of Caribbean Archaeology at

the Florida Museum of Natural History (University of

Florida); Dr. Betsy Carlson is Senior Archaeologist at

Southeastern Archaeological Research (SEARCH, Inc.) in

Jonesville, FL; Dr. Michael Pateman is former Director

of the Turks & Caicos National Museum and currently

Curator/Lab Director of the AEX Maritime Museum on

Grand Bahama; and Dr. Lindsay Bloch is Collections

Manager of the Ceramic Technology Laboratory, Florida

Museum of Natural History (University of Florida).

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 29


Author Kelly Currington fell in love with a family of Mottled jawfish in the waters of the Turks & Caicos Islands, most especially a fiesty little

fellow she named “Ollie” (at left and above). The jawfish allowed Kelly to get quite close without retreating into their burrows, and she was

able to study their behavior over the course of many months.

Pearls of the Sea

The story of “Ollie.”

Story & Photos By Kelly Currington

Anyone who takes a moment to gaze out over the stunning turquoise waters of the Turks & Caicos Islands

must wonder about all the amazing creatures that are out there. What lies beneath those beautiful hues

of blue?

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 31

The Turks & Caicos Islands are home to a true treasure

trove of amazing creatures. All the regular residents

that are expected and sought out are here, including

Caribbean reef sharks; green, hawksbill and the occasional

loggerhead turtles; spotted eagle rays; southern

stingrays; dolphins; numerous types of moray eels; beautiful

reef fish; crabs; lobster; shrimps; and some weird

and wonderful odd little critters.

One of my favorite little fishes is the Yellowhead jawfish.

This peculiar creature is a bottom burrowing fish,

and one of only a handful of mouth brooding fish—meaning

the male incubates the eggs in his mouth until they

hatch. I’ve had the privilege of filming these tiny treasures

hundreds of times, including the aeration of the

eggs. They are always a huge draw for divers who travel

to these Islands to dive our famous reefs.

Every once in a blue moon we are fortunate enough

to discover a creature we’ve never seen before. This is

the story of one such discovery. While guiding a dive,

we covered an area of a dive site that we wouldn’t normally

see, but we were hanging in the opposite direction

due to wind and waves. As we headed toward the wall,

one of our crew looked down and saw an unusual creature.

It was sticking out of the sand from a burrow, like

a Yellowhead jawfish, but it was not. It was a new type

of jawfish—a Mottled jawfish. This little beauty is much

larger than the Yellowhead jawfish and didn’t hover above

its burrow, but just stuck its head up and peered around.

“Ollie” carefully holds a mouthful of fertilized eggs for the six to eight

days it takes them to mature.

As we looked closer, there were five of these gems. This

caused quite the buzz of excitement amongst the crew

and guests.

Being an avid lover of Yellowhead jawfish, I starting

spending a lot of time studying these new treasures.

After a few encounters with them, I felt a very strong con-

This Mottled jawfish Kelly named “Sapphire,” for her beautiful blue eyes.

32 www.timespub.tc

nection with the largest one of the family. Its face and jaw

were strong and its eyes were striking. I started talking to

him or her, expressing my adoration and how honored I

was to share space with them. Unlike their smaller cousins,

this species allowed me to get very close and did not

retreat into their burrows. Each one was full of personality,

and each one was different.

One day I went to visit them and got another amazing

surprise—the largest Mottled jawfish had a mouthful of

eggs! The sight of this handsome boy with eggs moved

me to tears. To see him very carefully holding them

securely in his mouth, but not too tight, and the precision

he took in aerating them is something only Mother

Nature could orchestrate.

I made sure to visit this family of Mottled jawfish every

single week to study their behavior and how they differ

from yellowheads. They seemed less weary, or as I like

to see it, more brave than the smaller species. I could

get much closer to them with and without my camera.

They interacted with each other and wouldn’t retreat into

their burrows unless something startled them. They kept

their heads fully out of their burrows and looked around,

watching the divers, watching fish go by and always

keeping an eye out for predators. After many weeks,

they seemed to get comfortable with my presence and I

started noticing new characteristics and behavior.

One day I looked at the large male as I approached

and said, “Hi Oliver.” From that moment he was known

as Ollie. I wish I could explain it, but he just looked like

an Ollie! His ladies were so full of personality and character

that they inspired names as well. The female that

was always closest to Ollie was dubbed Sapphire because

her eyes were so blue and she was very sassy. The more

shy of the larger females was dubbed Emerald because

her eyes always reflected a deep emerald green color as

she watched us from her den. The smallest and shyest of

the family was dubbed Peep, simply because she barely

peeped her little head out to watch us. There they were—

Ollie and his Lovely Ladies!

At the beginning of every charter I would be eager to

get to Ollie and see how he and his family were doing.

I had become extremely attached to him and I worried

about him. My excitement as we pulled up to the mooring

where he lived was visible to anyone near me—I just

couldn’t contain it! I was lucky that my fellow crew understood

my love for this little family group and agreed that I

always dived this site, whether with guests or in between

dives on my own where I could document, study and talk

to Ollie. On some days I did both dives.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 33

“Sapphire” would typically line the outside of her burrow with shells and broken coral the week before the full moon each month.

Geared up, I stepped into the turquoise water,

descended to the sea floor and slowly made my way to

Ollie’s home. There was always a lump in my throat until

I could see his head sticking up from his burrow, then

that lump turned to relief and I would squeal out his

name! I would tell him how happy I was to see him and

his ladies. I would go to each one and check on them

and note if they had changed burrows, eggs or no eggs,

the arrangement of shells around their burrows, and any

other intricacies I could see.

At least once a month, right after the full moon, Ollie

had eggs, and most months he had a second clutch

immediately following the release of the first one, and

sometimes a third clutch. His ladies were definitely keeping

him busy! I would look at those tiny babies in his

mouth and know they were the next generation of this

species and were going to continue to populate our reefs.

The week before the full moon each month, I would

notice Sapphire tidying up her burrow and bringing in new

shells and broken coral to line the outside. Ollie would

make the outside of his burrow very tight with shells and

coral, a reinforcement of debris. When I witnessed this, I

always knew that the next week he would have eggs, and

he always did. He would move burrows on occasion and

I had surmised that he had moved to the burrow of the

female he was incubating eggs for—but this was only a

guess based on the behavior I had witnessed over months

of observation.

One of the amazing facts about jawfish is that the mating

pair have burrows very close to each other, and there

is a “honeymoon” burrow not visible from the surface that

they share during mating. This burrow is usually between

their two individual burrows and all are connected by tunnels.

One day as I approached, I was met with an unexpected

surprise. Emerald had eggs too! This meant that

“she” was a “he.” There was a definite and noticeable

shift in the entire dynamic of the family group on this

day. I witnessed a completely new behavior from Ollie.

He would come all the way out of his burrow and posture

at Emerald, arching his back high and hovering over

him. I could only assume that this was a sign of territory

dominance since the behavior only began once Emerald

became a viable rival. This was something I had not seen

34 www.timespub.tc

in all the months I’d been monitoring them. I had witnessed

Sapphire come out of her den to grab shells and

broken coral or snatch a morsel from the sand, but I had

never seen Ollie come all the way out. It appeared he was

not happy about having another man near his ladies. His

displays were quite impressive and undeniable in their

intent. With this new revelation, we knew there were at

least two males, and we assumed, two females.

The very next week, I followed my normal routine. With

my heart pounding and excitement in my heart, I slipped

below the surface and headed to see “my boy” and his

family. I saw him from 50 feet away because the visibility

was so clear on this day. As I got closer, I could see

that there was something different. Emerald was gone,

his burrow filled in with sand and shells. I searched the

area for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Had Ollie

run him off? Had he decided to leave on his own? Had the

girls rejected him? What was obvious was that Ollie was

now back to his usual calm and humorous behavior. He

had a very new clutch of eggs and was quite comfortable

showing them to me. I knew the eggs were only a day or

two old by their color.

The process begins with the female laying her eggs in

one of the burrows (most likely the shared burrow), then

the male fertilizes them and scoops them up in his mouth

where he will protect them for the entire six to eight days

it takes them to mature. Brand-new eggs are a translucent

milky color, in a couple of days they turn a mango color,

then they start turning silver and right before they are

ready to be released they are very silver and you can see

the individual eyes of each baby—a beautiful sight!

On this day, Ollie did his usual thing with me—coming

partially out and looking at himself in my camera dome,

turning his back to me to check for dangers behind him

(this demonstrates a complete trust that I would not harm

him), and then rolling his eyes up and around and directly

back at me. I set my camera to the side, making sure the

sand was clear of any visible life before setting it down. I

talked to him as if I were talking to a human. I extended

my hand, palm up, to see if he would respond, and to my

surprise he did. He would come out and rest his chin on

my hand, never losing control of his clutch. I would offer

him pieces of broken shell or coral for his den and he

would take them from me—and then usually spit them

out to the side as if they were not suitable for his home.

I apparently needed more work on my design skills! Just

the fact that he would interact with me of his own choice

was a special gift and treasured bond that always left me

humbled and in tears.

The aptly-named “Peep” preferred to stay low and watch.

Peep continued to stay low and watch, and would

not accept interaction, most likely due to still being too

young to have confidence. Sapphire would come all the

way out of her burrow and take shells from me. She was a

strong-willed and brave girl who showed me her grit each

week. She and Ollie made a beautiful pair and I could only

imagine how perfect all the little Mottled jawfish they had

created would be.

Then, on what would end up being my last encounter,

our time together was different. It started out the

same way with me approaching with hope and anticipation,

and being rewarded with their presence. But Ollie

was much more communicative with me. After capturing

some video of him and his girls, I set my camera to the

side and talked to him about how much he had enriched

my life. I had my arms crossed under my chin and got as

close as he was comfortable with.

I watched this little creature that had changed me,

taught me so much and most importantly, shared his

home and family with me. He came out of his burrow,

straight up to my mask, and held onto my rash guard with

his mouth and tugged on it. He would come up out of

his burrow showing me his entire perfect body and then

lower himself back in. He affected me more this day than

any other, and I couldn’t put my finger on why, but it was

extremely intense. I went over to see Sapphire and she

also behaved differently. She came out and approached

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 35

my mask and nuzzled

it with her head and

then went back to her

den and watched me.

I could not explain



emotion that rushed

through me; I was leveled

to tears. In the

eight months I had

been visiting this family

this was the first

time they had shown

this intimate form of

communication. Had

I actually earned so

much trust that they

would visibly show

me affection? Was it

possible? I went and

checked on Peep, but

she was still in her burrow

with only her face peeking out as usual, but she did

not retreat and this was a subtle, but notable, difference.

As I swam away from this encounter, I could not

explain the full effect of the experience I had just had.

I surfaced and told my captain and fellow crewmate that

I wanted them to come with me to see my babies. They

geared up, we stepped in, and off we went. Once we were

there I demonstrated that I wanted them to extend their

hand or a shell to Ollie, and one at a time they did. Ollie

came out and shared a moment with each of them—now

the feeling was more overwhelming. Did he trust me

enough to understand that I would never bring danger to

him? Is this why he demonstrated the behavior with them?

Had I inadvertently made him trust all humans or was he

simply communicating some sort of message to us?

The next week I was going to go see Ollie and his girls

between dives so I could get some video of them without

distractions, so my crewmate led divers to see them. It

was always a stressful time for me waiting for them to

come back and assure me that Ollie was fine, so I waited,

pacing the deck. My crewmate barely had her face clear

of the water when her eyes told me what I did not want to

hear. She told me she could not find them.

The months Kelly Currington spent with “Ollie” and his family of jawfish inspired

powerful emotions and this underwater tribute.

As I’m typing this, that lump in my throat is huge, my

chest tightens, and the tears flow as if it were that day

again. I quickly climbed into my gear, grabbed my camera

and swam as fast as I could to his burrow. I knew from

organize my thoughts.

quite a distance that

my heart was about

to be broken, and

my mask filled with

tears. Peering out of

Ollie’s burrow was little

Peep, with no sign

of Ollie. So I went and

looked for Sapphire;

she was gone as well. I

swam all over the area

looking for them—

nothing. They were

gone. It took more

than 20 minutes for

me to gather myself. I

hovered above his burrow

crying. What had

happened? How had

something gotten both

of them and not Peep?

How? Why? I could not

Then I saw something, and it gave me some hope.

Sapphire’s burrow was filled in with sand and rubble,

the same as Emerald’s had been when he left. This told

me that most likely they were not taken by a predator,

but probably left of their own accord. As a mating pair it

made sense that they would go together and this would

also explain why Peep was still there. It was the only

explanation that made any sense, or at least the only one

my mind and heart would accept.

Had their behavior with me on my last visit been

their way of saying good-bye? Did they know? My heart

believes that this special little soul and his beautiful lady

were somehow communicating that we had a connection.

I spent the next half hour gathering all the broken

coral and shells from their burrows and creating a tribute

to the most amazing little creature who had taught me so

much, who had allowed me to share a small piece of his

world, and who showed me exactly how much one’s heart

could connect to another species.

Remember to slow down and look at all the creatures

we encounter, because they are all living beings and they

can touch your soul in ways you can’t even imagine. You

never know, you might come across one of Ollie and

Sapphire’s offspring—they are definitely out there! a

36 www.timespub.tc

green pages

Newsletter of the Department of Environment & Coastal Resources

Head office: Church Folly, Grand Turk, tel 649 946 2801 • fax 649 946 1895

• Astwood Street, South Caicos, tel 649 946 3306 • fax 946 3710

• National Environmental Centre, Lower Bight Road, Providenciales

Parks Division, tel 649 941 5122 • fax 649 946 4793

Fisheries Division, tel 649 946 4017 • fax 649 946 4793

email environment@gov.tc or dema.tci@gmail.com • web https://www.gov.tc/decr/

Although lionfish are visually stunning creatures, they are unfortunately hurting the coral reefs of the Turks & Caicos Islands.


Here with a Roar!

A tenacious invader that now calls the Turks & Caicos home.

By Ben Farmer, Waterfront Assistant, The School for Field Studies

I was on a drift-dive in southern Florida when I speared my first lionfish. There, I began to understand

the difficulty of controlling this species which is invasive to the tropical Atlantic and devastates reef fish

populations. Drift dives are perfect for seeing a lot of the reef without having to expend much energy. By

the end of the dive, I was able to spear two lionfish after several attempts and a bit of determination. As

exhilarating as the experience was, it became clear to me how many resources—be they dive gear, boat

time or trained volunteers—are required to keep lionfish populations in check.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 37

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

But why do we spear and kill lionfish? After all, they

are a beautiful species, coveted by aquarists the world

over. The answer lies in the destruction they cause in the

areas where they are invasive. Moreover, spearing has

been shown as one of the most effective measures of

catching lionfish.

A biological invasion happens when a species that

is native to one region finds its way into another region

and establishes itself. This can be a natural process, but

in modern times is frequently caused by human introduction.

Often, an introduced species poses no significant

ecological problems in its native range but becomes a

problem elsewhere.

For example, consider the cane toad (Bufo marinus),

which produces toxins that can be fatal to predators

when eaten. In the cane toad’s native regions of South

and Central America, many predators have adapted over

time to be able to tolerate these toxins, and thus there is

a natural control on cane toad populations. In Australia

and other regions where cane toads are invasive, however,

not all predators have these adaptations. This, as

well as factors like available habitat, prey populations

and means of sexual reproduction, has contributed to

the cane toad population in Australia exploding from 120

to 1.5 billion.

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) invaded North

America in 1986 from Eurasia and spread extensively,

starting in the Great Lakes where humans introduced

them. Now zebra mussels are so entrenched in the

ecosystem that they clog water pipes and engulf underwater

portions of bridges and docks across the United


One of the most prolific invasions is that of the

European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which has cascaded

outward to all seven continents, as well as many

Caribbean islands. Since its introduction by Spanish colonizers

in the 1500s, the European rabbit has devastated

ecosystems due to its ability to breed quickly and consume

an excess of resources. Invasions such as these

cost governments extraordinary amounts of money every

year, due to the ongoing toll on both native wildlife and

human infrastructure, as well as the effort of controlling

invasive populations.

Lionfish are one of the more recent invaders—they

were the first marine fish to invade the western North

Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, and came from their native

range of the Pacific or Indian Oceans. First documented

by a lobster fisherman in 1985 south of Fort Lauderdale,

Florida, the invasion likely was a result of aquarists

releasing their lionfish into Florida waters.

There are two species found in the Caribbean, Pterois

volitans and P. miles, collectively known as the “red lionfish.”

Both invasive species have an apparent ability to

tolerate a wider array of habitats and temperatures than

their native counterparts. However, genetic testing shows

that P. volitans is the dominant species in the Caribbean

and is perhaps a hybrid species. It is possible that this

hybridization provided P. volitans certain traits which

improved the invasion success.

High tolerance to an array of habitats and temperatures

was just one factor contributing to the establishment

of lionfish across the Caribbean. Another was the lack of

natural predators. In the lionfishes’ native range of the

Indo-Pacific, there are 12 recognized species as of 2015.

All of these 12 lionfish species are eaten by predators

which are able to cope with the venomous spines (lionfish

have dorsal, anal and pelvic spines which release a toxin).

In the Caribbean, studies have documented lionfish being

eaten by sharks, groupers and moray eels. However, this

predation requires human intervention (training of the

predators to eat lionfish) that is difficult to maintain on a

scale large enough to keep lionfish populations in check.

Lionfish also produce an enormous amount of eggs

and reproduce year-round. This, coupled with the fact that

their larvae can disperse hundreds of miles in the ocean,

means that lionfish have taken over entire swaths of the

Caribbean very quickly. Once lionfish have established

in an area, their voracious eating causes sharp declines

in native fish populations. Coral reefs often become less

healthy as a result, because reef-associated fish are very

important to the maintenance of the ecosystem.

Researchers at The School for Field Studies Center

for Marine Resource Studies (SFS CMRS) first sighted and

documented lionfish in December 2007. This sighting

was on a shallow, sheltered coral reef called Jerry Camp

on South Caicos. By June 2008, lionfish had been spotted

in seagrass beds and deep coral reefs on South Caicos.

As part of a concerted monitoring effort, SFS documented

the swift spread of lionfish populations to the mangroves

by 2009, and to exposed shallow reefs by 2010. The

research continued, and SFS now has a dataset of lionfish

catches from 2009 to 2020.

38 www.timespub.tc

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

Lionfish possess venomous dorsal, anal and pelvic spines. The pelvic spines are visible here as the lionfish splays them outward.


The invasion was not limited to South Caicos,

either—lionfish in fact were first sighted in the Turks

& Caicos Islands in an unknown location in 2006, then

documented off West Caicos in 2007. I reached out

to Dr. John Claydon, who was a previous center director

at SFS in the 2000s and then went on to direct the

Department of Environment & Coastal Resources (DECR)

in Providenciales. Dr. Claydon provides some insight:

Q: You have been involved as a researcher and director in

various capacities throughout the Turks & Caicos Islands,

and in this time, lionfish have unfortunately become

established. How did this invasion affect the livelihood

of those in the TCI?

JC: It is hard to tell, but it is likely that lionfish have

reduced the abundance of native species and this may

affect fishers directly. It is also possible that lionfish contribute

to the degradation of coral reefs, and everyone

in the Islands is affected if they lose this vital natural

defense against storms, and if its value as a source of

food and as a tourist attraction is reduced. Not to mention

the broader value of reefs for biodiversity.

Dr. Claydon brings up important points about the ecological

and economic relevance of lionfish. Degradation

of the reef system due to lionfish is a big potential problem

for the TCI, however we have tools at our disposal.

Culling, or consistent spearfishing of lionfish in an area,

is the best answer currently available to controlling the

lionfish population in the absence of a natural predator.

When a lionfish is brought onto shore and dissected, we

call it a “catch.”

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 39

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources



Clockwise from top left: The author, Ben Farmer, prepares to spear a

lionfish using a pole spear.

Dr. Ewa Krzyszczyk walks the students through a lionfish dissection,

as part of their field exercise on invasive species.

Dr. Ewa Krzyszczyk and Anna Handte-Reinecker, an SFS program

assistant, are on a lionfish hunt when a turtle happened to swim

into view. Dr. Krzyszczyk is carrying a lionfish Zookeeper with a pole

spear stored inside.


I joined SFS as a waterfront assistant in Fall 2019, and

soon afterwards the other assistants and I began helping

Dr. Ewa Krzyszczyk with logging these lionfish catches.

Dr. Krzyszczyk is professor of the Principles of Resource

Management course at SFS and gets the students involved

with lionfish hunts and dissections every semester. As

part of field exercises, done via snorkeling or scuba diving,

students help staff locate lionfish on the reefs of

South Caicos. After staff spear the lionfish, students log

the time and depth at which the fish are caught, as well as

the fishes’ behavior. Finally, all the fish are safely brought

back to the center with a cylinder called a Zookeeper.

Several things are recorded there, including gut contents

(what the lionfish had recently been eating), sex of the

fish and body length.

As early as 2009, the DECR began lionfish “derbies” in

which fishermen competed to bring in the highest number

of lionfish. Hundreds of specimens were dissected,

with information entered in the database. More recently

in 2016, a nation-wide derby called the Lionfish Festival

was hosted by the DECR and the Turks & Caicos Reef

Fund, in which competitions were held in Providenciales,

Grand Turk and South Caicos. Fishermen on South Caicos

brought in nearly 40 fish, and SFS students assisted with

measuring them. All of these fish were filleted and served

at the Heritage Day Festival. Lionfish are quite tasty, after


Our current SFS Center Director Dr. Heidi Hertler,

discusses the event here: (https://fieldstudies.


In terms of what you can do personally, some TCI

dive shops will allow guests to bring speared lionfish

back to their hotel restaurant for preparation. This is a

great way to reduce the population of an invasive species

while enjoying a great dinner—talk to a local dive shop to

find out more.

40 www.timespub.tc

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources


Lionfish are one of many human-caused introductions of invasive

species. The new reality for many Caribbean reefs is that lionfish are

there to stay.

Long-term research by SFS suggests that lionfish

populations are decreasing on some South Caicos sites,

which is likely due to culling efforts. However, these sites

do not represent the lionfish population throughout the

entirety of the TCI, and it is important to stay vigilant and

continue monitoring. Dr. Claydon has a few thoughts on

this as well:

Q: The new reality for many Caribbean reefs is that lionfish

are there to stay, even accounting for culling efforts.

What would you recommend as a long-term response to

the issue?

JC: Localised areas of reef will benefit from regular culling,

and this will be important for particularly vulnerable

sites, but we are not going to get rid of lionfish completely.

The lionfish invasion has helped to promote a

better understanding of the value of coral reefs to people

of the wider Caribbean region. We can keep using the

lionfish issue to raise awareness and help protect coral

reefs in other ways.

You can help support the Turks & Caicos Reef Fund

lionfish project by submitting any lionfish sightings here:

(https://www.tcreef.org/projects). a

For additional information about The School for Field

Studies, visit www.fieldstudies.org or contact us on

South Caicos at hhertler@fieldstudies.org.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 41

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

If Rocks Could Talk . . .

Their story would be fascinating.

By Carmen Hoyt, Waterfront Assistant, The School for Field Studies

After how many birthdays do you stop keeping track? If it’s any consolation, the Earth is 4.54 billion years

old and still going strong.

42 www.timespub.tc

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

This huge cave on the beach at Mudjin Harbor in Middle Caicos is

known as a flank margin cave, originally a dry cave formed when

the ocean level was higher.

4.54 billion years . . . think about it. A billion is difficult

to grasp, not to mention four times over. If every

second of our day counted for a year of Earth’s life, it

would take about 144 years, far beyond the current

capacity for a human lifespan.

The history of our planet is so incredibly long that

it’s easier to conceptualize as a calendar year. If our planet’s

first day on the job was January 1, modern humans

didn’t evolve until December 31 at 11:38 PM. Twenty-one

minutes later, at 11:59 PM, began the Holocene Epoch,

the equivalent of 12,000 years ago when the most recent

ice age—the Paleolithic Ice Age—came to an end and the

Earth as we know it began.

So, what happened in that metaphorical year before

humans existed? If the planet could talk, what stories

would it tell us? Unfortunately, our Earth is vocally inhibited,

but it tells us stories in different ways. Geology, the

study of rocks and the processes that impacted them, is

an excellent method of communication, especially if you

are interested in a little history lesson. I decided to listen

to a chapter about the Turks & Caicos Islands, and here’s

what I learned.


Times of the Islands Fall 2021 43

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

In the context of the calendar year analogy, the Turks

& Caicos have their origin somewhere around December

15, after the fourth mass extinction marked the end of

the Triassic period, the beginning of the Jurassic period,

and the slow break-up of the supercontinent Pangea. It

was during this time that dinosaurs ruled and the climate

across the planet didn’t stray far from hot and dry. The

fourth mass extinction failed to wipe out the dinosaurs,

but their luck would be tried again all too soon.

Pangea’s demise began when Gondwana (the agglomeration

of the African, South American, Antarctic, Indian

and Australian continents) drifted away from Laurasia

(Eurasia and North America). The foundation for the

Turks & Caicos, along with the Bahamas, grew from the

continental crust that North America pulled away from

Africa during the split of Gondwana and Laurasia 200 million

years ago. The crust on most of the planet, including

the Turks & Caicos, is composed of basalt, a dark, dense

rock that results from the cooling of lava or magma.

The basaltic crust was buried deep under layers of

limestone that formed during the Jurassic, Cretaceous

and the Tertiary periods (a time span of nearly 197 mil-

44 www.timespub.tc

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

Conch Bar Caves in Middle Caicos are one of the largest cave systems

in the Caribbean.

lion years) from biological sources in warm, shallow seas

typical of the Caribbean we know and love. Less typical,

however, was the marine life responsible for such limestone

deposition. Limestone is made from the mineral

calcite, which is derived from the calcium carbonate

structures found in reef-building species of prehistoric

hard corals or the boxy shells of conical, clam-like organisms

called rudists. Calcite can also be deposited from

the ocean water itself, though this process is not quite as


During this time, reefs were growing and thriving,

and about 3 million years ago, the closure of the

Central American Seaway with the surfacing of Panama

definitively sealed off the Caribbean from the Pacific, separating

species indefinitely. The Tertiary period lasted up

until the ice ages of the Pleistocene, a three-and-a-halfhour

time period on December 31 in our grand analogy

just prior to the start of the modern Holocene at 11:59

PM. It was during these chilly hours that reef development

(and limestone deposition) in the Caribbean and

elsewhere came to a halt with cooler temperatures and

falling sea levels.


Times of the Islands Fall 2021 45

green pages newsletter of the department of environment & coastal resources

Two interesting features of the limestone-dominated

geology of both the Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas are

an intricate cave system and blue holes, both products

of what is called a Karst landscape. The Turks & Caicos

Islands boast one of the largest cave systems in the

Caribbean: the Conch Bar Caves located in Middle Caicos.

Caves like these form when rainwater (which is slightly

acidic through interactions with carbon dioxide in the

atmosphere) percolates through depressions and cracks

of the limestone, collecting in cavities that grow in volume

as weaker parts of the limestone dissolve, eventually

connecting as underground caves.

In South Caicos, students studying at The School for

Field Studies’ Center for Marine Resource Studies are

always oriented to their new home at the beginning of

every session with a town tour. One feature we always

point out is the “Boiling Hole” at the center of the decommissioned

salinas, where valuable salt was produced

during the 1700s. The Boiling Hole is an entrance to an

underground cave system that is connected to the ocean,

and it was used to control the saltwater entering the salinas.

Blue holes, in my humble opinion, are even more

mysterious and alluring. They are appropriately named;

even if you’ve never seen one, you can imagine what it

would be like. They’re spectacular geological features

with an unrivaled appreciation for geometry. Like deep,

circular, underwater sinkholes with sheer walls, they look

more like a relic of plugs taken by extraterrestrial life

than a story of Earthly geology.

One of the world’s most famous blue holes is in

Belize, but the Bahamas’ best kept secret is that there are

quite a few around the archipelago, with guest appearances

in the Turks & Caicos Islands. I once noticed one on

a flight from Providenciales to South Caicos. Turns out, if

you look at a satellite map of Middle Caicos, its deep blue

color stands out among the light sand of the Caicos Bank

just off the coast of the land.

So, what is responsible? Limestone is the necessary

ingredient, but a few key steps must take place. First,

the stone must be exposed to the atmosphere to start

the weathering process. It is during cooler periods in the

Earth’s climate that ice is created, absorbing some of the

ocean water and lowering sea levels. On limestone-based

islands, the less-dense freshwater source floats atop the

more-dense marine ground water.

This is massive Ocean Hole off the south coast of Middle Caicos.

The initial forms of blue holes resemble small freshwater

ponds. Similar to the way rain water dissolves rock

by intruding along cracks and seams to form caves, the

freshwater source exposed to the atmosphere dissolves

carbon dioxide and forms a weak acid. However, there is

an additional acidic solution created from the interaction

of the fresh water with the salt water at the mixing zone

below. Picture a liquid plunger of sorts, drilling deep into

the Earth over millions of years. These two processes

carve the vertical walls of the blue hole as sea level rises

and falls with changes in the climate.

Such changes were characteristic of the Quaternary

period, starting with the ice ages of the Pleistocene. It

was during this three-and-a-half-hour time period that the

sea level was 300–400 feet lower than it is today, exposing

the Caicos Bank as a cliff-fringed plateau where these

caves and holes started forming.

It’s hard to imagine the Turks & Caicos as anything

other than the warm, tropical islands they are today, but

they have endured quite the journey through time. What

started off as dense, volcanic rock deep below the surface

of the sea became a thriving coral reef, built up by many

layers until exposed to the atmosphere and intricately

carved by rainwater. Of course this is a vast oversimplification

of many hundreds of millions of years of change,

but it’s a lesson in patience and metamorphosis. Any

exposed rock formation can give you a clue as to how it

ended up the way it is if you’re willing to look and listen,

carefully. a

For additional information about The School for Field

Studies, visit www.fieldstudies.org or contact us on

South Caicos at hhertler@fieldstudies.org.


46 www.timespub.tc


Summer in the Turks & Caicos Islands

By David P. Carroll ~ Photo By Marta Morton

Summer by the sea and

It’s so beautiful to stop

And see watching the

Children smiling so bright

Having fun in the warm

Summer sunlight feeling the warmth

On my face and Turks & Caicos Islands is just

A beautiful sunny place and

Taste the sweetest fruits and I’m

Watching the butterflies flow

Oh how I love the summer days

Smiling so bright kissing my beautiful wife

And all of the songs we sung were so

Beautiful and bright in the warm

Summer sunlight and it’s truly

Beautiful to see the little birds singing

To me it’s summer time and I’ll remember this summer’s day

And all of my memories will never fade away

Oh how I love summer time in beautiful Turks & Caicos Islands every day.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 47



Opposite page: This photo of West Caicos’ windward coast is where Thomas Brown and his crew would have drifted ashore following the

battle with pirates.

Above: This is a typical six-pounder cannon such as might have been used in the West Caicos pirate attack of 1798. It is currently displayed

at Cheshire Hall Plantation in Providenciales.


Pirate Attack!

Rediscovering the epic battle off West Caicos.

By Ben Stubenberg

On an early summer morning in 1798, a balmy breeze filled the luffing sails of five sturdy sloops setting

off in search of a ship that had run aground. From Ft. George Cay, the boats glided south along the white

sand beaches of Pine Cay, their long booms reaching far over the turquoise water to catch the following

wind and speed them along. The leader of the small flotilla, Loyalist planter Col. Thomas Brown of North

Caicos, must have anticipated trouble for he loaded the boats with cannons and muskets. Then he did

something seemingly counter to common sense, and not for the first time; he put those weapons in the

hands of an all-Black crew of enslaved men. Brown’s hunch proved right, as pirates showed up in the

afternoon off West Caicos, guns blazing and spoiling for a fight.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 49

Launching a journey of rediscovery

Now, 223 years later on a summer afternoon in 2021,

local Captain Ernesto Von Der Esch, Agile LeVin, Lynn

Pelowski and I set out to find the spot of the long-ago

battle. We admit to a juvenile thrill, once again imagining

ourselves as pirates back in the day. Didn’t we all want to

hoist the Jolly Roger and raid ships with cutlass in hand

while living free on the high seas? Reality is somewhat

different, we know. But on this day, we recaptured a bit

of our childhood on our way to rediscovering the baddest

pirate attack in Turks & Caicos history.

But Brown’s encounter with pirates was no ordinary

swashbuckling adventure. The showdown off West Caicos

brought to the fore a confluence of slavery, trust, bravado,

foolhardiness and courage under fire, all against

a backdrop of French and British forces clashing on the

edge of empire for dominance of the Caribbean and the


Some 15 years before us, Providenciales veterinarian

Mark Woodring came across a cannon and the remnants

of a wreck off the eastern shore of West Caicos. He contacted

a historian friend who recognized the spot as

the possible scene of Brown and crew’s encounter with

pirates. After reading my article, “Hidden Legacy: Slavery

and Loyalists in ‘Grand Caicos’” (Times of the Islands,

Spring 2020), which included Brown’s skirmish with

pirates, Mark contacted me and generously provided the

coordinates for follow-up.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on plans for

an expedition in 2020. Even after restrictions eased, we

waited for the normally choppy seas on the windward

eastern shore of West Caicos to abate to have the best

shot of finding the cannon. Then we could place the battle

with some confidence and game out the story of what

probably happened. The summer winds blowing from the

southeast didn’t let up, however, so on July 31, 2021 we

decided to just go for it.

Heading to West Caicos

At Little Water Cay, the sloops cut through the Leeward

Channel that led to the Caicos Banks while the tide was still

high enough for the keels to clear the shallow bottom. The

boats continued sailing downwind along Providenciales’

south coast past Long Bay, Gussy Cove, (now South Dock)

and Five Cays Bay. From here they took a straight shot to

Southwest Reef just off the south end of West Caicos and

the wreck they hoped to find. The enslaved crew relished

the chance to be on the water and away from field work

on the plantations. But they also knew that pirates lurked

off the coast and so steeled themselves to the prospect of

an attack.

Just before noon, Brown and the crew ate pieces of

johnnycake and knocked back a slug of rum, as was the

custom then. Just ahead, they caught their first glimpse

50 www.timespub.tc


of the masts from the stranded merchant ship protruding

above the reef. The name of the ship is lost to history, but

it had sailed from the state of Rhode Island loaded with

supplies the planters had ordered and badly wanted to


Local artist Richard McGhie painted this depiction of the battle

between Thomas Brown and his crew and the pirates off West Caicos.

He has been avidly drawing and painting since moving to Turks &

Caicos in 2014. Captivated by his surroundings, he tries to capture

the beauty and rich history of the Islands in his art. You can see more

of his work on Instagram at richmcghie_art or contact him directly at


Times of the Islands Fall 2021 51

I sat down with local mariner David Douglas who

has sailed these waters for more than 35 years in his

locally built schooner, the Atabeyra, (suncharters.tc)

and asked him if this route made sense. “Yes, from Ft.

George Cay, Brown most likely would have sailed south of

Providenciales to get to Southwest Reef. The other alternative

would be to sail across Grace Bay to Northwest

Point. And from there cross the channel to West Caicos.

That would have taken quite a bit longer and leave them

much more exposed to pirates. So the southern route

makes much more sense.”

Casting off from South Side Marina on Providenciales

in Captain Ernesto’s boat MV Bonita (OceanFrontiersTCI.

com), we followed Brown’s probable route heading to

West Caicos. No doubt Brown and his crew would have

stared in disbelief at the superbly comfortable and fast

37-foot fiberglass Axopar with two huge 300 hp outboard

motors. As we closed in on Southwest Reef using

the coordinates Mark had provided, Captain Ernesto cut

the engines. Somewhere below lay the cannon. Agile,

co-founder of visittci.com and a font of TCI historical

knowledge, prepped his underwater camera while Lynn

began filming.

We took in the scene as our boat rocked in a sea

awash with endless hues of blue and streaked with

golden brown Sargassum seaweed reflecting off the midday

sun. To the south, rows of cresting waves splashed

over the shallow reefs that had claimed so many ships

passing through. And further off lay the shore of West

Caicos, a line of scrubby white bluffs mixed with sand

and limestone stretching for miles without a trace of

human presence. Unchanged over years, we could see

what they saw and slipped for a moment back in time.

“Burntfoot” Brown’s defiance

Just who was Thomas Brown and what plight in his vastly

different world brought him here? The man is no stranger

to the pages of this magazine. Dr. Charlene Kozy’s four

articles—“Hidden History” (Winter 2007/2008), “Revealing

Thomas Brown” (Fall 2009), “All the King’s Men” (Fall

2010) and “The Rest of the Story” (Spring 2012)—provide

illuminating portraits of the Loyalists in the Turks

& Caicos and Brown in particular. As one of the most

resilient, headstrong and paradoxical characters in TCI

history, he warrants continued examination.

In 1775, just shy of his 25th birthday, Brown sailed

from the bleak but prosperous North Sea town of Whitby,

England to Georgia in the American Colonies. Thanks to


This map of the Caicos Banks shows the route that Thomas Brown likely took to the pirate attack area off West Caicos.

52 www.timespub.tc

financial help from his prominent father and contacts

made in Savannah, he bought land to establish a cotton

plantation in the back country near Augusta. But this was

also the year that calls for independence from Britain

reached a fever pitch that sharply divided the Colonists

between Loyalists and Patriots. Brown had not been shy

about declaring his Loyalist support for King George III.

In his book, The King’s Ranger, Edward J. Cashin

describes a definitive moment in Brown’s life. One

evening, a mob of 100 or so members of the fervent proindependence

group Sons of Liberty gathered in front of

his house and demanded that he swear allegiance to the

revolutionary cause. Brown tried to steer a noncommittal

path, saying that he did not want to oppose the country

of his birth, but nor did he want to offend those in his

new home. But Sons of Liberty boys would hear none of

it and closed in on him. Brown fired a pistol and fended

them off with a saber until one of the mob smashed him

over the head with the butt of a musket.

The Patriots then tied him to a tree, tarred and feathered

him, partially scalped him and lit his feet on fire.

Somehow, he survived, even after losing consciousness

for two days. A doctor performed what passed for brain

surgery in the 18th century to repair his fractured skull,

but he would suffer severe headaches for the rest of his

life. He also lost two toes in the fire, earning him the lifelong

nickname “Burntfoot” Brown.

The bitterness from the attack, as well as Brown’s

commitment to king and country, led him to join the

King’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit of the British Army fighting

George Washington’s men in the American South. He

displayed remarkable courage and leadership in battle,

often forging alliances with native Indian tribes and fighting

alongside them. He may also have sought revenge.

Legend has it that Brown hanged 13 captured American

Patriots so he could gloat while watching them die.

Second chance in North Caicos

After the war, the victorious Patriots forced Brown and

tens of thousands of other Loyalists out of the new

American republic and confiscated the property they

left behind. Most Loyalists from the American South fled

to eastern Florida before taking refuge in the Bahamas.

Some, like Brown, made their way to North Caicos where

Britain compensated Loyalists for the loss of their plantations

with land grants and money.

Brown soon became a successful cotton planter on

North Caicos—made possible, of course, by the forced

labor of men, women and children he had enslaved and

This image of a Loyalist being tarred and feathered is similar to what

was done to Thomas Brown by members of the Sons of Liberty.

brought with him. In what was then called “Grand Caicos,”

Brown is said to have permitted slaves to cultivate small

plots of land for themselves. On occasion, if one of those

he had enslaved wanted to marry someone held in bondage

at another plantation, he “bought” that person so

they could be together.

Loyalist slaveholders, like their counterparts throughout

the Caribbean and American South, portrayed their

relations with the enslaved as paternalistic or benevolent

to justify keeping them in oppressive bondage. Their

narrative also served as an effort to offset growing abolitionist

agitation to end slavery that Brown would be quite

aware of.

We have no written accounts of what the enslaved on

North Caicos thought about Brown’s “generosity.” We do,

however, have a first hand account by formerly enslaved

Mary Prince that details the horrific treatment meted out

by Bermudian enslavers on Grand Turk. Though conditions

differed for the enslaved on North Caicos who

toiled in fields rather than salt ponds, shards of oral history

handed down from generation to generation from

the 1800s present a different version of Brown, who is

remembered as a cruel slave holder. These two contradictory

versions of Brown are not necessarily mutually

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 53

exclusive, however, as he may have alternated between

affection and abuse that characterized many slaveholders

of the time.

Arming slaves

The story gets complicated because Brown did in fact

develop a trust for many of those he had enslaved, contrary

to the mindset of most plantation owners who had a

well-founded fear of slave uprisings. Indeed, slave rebellions

flared up throughout the Americas, but they were

almost always quashed by colonial armies and local militias.

In the 1790s, the prospect of a successful revolt

became terrifyingly real when slaves in the French colony

of St. Domingue, now Haiti, rose up and beat back

French forces and took control of wide swaths of territory.

Stories of rebellion in Haiti also circulated widely

among the slave population in TCI, just 90 miles (150 km)

to the north, that would later inspire several successful

slave escapes by boat. (See “Sailing to Freedom” in the

Times of the Islands Winter 2018/2019 issue.)

For slaveholders living with these anxieties, proposals

to arm slaves would be an anathema to their way of

life. Nonetheless, exigencies arose that from time to time

necessitated taking the risk of giving the enslaved weapons

to fight a foreign enemy and protect the interests of

the enslaver.

In the book Arming Slaves, historians Philip D.

Morgan and Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy write, “The

arming of slaves in the Americas was never part of a deliberate

or concerted policy but rather was warily adopted as

an urgent measure in response to a crisis.” They go on to

write, “An inherent ambiguity therefore existed in colonial

society between keeping firearms out of the hands

of slaves and arming them whenever it seemed necessary

or useful. Arming slaves was a dangerous expedient, but

one resorted to frequently.”

A driving force for arming Blacks in the Caribbean

was the high mortality rates of troops arriving from

Europe compared to enslaved Africans. For example, the

British lost more than 5,000 troops to disease during their

occupation of Havana in 1762–63. During the American

Revolutionary War, 11% of European soldiers bound for

the Caribbean died on the troop transport ships. And

once in the region, the annual mortality rate of soldiers

was 15% compared to just 6% of those stationed in New

York. Of the 1,008 men of the Seventy-Ninth Regiment

stationed in Kingston, Jamaica in 1778, “Scarcely a man

remained of the original number” 12 months later.

During the American Revolution, British military officers

experimented with forming units drawn from slaves

who escaped Patriot slaveholders. Loyalist slaveholders

sharply disapproved, but British commanders held more

sway. By 1782, near the end of the war, the British had

more than 700 enslaved Blacks in uniform and under

arms, along with thousands more in auxiliary positions,

with the promise of freedom after the war.

Patriot slaveholders opposed the arming of the

enslaved as fervently as their Loyalist counterparts. But

the Patriots largely succeeded in preventing the recruitment

of fighting units made up of slaves to serve the

American Revolution. Nonetheless, many Blacks, some

enslaved but most free, did serve honorably and proudly

on the side of the Revolutionaries. Indeed, some of the

enslaved on both sides had been warriors in Africa before

being captured and sold into slavery and so adapted well

to warfare.

At the end of the war, the British evacuated the slaves

who had given them loyal service from the American colonies

and deployed them to Jamaica and other Caribbean

colonies as part of a larger West India Regiment. However,

Britain reneged on the promise to free many of the slaves

they had recruited, underscoring the continuing disagreement

within British colonial society over slavery.

Brown almost certainly would have been familiar with

the British arming slaves for military action during the

American Revolution and may have seen first-hand their

capabilities in combat. That may have imbued him with

confidence that he could rely on enslaved men to defend

TCI and serve him, as the need arose.

Defending the Caicos Cays

Simultaneously in the 1790s, tensions between the

British and French escalated into what became known

as the “French Revolutionary Wars” for who would reign

supreme. France in particular supplemented its navy in

the Caribbean by recruiting private vessels and outright

pirates as “force multipliers” to raid British ships and disrupt

trade. The French “Commissions,” also known as

“Letters of Marque,” gave the private and pirate vessels

the status of “privateers,” a tacit pass to rampage, as long

as they left French ships alone. All European powers and

the United States played the same game. Using their thin

veneer of legitimacy, many of these French pirates now

sailing as privateers called on French-controlled ports

along the north coast of Haiti to resupply before heading

back out for raids.

With more enemy French ships now searching for

54 www.timespub.tc

British ships to sink or capture (as well as American

merchant vessels that had resumed supplying British colonies),

TCI became dangerously exposed. The Loyalists

had good reason to believe the privateer pirates or even

the French Navy might attack them at their most vulnerable

spot—the deep water basin near what is now Fort

George Cay. This was the only place where merchant ships

could sail through a cut in the reef and anchor securely to

offoad supplies for the North Caicos Loyalists. 1

To protect this choke point, the Loyalists, with Brown

taking a lead, built a small fort in 1795 (possibly earlier),

naming it Fort Saint George. When finished, Brown probably

made the case for arming TCI slaves as a defense

force, most likely in response to a shortage of white soldiers.

It is plausible that many of the Black soldiers may

have been recruited from the North Caicos plantations.

Thus the Loyalists apparently relied on the very people

they had enslaved to protect them, their families and

their property from an enemy attack. And they did this

despite the ongoing slave revolt in Haiti.

Hierarchies of enslavement

Brown appears not to have been troubled by the contradictions

of his actions. Instead, he seems to have

possessed an unwavering confidence that he could inspire

fealty among the enslaved he had armed. This begs the

question, of course, of why armed slaves would stay loyal

instead of using the weapons against the enslavers, especially

if there was no promise of freedom.

In the Introduction to Arming Slaves, history professor

David Brion Davis states, “For slaves, military duty

offered a welcome escape from the misery of plantation

labor. The allure of a promise of freedom also entailed

upward mobility, dignity, prestige and a chance to prove

one’s manhood and to receive awards that would impress

one’s peers as well as white authorities.”

In the brutal, unforgiving world during Brown’s time,

the enslaved leveraged and took advantage of cracks

in the system of oppression to improve their lot. While

a full-on slave revolt was at times a possibility, it also

entailed a risk of failure, followed by more oppressive

servitude or death. That risk had to be weighed against

sporadic opportunities to gain privileges, status and

capital, even if short of freedom. In fact, many enslavers

dolled out concessions to split slave societies into hierarchies

as a way to divide and conquer.


Merchant vessels could also sail through the shallower Caicos

Bank to the south and unload cargo onto smaller skiffs in Five

Cays or near Bellefield Landing in North Caicos. But the Loyalists

did not deem these locations as worth defending with a fort.

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Times of the Islands Fall 2021 55

Brown, perhaps in part due to his experience in

forming alliances with Indians on the American frontier,

more capably straddled the gray space of bondage and

“bondage with benefits” without having to actually free

the people he had enslaved (with a few exceptions). He

undoubtably calculated that by elevating the enslaved

to the stature of armed soldiers he could create incentives

for loyalty and discourage the impulse to revolt or

escape. 2

When Brown sailed in search of the ship that had run

aground off West Caicos, he could easily have tapped a

reservoir of enslaved men he may have trained and drilled

at Fort Saint George and whom he could count on.

Pirates on the horizon

Brown’s sloops reached the wreck around noon. He and

the men were excited to see the goods still on board and

largely undamaged. But they noticed the absence of crew

members from the ship, even though the vessel appeared

intact. Their fate, too, is lost to history. Brown and the

men did not dwell on the mystery, for they had work to


Sometime in the early afternoon as the men unloaded

the cargo onto the sloops, they spotted a single ship under

full sail larger than their sloops rounding the southern

shoulder of West Caicos. The ship may have flown a

British or American flag to signal a friendly vessel, in an

effort to lull the Loyalists into complacency. As the ship

drew closer, however, they struck a French enemy flag

flying atop the mast, forcing an urgent decision: Sail

away with the supplies recovered or take on the pirates

and maybe keep salvaging what was left on the wreck.

Brown implored the Loyalists in the other boats to

stick together and fight, arguing that their five boats

could take on one pirate ship. The Loyalists shouted

back that they had no chance and called for Brown to

make haste and leave with what he had. Brown staunchly

refused. Revealing the limits of Brown’s clout, the other

Loyalists trimmed the sails of their four sloops and tacked

back toward Providenciales. That left Brown, ever the

fighter, to face the pirates alone with his crew.

The enslaved men in Brown’s boat, seeing the odds

stacked against them, also tried to persuade him to

flee with the others. Brown wouldn’t budge, though,

and ordered them to ready for battle. At this point the

enslaved may have considered the option of commandeering

the sloop and escaping, which would have been easy

enough. But they understood too that there was really no

place to go where they didn’t risk death by exposure or

capture and far harsher re-enslavement. So the enslaved

unlucky enough to be in Brown’s sloop had little choice

but to put their confidence in Brown’s blustery bravado in

hopes they could survive as the pirates closed in on them.

Though fatigued from sailing most of the day and

moving heavy cargo in the heat of summer, Brown and

the men rallied. Adrenaline pumped through their veins

as they rammed gunpowder and ball tight into their

cannon. They loaded their muskets, careful to keep the

powder dry. In the excitement, Brown called for his men

to stay steady, just as he had with his troops back in

Georgia two decades earlier when fighting the American

Patriots. Hearts pounding and fortified with another slug

of rum, they faced down the French pirates together.

As the pirate ship drew closer, Brown and the crew

could see it had as many as 10 cannons, all bigger than

theirs. The pirate ship fired the first cannon volley.

Artillery back then had little accuracy, especially when

fired from a ship, so the cannon ball splashed harmlessly

away from the boat. Brown fired back to let them know he

wasn’t about to retreat. But his cannon ball fell well short

of the pirate ship, making plainly clear the pirate ship’s

greater range.

Brown hoped that his more maneuverable sloop

would have a chance of getting close enough to the pirate

ship to kill or maim at least enough of the crew with his

smaller cannon and muskets, even if he could not actually

sink the ship. Brown surely attempted, but the pirate

ship kept just out of range. Each time Brown approached

closer to the pirate ship, he only increased the accuracy

of the pirate cannons. Tacking back and forth over the

choppy sea, the two ships dueled with cannons and muskets,

trying to get in the one shot that would count.

In the late afternoon, a pirate cannon ball finally

smashed into Brown’s sloop, injuring two of the men,

though not mortally. Water rushed in and the game was

up. Brown and the men strived to stay afloat in the choppy

sea as they made their way toward the West Caicos shore

they could see in the distance.


Brown and the other Loyalists experienced few if any slave escapes largely because there was no place for them to safely flee. Only

after 1804 when the Haitian Revolution succeeded and welcomed escaped slaves did the enslaved of TCI have a nearby sanctuary

to which they could sail to freedom. In fact, there were so many TCI slaves escaping that enslavers eventually formed a local coast

guard to discourage and capture them. But this possibility for escape was only available well after Brown’s 1802 departure from

North Caicos.

56 www.timespub.tc

Finding the cannon

We only have two contemporary accounts of the battle.

The first is a letter from Brown to his father in Whitby

dated August 8, 1798 in which he cites the clash and says

that he was so proud of his men that he did not mind the

loss of his goods.

The second is a publication in the Bahamas Gazette

on August 21, 1798 that Professor Cashin summarizes in

The King’s Ranger:

“A ship bound for Grand Caicos was wrecked on

nearby West Caicos. Brown and other planters sent

their boats to retrieve goods belonging to them. As

the supplies were being transferred into the small

boats, a French privateer came up under full sail. Four

vessels made a run for it, but Brown’s men decided

to fight for possession of the wrecked ship. The

all-Black crew was armed with only a two-pounder

cannon and muskets, but they drove off the French

repeatedly. The heavier armed privateer stayed out of

range of Brown’s defenders and used its cannon to

sink Brown’s boat. The valiant crew swam to shore. 3 ”

Based on these contemporary accounts, the fluid

nature of slavery, and descriptions of boats, pirates and

cannons of the time—all seasoned with a dash of imagination—a

narrative can be created, as I have done. But

more concrete evidence could help confirm the setting.

For that we had to jump in and see the cannon for ourselves.

In the rolling sea just a few yards from the Bonita

anchor line, we noticed a dark patch surrounded by sand.

Agile and I put on our dive masks and fins to get a better

look. Within minutes Agile cried out, “I found it!” And sure

enough, 10 feet (3 meters) below the surface in water

as clear as a window pane, the rough shape of a cannon

appeared covered in sponges and sea plants. Mark’s

coordinates were spot-on.

Captain Ernesto leaped in as well, and the three of

us took turns free diving down to take pictures and measure

the cannon’s length and muzzle width to determine

what we had. Lynn rolled the video and took photos from

the boat as we barely contained our excitement. A tape

measure showed the cannon to be about 5 feet (1.5 m)

in length (adjusted for marine vegetation) with a 3.5

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Professor Cashin’s quoted summary differs a bit from the actual

article in the Gazette that relies on an unsourced “Letter from

Grand Caicos.” The Gazette recounts the pirate attack on the

Loyalist sloops near West Caicos, but the battle descriptions are

questionable and the story is incomplete. I’m using Professor

Cashin’s summary that gives a clearer picture.

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Times of the Islands Fall 2021 57


This summer, a crew of residents in the MV Bonita followed Thomas

Brown’s possible route to West Caicos and searched for the cannon

that may have been used in Brown’s skirmish with pirates.


Article author Ben Stubenberg freedives to the cannon found by following Mark Woodring’s coordinates off West Caicos. Note the large field

of ballast stones appearing in the shape of a boat at the top of the photo.

inch (9 cm) muzzle, which would be consistent with a

six-pounder. But just whose cannon did we find? The sixpounder

(based on the weight of the projectile it fired)

could have fit on Brown’s sloop, but the Gazette letter

and Professor Cashin’s summary noted a much smaller


Right next to the cannon, a large field of ballast

stones appeared in the shape of a boat that looked to be

about 40 feet long and at least 15 feet wide. That would

have been just big enough to be a small ocean-going vessel,

but could also have been a large local sloop. The

stones themselves, however, were granite, which would

probably not have been used in local TCI sloops since this

type of rock is not found here. Could the cannon and remnants

be from the Rhode Island vessel with the supplies

Brown and his men wanted to recover?

It’s not clear what sank this boat. The cannon and

remnants of the wreck were about 1/2 mile (800 m) from

the reef, well past the narrow channel off the southern

end of West Caicos that ships used for transit. It might

have hit a coral head that ripped a gash in the hull, causing

it to take in water. Or the ship may simply have gotten

stuck in the sand on a shallow bank. In either case, the

deck could have been above the waterline, thus preserving

the cargo for salvage. The waters around TCI are

replete with ships wrecking on the reef or a sandbar,

some visible above the surface today.

A more intriguing possibility is that the vessel was

sunk by pirates who left the boat half submerged as bait

for the salvage sloops sure to come looking for it, as in

fact happened. If the pirates anchored their boat on the

calmer lee (west) side of West Caicos, they could remain

hidden. Then from the hills on West Caicos, the pirates

would have a good vantage point to see any boats heading

from the Caicos Bank south of Providenciales and

prepare to attack them.

60 www.timespub.tc

Professor Cashin’s summary and the original Gazette

report stated that the men swam to shore after the boat

sank, but it’s not clear where they ended up. As an open

water swimmer in TCI, I am familiar with the currents

around the Islands and the challenges they present. From

where we found the cannon, the shore of West Caicos

is about 2 miles (3.2 km) away. Swimming that distance

requires some training, something we can be fairly sure

Brown and his men didn’t have, even if they knew how

to swim. Moreover, they would have been fatigued from

unloading supplies followed by an afternoon gun battle.

However, from our spot, a strong southeast to northwest

current pushed the water towards the eastern shore

of West Caicos. So assuming the pirates sank Brown’s

sloop in the vicinity of the wreck we found, it is quite

possible the men made it to the beach this far out without

actually having to swim the whole way. If they clung to

something floatable, they could have just drifted to the

shore. Had Brown’s boat been sunk in any other location

off West Caicos close to a reef, such as off the north tip of

the island, he and the crew would have likely been swept

out to sea.

To be sure, the assessments made are far from conclusive.

The contemporary accounts of the attack, even

with questionable descriptions and crucial omissions, at

least confirm a battle with pirates off West Caicos. We

don’t know if the cannon and remnants of the wreck we

found were from the Rhode Island vessel the Loyalists salvaged.

However, the location and size of the ship based

on ballast stones suggest that possibility. When taken

together with the prevailing current that Brown and his

men would have relied on to get to shore after their sloop

was sunk, a plausible case can be made that the windward

side of West Caicos was the scene of the battle.

We need to go back to collect additional evidence

from this cannon and wreck, as well as do a larger search

of the area for other cannons and wreckages. If we are

lucky enough to find Brown’s sloop and cannon, we could

make the case with a high level of confidence.

Questions for Brown from the 21st century

Let’s start by asking what in the world propelled Brown

to risk his life to take on the pirates just to secure a few

more supplies from the Rhode Island wreck? If he only

carried a couple of two-pounder cannons, he had almost

no chance of succeeding against a ship with bigger guns

with more range. Even if he had a larger six-pounder

cannon (which seems more likely if he truly believed he

might encounter pirates), he still would have been at a

From left: Ben Stubenberg, Agile LeVin and Captain Ernesto Von Der

Esch review the nautical chart to try to determine if the wreck they

found could have been Brown’s sloop.

significant disadvantage. Perhaps he wanted to relive the

thrill of battle again, a hero who refuses to turn and run,

even though he had nothing to prove. Or maybe he really

did think he could get off the crucial shot that would

cause the pirates to cut and run—though foolhardy, as

the outcome shows. He could have escaped with honor

and most supplies to fight another day.

What happened after Brown and the enslaved men

were stranded on West Caicos, and how were they rescued?

That is itself a compelling story. How long did they

go without food or water? Did the other Loyalists return

to get them even though it could have entailed another

confrontation with pirates? If so, was Brown grateful or

did he chastise his Loyalist rescuers with sharp words for

fleeing when he stayed to fight?

What of the ship from Rhode Island? How did the

Loyalists get word that it had wrecked? If the ship’s

supplies were intended for the North Caicos Loyalists,

why was it attempting to negotiate the narrow passage

between Southwest Reef and the southeast coast of West

Caicos instead of sailing to Fort Saint George? Perhaps it

was trying to reach the Caicos Banks and Gussy’s Cove on

Providenciales, but clearly something went terribly wrong.

Perhaps it was a navigation error, perhaps a storm, perhaps

a cannon ball from pirates. But if the ship was in fact

intending to deliver supplies in Providenciales, that would

call into question who really owned the supplies on the


Finally, what happened to the pirate ship that had

sunk Brown’s sloop? Did the pirate ship launch smaller

tenders armed with cannons to chase down Brown along


Times of the Islands Fall 2021 61

the reef over shallow water? Did it try to recover the supplies

still on the wreck? After a lengthy battle and taking

some risk, the pirates would probably want to recover

some booty for their efforts rather than just sail away.

Brown’s choice

Most noteworthy is the undaunted courage of the men in

battle, as indicated in Brown’s prideful letter to his father

and the Gazette account. The crew may even have saved

Brown after his imprudent brawl with the better armed

pirates, though they surely fought to survive and save

themselves first.

In an astonishing twist of irony, the pirate ship they

encountered may well have included escaped slaves.

Indeed, former slaves sometimes made up as much as

1/4 of a pirate ship’s crew. On board, these men instantly

went from bondage to liberation with the same claim to

a share of the booty and a vote in the election of the

ship’s captain as the rest of the crew. Many pirate ships

practiced this early form of democracy decades before

citizens of imperial regimes acquired anything resembling

equal rights.

It is entirely possible that Brown’s crew, caught up in

his reckless showdown, were in fact battling free men who

were recently enslaved like them. On occasion, pirates

of the Caribbean would deliberately put Black pirates

prominently on deck brandishing weapons to intimidate

merchant vessels they intended to attack. If the pirates

attacking Brown’s sloops did this, they they could have

been quite visible to Brown’s Black crew in the course of

battle. We’ll never know if they actually saw each other or

if they reflected on their respective fates in the moment.

But it is fascinating to speculate, as it adds another layer

to the tangled, intriguing history of our Islands.

Though Brown clearly admired his men’s performance,

he still could not muster the courage to see them

as fellow human beings deserving of freedom. Standing

shoulder to shoulder as cannon and musket balls and

grape shot whizzed past their heads was not enough to

crack Brown’s conviction that the men risking their lives

for him were still his property. And that is the saddest

part of this tale.

Thanks to influential contacts in England, Brown

would be granted a large tract of fertile land on St. Vincent

to cultivate sugar cane. In 1802 he began moving those

he had enslaved (he says 623, but I believe that number

to be vastly overstated) from North Caicos to St. Vincent.

“Black Caribs,” a cultural and racial mix of Carib Indians

and shipwrecked slaves from Africa, already inhabited the

This oil painting depicts the “Black Caribs” who lived on St. Vincent

when Thomas Brown was granted land there to cultivate sugar cane.

land Brown had been granted. But that is another story

for another time. Suffice to say that the Black Carib values

of acceptance and integration were lost on the planters

who took over. Brown died there in 1825 at the age of

75 without freeing any of those he had enslaved, except

maybe for one or two who may have been his offspring,

which itself is telling.

History passes judgment on how we handle the

challenges handed us by fate. But the light glares more

harshly on those with means and privilege because they

have the power to change the lives of those who have

none. In the end, Brown is both hero and anti-hero of

his own story. His audacious bravery, force of character

and defiance of convention remain undisputed. But on

that searing summer afternoon off West Caicos, when the

enslaved men in the stout sloop stood tall for Brown, he

chose to keep them captive. And for that he must be held

to account, even centuries later. a

Ben Stubenberg (bluewaterben@gmail.com) is a contributing

writer to Times of the Islands and a popular story

teller about pirates in TCI. He is the co-founder of the TCI

swim and tour adventure company, Caicu Naniki, and the

annual “Race for the Conch” Eco-SeaSwim.


62 www.timespub.tc



Opposite page: Another lovely sunset off Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales reflects the “gold standard” of beauty found throughout the


Above: The view over Long Bay from this three bedroom/four bathroom penthouse at The Shore Club encompasses 70 linear feet of oceanfront,

and exemplifies the luxury and expansive living to be found in properties available throughout the Turks & Caicos.


Striving for Gold

The TCI’s “gold standard” continues to attract investors.

By Kathy Borsuk

Although the Turks & Caicos Islands are not able to participate in the Olympics, the country has earned

a gold medal for its superb handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also broken records in real estate

sales since the border’s reopening a little over a year ago. Both efforts go hand in hand—because the TCI

is seen as a beautiful, healthy, peaceful place to live, it is attracting people from around the world who

are looking for a safe haven in which to retire or have a second home.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 65

Response to COVID is gold standard

Following a four-month shutdown on March 23, 2020,

the Turks & Caicos Islands reopened the border on July

22, 2020. Many herald the country’s COVID-19 mitigation

plan as among the best in the Caribbean. Initial lockdown

restrictions for residents were strict. Over time, local

businesses were cautiously reopened with capacity limitations

and enforcement of masks and hand-sanitizing.

When it came time to re-welcome visitors, the TCI

Government thoughtfully established entry protocols

designed to strike a balance between mitigating risk

while not discouraging travellers. The TCI Assured portal,

available on (www.turksandcaicostourism.com), handles

the issuance of travel authorization certificates with

speed and agility. Initial requirements included a negative

COVID-19 PCR test result taken within five days of travel

along with medical/travel insurance that covers medevac.

As visitor arrivals increased, COVID-19 cases surged

at times. The government responded by increasing restrictions

internally as needed to help curb local transmission

while still allowing tourists to come to the country.

By the end of March 2021, over 47,000 doses of

the Pfizer-BioNTech and 300 doses of the AstraZeneca

vaccines had been shipped to the Islands and disseminated.

At press time (late August 2021), it’s estimated

that approximately 67% of the adult TCI population is

vaccinated, with the goal of vaccinating 75%.

On July 4, 2021, the Turks & Caicos celebrated the

milestone of being able to report zero active COVID cases

for the first time in about one year. Shortly afterwards,

a third wave of cases billowed, with most coming into

the territory from international guests. After careful consideration,

the TCI Government determined that as of

September 1, 2021, all visitors ages 16 and above must

be fully vaccinated and provide a negative PCR or antigen

COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel. In

explaining the rationale behind this decision, Minister of

Health Hon. Jamell Robinson states, “90 of the 133 persons

tested positive from early July to date (August 12)

were tourists, so we know we have to put measures in

place to deal with that . . . we can market TCI as a vaccination-only

destination, which is a safer choice for holiday


At the same time, the Royal Turks & Caicos Islands

Police Force is operating a special COVID enforcement

Task Force team. Its focus is on social events and large

gatherings of liquor-licensed premises and other businesses.

They also strongly enforce the current curfew

period between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM as well as social

distancing and masking rules, issuing tickets for breaches

of the regulations.

Real estate sales are breaking all records

Turquoise waters, ivory-toned beaches and sparkling

sunlight all make the Turks & Caicos Islands among the

most “Beautiful by Nature” places in the world. At the

same time, the country is not as developed as most in

the Caribbean, still affording purchasers of real estate

the space, privacy and ability to realize their own dream.

The Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association (TCREA) is

a group of 15 independent real estate agencies who work

together under a managed Multiple Listing System (MLS)

accessed at www.tcrea.com. The industry compiles and

reports detailed statistics and the most recent continue

to break all records.

The second quarter of 2021 again soared to never-before-seen

levels. In fact, the first half of 2021 closed out

with a staggering $328 million in sales volume, a figure

that is typically the annual sales volume in a very strong

year! Compounding this is an average price increase of

26%, with all segments of the market contributing to this

incredible spike in sales.

According to The Agency Turks & Caicos, the single

biggest driver in recorded sales in the second quarter

of 2021 is land—with beachfront at a premium. TCREA

reports for the first half of 2021, 105 parcels sold at an

average price of $540,000, a 46% rise in sales volume.

The single-family homes market is hot, as well. Rental

revenues are strong and the number of homes coming

to market is not close to meeting demand. According to

The Agency, “Purchasers retain a strong demand for preconstruction

development properties where the certainty

of cost and quality are set.” To date in 2021, single-family

homes sales volume increased 127%, with 82 sold at

an average price of $2.3 million. Among the top sales

in this market were Turtle Tail Estate at $20.25 million,

Villa Salacia at $16 million and Casa Tremer at nearly $8


The condominium market re-established itself in the

second quarter of 2021, driven by the luxury sector. For

2021, a total of 69 condominiums sold at an average

price of $1.023 million, a 153% rise in sales volume.

Among the top sales was The Estate at Grace Bay Club

unit G504 at $5 million.

As 2021 moves forward, the performance is expected

to continue as new projects enter the marketplace. The

long-anticipated Grand Opening of the Ritz-Carlton

Residences—located in the heart of Grace Bay—took place

66 www.timespub.tc

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on June 22. Amenities include a Club Lounge, casino,

adults-only pool with private cabanas and access to the

resort’s private catamaran. There’s also a signature Ritz-

Carlton spa and kids program. Dining concepts include

Coralli, a locally-inspired eatery and BLT Steak, part of the

world-renowned steakhouse chain.

Rock House Resort is on target to open in December

2021. Buyers at the luxurious cliffside development

receive an added perk—becoming members of the exclusive

Beach Club at Rock House. It will offer owners access

to a private beach and its fully serviced jetty, complete

with luxurious daybeds and chic parasols; world-class

dining at the club’s oceanfront restaurant; private excursions

including diving, fishing and snorkeling trips; and

access to the white sand beaches at sister properties

Grace Bay Club and West Bay Club.

South Bank is a new residential resort and marina

community on the south side of Providenciales. Each

neighborhood and lot offers a unique relationship with

the water, designed for boating enthusiasts and watersports

lovers. South Bank has so many villas and the

Boathouses foundation work under construction, and

so many sales forthcoming, that it has actually halted

new sales for a time to “catch up.” In fact, 60% of the

Boathouses are now sold, the Lagoon neighborhood is

fully sold out and over 60% of the Ocean Estate villas are

sold out, with only one or two of each design remaining.

The Strand is TCI’s newest residential resort community

overlooking the sapphire waters of Cooper Jack Bay.

This property features dramatic vistas with an array of

custom oceanfront residences, all with access to shared

community amenities. The project is completing its first

sales and getting closer to construction start.

Just launched is The Sanctuary, a private collection

of estate residences combining a sensitive lakefront

architecture with progressive building technology. Its

location on the peninsula overlooking Providenciales’

Flamingo Lake is a natural habitat where flamingos can

occasionally be found. Community amenities include a

pickleball court, yoga pavilion, outdoor workspace, firepit

amphitheater, electric vehicle charging station and

non-motorized watersports.

Frontier Airlines anticipates the launch of weekly

Friday service from Orlando to Providenciales. This opens

up an important gateway to major US cities and more

competitive pricing. Looking to the future, the Turks &

Caicos Islands continue to maintain their “gold standard”

as a global luxury and tourism brand. a

68 www.timespub.tc


newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

Front Street, PO Box 188, Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands, BWI TKCA 1ZZ

tel 649 247 2160/US incoming 786 220 1159 • email info@tcmuseum.org • web www.tcmuseum.org


Thank You!

The departure of our former director, Dr. Michael Pateman, and the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic

have left me as the sole employee of the Turks & Caicos National Museum. I have the responsibility of

running many aspects of both locations—Grand Turk and Providenciales. The only way I am able to do

this is with the assistance of a dedicated group of enthusiastic volunteers who are committed to the

museum’s future success. They lend their time and ideas to assist us in remaining open and continuing

with progress.

Starting in 2019, Grand Turk volunteers were assisting with updating our collection database. This

software allows us to catalog all items in our collections including photographs, artifacts, and library and

archived material. While the database, PastPerfect, had information about various objects, photographs

were not attached. Volunteers’ efforts before and during the pandemic have made major progress and

more than 90% of our photograph records are now complete.

Now that some of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the museum and gift shop on Grand Turk have

reopened; the Providenciales location is open with volunteers operating the museum, Heritage House

and Heritage Garden. Several of them have a special interest in the garden and their efforts are apparent.

Without these volunteers—who often go over and above what is expected of them—we would not have

been able to re-open the Providenciales location at this time.

The Turks & Caicos National Museum Board is also all volunteers, including President Seamus Day,

who assists me often. We have board members and directors with experience in a wide range of businesses

and specialty areas of knowledge. Many of them have been involved since the museum’s inception.

Thank you to everyone who has continued to support us over the years and especially during these

difficult times. We cannot say it often enough that our supporters and volunteers are the reason for our

success and ability to carry on. If you are interested in volunteering or have an artistic, historic or cultural

research question or article you would like to submit to Astrolabe, contact us at info@tcmuseum.org.a

Lisa Turnbow-Talbot, Museum Manager

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 69

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum


Two Turks & Caicos historians have gone to great lengths to promote the theory that Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the “New World”

was on Grand Turk.

Small Island, Big History

Grand Turk is an island of historical importance.

By Dr. Carlton Mills and Debby-Lee Mills

It has been commonly taught that Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the “New World” was San

Salvador in the Bahamas. In recent years, this theory has been challenged by two Turks & Caicos Islands

historians, the late H.E. Sadler and Josiah Marvel. These historians promoted the theory that Columbus’

first landfall was Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

The late Josiah Marvel started his research in this area in the mid-1980s. Bolstered by his dear friend

Tim Ainley, who accompanied him on his expedition, they took their 43 foot catamaran and proceeded

to retrace the first landfall made by Christopher Columbus on Grand Turk. According to Dave Calvert,

the author of the article, “Sailing the Caribbean in the Wake of Christopher Columbus,” the purpose of

the expedition was to retrace Marvel’s purported route on a sailing vessel to confirm distances, courses

and descriptions of the various islands as recorded by the famed admiral in the Diario of Christopher


70 www.timespub.tc

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

Columbus also recorded in his diary that when he

made landfall, he encountered Indians on the island. Over

the years, an argument arose as to whether or not there

is evidence to substantiate that there were Indians in the

Turks & Caicos Islands at the time.

In short, the following details tend to suggest that

there is strong evidence of Taíno/Lucayan presence in

the Islands. It commenced with Theodore De Booy (1912)

when he obtained exquisite examples of Taíno art. Later

on, archaeologist Dr. Shaun Sullivan devoted two years of

dedicated work to surveys and excavations in the Caicos

Islands in an effort to track the Taíno colonization. He

re-discovered forty Taíno sites; all but five were on Middle


In 1989, while attending a conference at which

Robert Power and Josiah Marvel presented their case for

Grand Turk as the first landfall of Columbus, Dr. Donald

Keith found two Taíno sites on Grand Turk. This was the

beginning of the Taíno story on that island as an article in

the Summer 1995 issue of Times of the Islands, “History

begins on Grand Turk,” suggests. Further evidence also

revealed that within a half century of the European colonization

efforts through conquest, degradation and

extermination, this group of people were decimated

through the imposition of the Spanish Encomienda

System (their forced labour policy), inhumane treatment

and the ingress of diseases by the Europeans which the

Taíno people were not immune to.

Following the demise of the Taíno population, the

next main settlement attempt in Grand Turk was by the

Bermudians in 1678. The Bermudians first came to the

Islands on a temporary basis to harvest salt. While they

waited on the process to take place, they used their time

to salvage wrecked ships and fish for turtles. In time,

salt became a very lucrative business which encouraged

them to establish a permanent settlement on the

island. Remnants of the old salt ponds on Grand Turk

tell this story. The island still retains aspects of the old

colonial British-Bermudian heritage through its buildings,

street designs and family names—in particular Astwood,

Butterfield, Dean, Durham, Frith, Seymour and Taylor.

Salt made Grand Turk a vitally important artery

linking this small island (whether directly or indirectly)

with several global partners including the USA, Canada,

England and neighboring Caribbean countries, in particular

Jamaica and Barbados. It was the salt from Grand Turk

that was shipped to Newfoundland in Canada to make

“salt cod” that was then sold to the slave plantation owners

in these Caribbean countries as the main food for

their slaves. As the salt trade expanded, it resulted in

Grand Turk being declared the first port of entry in the

Turks & Caicos, with custom officials present to collect

the revenue that was being generated from its sales.

By 1681, salt was not only a thriving business but

because of demand, it acquired the popular name “White

Gold.” This flourishing business also saw the Bermudians

establish Cockburn Town in Grand Turk as the capital

of the island. It was named after Sir Francis Cockburn,

the then-governor of the Bahamas. Cockburn Town was a

small Bermudian coastal settlement on the western side

of Grand Turk, now the oldest permanent settlement on

the island. Its boundaries extended from Duke Street on

the southern end heading north along Front Street to

where Duke Street merges into Queen Street overlooking

These iconic images of the Grand Turk salt industry feature the windmills that pumped sea water through the vast salinas and the laborers

who toiled to rake the salt that dried in the hot sun.


Times of the Islands Fall 2021 71

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

the ocean. As the town developed into an important commercial

center, several government buildings and offices

were created in the vicinity, particularly on Front Street.

Salt was the lifeblood of Grand Turk. It single-handedly

transformed the island into an economic hub.

From as early as the 18th century, the French showed

interest in the Turks & Caicos Islands because of the profitable

salt trade. At the end of the Seven Years War in

1764, the French Admiral Comte d’ Estainy briefly occupied

Grand Turk. The British did not take kindly to this

aggressive move. They were reluctant to see another

European power amassing wealth from the proceeds of

salt. In order to stamp their dominance on the island, the

British made Grand Turk the capital in 1766 and introduced

the position of King’s Agent, with Andrew Symmer

being the first to hold this new-found office. It was also

an attempt by the British to maintain a strong physical

governmental presence on the island to safeguard all proceeds

from the salt trade for the British Crown.

The British presence, however, did not deter the

French. They returned in 1783. This return trip was historical

as it made Grand Turk more famously known for

the Battle of Grand Turk which transpired on March 9,

1783 during the American Revolutionary War. The French

captured the Bermudians along with their salt workers

before proceeding to exercise their political and military

might over residents in the Caicos Islands. In response to

the actions by the French, the British deployed a 28-gun

frigate HMS Albermarle with a force of 100 men under

the command of Captain Horatio Nelson. Their mission

was to rescue the Islands from the French. Unfortunately,

this military mission ended in total failure.

In the end, it took diplomatic action by both parties

through the Treaty of Paris to formally conclude the war

after six months. This raid by the French caused the

British to exercise closer oversight of the island and its

important role in the international salt trade.

Another important historical feature of Grand Turk is

Waterloo, constructed in 1815. It was later purchased by

the British Government in 1857, eventually becoming the

home for the British resident governors in the territory.

In 1898, the first cable was landed on Grand Turk

by Halifax Cable Company, later called Direct West India

Cable Company Limited of Canada. This investment made

Grand Turk an important cable station linking the island

with the rest of the world.

These 1965 aerial views of Grand Turk show (at top) its capital

Cockburn Town, which includes many of the structures that are standing

today and (at bottom) the vast salinas that made the salt industry

a thriving business for many years.

Built in 1815, Waterloo served for many years as the residence for

British governors in the territory. Ironically, in 1975 members of the

Junkanoo Club marched on Waterloo to demand social, economic and

political reform. Their protest secured a new constitution and the

start of TCI ministerial government in 1976.

In 1921, the first high school was opened in Grand

Turk providing secondary education for students on all

of the Turks & Caicos Islands. This was in addition to the


72 www.timespub.tc

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

two government primary schools that were already operational

in the island.

An inter-island radio service was inaugurated in

1923. This operated until 1941, following the takeover

of the Grand Turk station by Cable and Wireless.

A major historical development for the island took

place in the 1950s when the US bases and radar tracking

station were set up. The US NAVFAC 104 (known as North

Base) was commissioned on October 23, 1954. This base

was a part of the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) and

underwater listening system that was designed to track

Soviet submarines. It was eventually decommissioned on

March 31, 1980.

The Grand Turk Air Force Base, a missile tracking station,

was built by a joint agreement between the UK and

the US. It came into service in 1953. The purpose of this

facility was to track long-range missiles launched from

the US and also monitor satellites and manned flights

launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The third facility that was constructed by the US on

Grand Turk was on Colonel Murray’s Hill (known colloquially

as “Nookie Hill.”) When John Glenn splashed down

in the waters of the TCI in his space capsule Friendship

7 in 1962 after orbiting the earth, NASA never knew

that Glenn was still alive. It was from Colonel Murray’s

Hill that the heart rates and positions of the astronauts

John Glenn in Friendship 7 and later in the year, Scott

Carpenter in Aurora 7, were monitored. US Vice President

Lyndon Johnson came to Grand Turk to take Astronaut

John Glenn back to the United States. These bases further

augmented Grand Turk’s strategic position in the US

Global Surveillance Operations programme.

The first hotel, Turks Head Inn, was opened on Grand

Turk by the government in 1965 but sold three years later

to a private individual. In 1966, the government opened

a savings bank on Grand Turk and Barclays Bank (now

CIBC/First Caribbean International Bank) was opened

on April 12, 1966. As a means of boosting the tourism

sector following the opening of the Turks Head Inn, the

government in 1969 constructed new air terminal buildings

on both Grand Turk and South Caicos.

An attempt at implementing the A Level programme

in education was made in the early 1970s but this was

short-lived. This failed effort did not impede plans of

developing post-secondary education however, as the

Turks & Caicos Islands Community College opened its

This historic photo of Grand Turk’s “North Base” is an aerial view

looking southwest. The large white area was used for catching and

storing rainwater.

Grand Turk residents greet US Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1962

when he came to accompany Astronaut John Glenn back to the United

States following his splashdown in the ocean off Grand Turk.

This is the original Barclays Bank building which opened on Grand

Turk in 1966.

doors in Grand Turk on September 18, 1994 with assistance

from the Caribbean Development Bank. The old

Navy Base buildings were eventually refurbished to facilitate

the transfer of the community college to a permanent



Times of the Islands Fall 2021 73

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

Grand Turk is also the home to the $40 million cruise

port, constructed in 2006. This facility is erected on 13

acres of land and includes a 3,000-foot pier, welcome

center, recreational center including a swimming pool,

1,000 feet of beachfront, cabanas and shops and the

largest Margaritaville in the Caribbean. In 2019, Grand

Turk captured the accolade for the Best Caribbean Beach

Port by Porthole Magazine.

Grand Turk is usually described as a “floating

museum” and rightly so. It is the home to the lighthouse

which was constructed in 1852 as an important landmark

to guide sailing ships. In addition, there is the old

prison, the militia building, Victoria Public Library, post

office, Odd Fellows Building and the St. Thomas Anglican

Church. Built in 1823, it was the first church constructed

on the island, followed by its sister church, St. Mary’s

Anglican Church, built in 1899.

Grand Turk was also home to several plantations,

including Hawkes Nest Plantation which was developed in

the 1900s to produce sisal, and Eve’s Family Plantation,

used to produce cotton. Grand Turk is where the Junkanoo

Club was founded, a social organization that was transformational

and progressive in its actions. This group

was instrumental in bringing about a new sense of consciousness

in the 1970s which facilitated the ushering in

of constitutional changes with wide implications for the

TCI. The People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), one of

the country’s major political parties, eventually emerged

from this group of social advocates.

To the present-day visitor, the National Museum on

Grand Turk provides a wealth of fascinating displays

including a historical Lucayan carved wood duho (ceremonial

chair) and artifacts from the Molasses Reef Wreck

which is believed to be the oldest European shipwreck

excavated in the Western Hemisphere. The island is also

known for excellent scuba diving and offshore snorkeling

with pristine and sheer wall sites defining the underwater

experience. This wall has attracted many divers, as

in certain places it can drop from 30 feet to well over

7,000 feet. Along the Cockburn Town waterfront are

many beautiful beaches, small hotels and resorts. The

west side of Grand Turk is home to Governor’s Beach,

Pillory Beach, English Point Beach, Cockburn Town Beach

and White Sands Beach.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly halted

most of the tourism activity on the island. As the main

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grand Turk Cruise Port was one

of the most popular stops in the Caribbean.

contributor of visitors, at press time the Carnival Cruise

Lines have continued to cease operations. It is believed

that once cruise ships again call on Grand Turk, it will

regain its glory as being one of the leading tourism destinations

in the TCI. a


74 www.timespub.tc

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

Museum Matters

Providenciales garden progress

The Heritage Garden at the museum’s Village at Grace

Bay location was in dire condition after the location was

closed for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The site reopened in May 2021 and work on restoring

the garden began. Thanks to our enthusiastic volunteers

and private donors, the garden has been cleaned

up, new plants have been added and regular watering

is bringing the vegetation back to life.

The garden includes edible vegetables such as sweet

potato, okra, pigeon peas, spinach, kale, pumpkin,

watermelon and corn. Various trees, cacti and native

plants are also present. The original intent of the garden

was to grow the indigenous plants that represented

the Turks & Caicos Islands and to explain how Islanders

cultivated, harvested, stored and prepared them as a

food source. The restoration and progress made so far

is revitalizing that idea.

indigenous vegetation. This initiative works with the

developers to allow us to remove the plants and re-plant

in the Heritage Garden before they are ruined during

ground-breaking. a

Evening with a local historian

Grand Turk residents were pleased to have Dr. Carlton

Mills speak at the Grand Turk museum location on June

22. The presentation subject, “The Road to TCI’s First

Constitution,” was vastly informative and generated

many questions from the audience.

Sugar apples are an especially tasty island fruit that are being cultivated

in the museum’s Heritage Garden.

We are working in collaboration with the TCI

Government Department of Environment and Coastal

Resources (DECR), Ocean Club Resort and various

developers to replant displaced indigenous plants

in the Heritage Garden. Development often destroys

Dr. Mills is originally from South Caicos. He has been

an educator in Turks & Caicos throughout his professional

life. He is committed to raising the quality of

educational facilities and resources in the country and

to increasing educational opportunities for the Islands

people. He is also a frequent contributor of articles to

the Astrolabe and Times of the Islands.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 75

astrolabe newsletter of the Turks & Caicos National Museum

As the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted we will once

again be hosting these types of events. Check our

Facebook page and website for upcoming presentations,

movies and other events. a

Bricks on their way!

Pre-pandemic, the museum launched a fund-raising

campaign which involved selling engraved bricks that

will be used on the various walkways.

Finally . . . the bricks have been ordered! They should

be ready to ship to the Islands by early September.

The fundraiser for the engraved bricks will continue.

Once people see them and are inspired by the ideas that

others came up with for dedications and memorials, we

hope that additional orders will be placed.

The Grand Turk bricks will be installed shortly after

arriving. The bricks for Providenciales are for the new

building when it is finished, but we will have some on

display at that location.

• Providenciales—All proceeds from the brick purchases

will go towards the new building for the museum here.

• Grand Turk—All proceeds from the brick purchases

will be used for the operations, projects and exhibits for

the Grand Turk museum.

Bricks can be purchased in three different sizes for

a cost of $100, $250 or $500. You choose the wording,

and for an additional $25 have the option to include artwork.

Replica bricks are also available for an additional

$25 if you would like a duplicate of your purchase. For

more information, contact us at info@tcmuseum.org

or visit our website www.tcmuseum.org. a

Current operating hours

Grand Turk—Tuesday and Thursday, 10 AM to 3 PM

Located in historic Guinep House on Front Street, this

location includes exhibits on the Salt Industry, Molasses

Reef Wreck, the Lucayans, John Glenn landing and more.

The bricks can be purchased for either the

Providenciales or Grand Turk museum locations. This

is a great way to support the museum and leave an

everlasting tribute for a loved one or show support from

your family or business.

Providenciales—Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday,

10 AM to 2 PM

Located in the Village at Grace Bay, this location includes

a Historical Timeline that gives an overview of the most

important dates in the history of the TCI. Additional

exhibits include the slave ship Trouvadore, Molasses

Reef Wreck artifacts and Sapodilla Hill Rock Carvings.

Tour the Heritage House (shown above), a historically

correct re-creation of a typical 1800s Caicos Islands

dwelling, and the Heritage Garden. Days and times of

operation are subject to change, so please check our

website or Facebook page for updated information.

www.tcmuseum.org• info@tcmuseum.org

(649) 247-2160

76 www.timespub.tc

about the Islands

Map provided courtesy Wavey Line Publishing. Their navigation charts and decorative and historic maps of the Turks & Caicos Islands, The

Bahamas, and Hispaniola are available in shops throughout the Islands. Visit www.amnautical.com.

Where we are

The Turks & Caicos Islands lie some 575 miles southeast

of Miami — approximately 1 1/2 hours flying time —

with The Bahamas about 30 miles to the northwest and

the Dominican Republic some 100 miles to the southeast.

The country consists of two island groups separated

by the 22-mile wide Columbus Passage. To the west are

the Caicos Islands: West Caicos, Providenciales, North

Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos. To

the east are the Turks Islands: Grand Turk and Salt Cay.

The Turks & Caicos total 166 square miles of land

area on eight islands and 40 small cays. The country’s

population is approximately 43,000.

Getting here

There are international airports on Grand Turk,

Providenciales, and South Caicos, with domestic airports

on all of the islands except East Caicos.

As of September 1, 2021, all visitors ages 16 and

above must be fully vaccinated and provide a negative

PCR or antigen COVID-19 test taken within three days

of travel. (Children under the age of 10 are not required

to be tested.) Additionally, travellers must have medical/

travel insurance that covers medevac, a completed health

screening questionnaire and certification that they have

read and agreed to the privacy policy document. These

requirements must be uploaded to the TCI Assured portal,

which is available at www.turksandcaicostourism.

com, in advance of their arrival.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 77

The TCI has expanded COVID-19 testing capacity in

response to testing requirements implemented for travellers

entering the United States and Canada. Many resorts

offer on-site testing, along with numerous local health




Time zone

Eastern Standard Time (EST)/Daylight Savings Time



The United States dollar. The Treasury also issues a Turks

& Caicos crown and quarter. Travellers cheques in U.S.

dollars are widely accepted and other currency can be

changed at local banks. American Express, VISA and

MasterCard are welcomed at many locations.


The average year-round temperature is 83ºF (28ºC). The

hottest months are September and October, when the

temperature can reach 90 to 95ºF (33 to 35ºC). However,

the consistent easterly trade winds temper the heat and

keep life comfortable.

Casual resort and leisure wear is accepted attire for

daytime; light sweaters or jackets may be necessary on

some breezy evenings. It’s wise to wear protective clothing

and a sunhat and use waterproof sunscreen when out

in the tropical sun.

Entry requirements

Passport. A valid onward or return ticket is also required.

Customs formalities

Visitors may bring in duty free for their own use one carton

of cigarettes or cigars, one bottle of liquor or wine,

and some perfume. The importation of all firearms including

those charged with compressed air without prior

approval in writing from the Commissioner of Police is

strictly forbidden. Spear guns, Hawaiian slings, controlled

drugs and pornography are also illegal.

Returning residents may bring in $400 worth of

merchandise per person duty free. A duty of 10% to

60% is charged on most imported goods along with a

7% customs processing fee and forms a major source of

government revenue.


A valid driver’s license from home is suitable when renting

vehicles. A government tax of 12% is levied on all

rental contracts. (Insurance is extra.) Driving is on the

left-hand side of the road, with traffic flow controlled by

round-abouts at major junctions. Please don’t drink and

drive! Taxis and community cabs are abundant throughout

the Islands and many resorts offer shuttle service

between popular visitor areas. Scooter, motorcycle and

bicycle rentals are also available.


FLOW Ltd. provides land lines and superfast broadband

Internet service. Mobile service is on a LTE 4G network,

including pre- and post-paid cellular phones. Most resorts

and some stores and restaurants offer wireless Internet

connections. Digicel operates mobile networks, with

a full suite of LTE 4G service. FLOW is the local carrier

for CDMA roaming on US networks such as Verizon and

Sprint. North American visitors with GSM cellular hand-

78 www.timespub.tc

sets and wireless accounts with AT&T or Cingular can

arrange international roaming.


FortisTCI supplies electricity at a frequency of 60HZ,

and either single phase or three phase at one of three

standard voltages for residential or commercial service.

FortisTCI continues to invest in a robust and resilient grid

to ensure the highest level of reliability to customers. The

company is integrating renewable energy into its grid and

provides options for customers to participate in two solar

energy programs.

Departure tax

US $60. It is typically included in your airline ticket cost.

Courier service

Delivery service is provided by FedEx, with offices on

Providenciales and Grand Turk, and DHL. UPS service is

limited to incoming delivery.

Postal service

The Post Office and Philatelic Bureau in Providenciales are

located downtown on Airport Road. In Grand Turk, the

Post Office and Philatelic Bureau are on Church Folly. The

Islands are known for their colorful stamp issues.


Multi-channel satellite television is received from the U.S.

and Canada and transmitted via cable or over the air.

Local station WIV-TV broadcasts on Channel 4 and Island

EyeTV on Channel 5. People’s Television offers 75 digitally

transmitted television stations, along with local news

and talk shows on Channel 8. There are also a number of

local radio stations, magazines and newspapers.

Medical services

There are no endemic tropical diseases in TCI. There are

large, modern hospitals on Grand Turk and Providenciales.

Both hospitals offer a full range of services including:

24/7 emergency room, operating theaters, diagnostic

imaging, maternity suites, dialysis suites, blood bank,

physiotherapy and dentistry.

In addition, several general practitioners operate in

the country, and there is a recompression chamber, along

with a number of private pharmacies.


A resident’s permit is required to live in the Islands. A

work permit and business license are also required to

work and/or establish a business. These are generally

granted to those offering skills, experience and qualifications

not widely available on the Islands. Priority is given

to enterprises that will provide employment and training

for T&C Islanders.

Government/Legal system

TCI is a British Crown colony. There is a Queen-appointed

Governor, HE Nigel John Dakin. He presides over an executive

council formed by the elected local government.

Hon. Charles Washington Misick is the country’s premier,

leading a majority Progressive National Party (PNP) House

of Assembly.

The legal system is based upon English Common

Law and administered by a resident Chief Justice, Chief

Magistrate,and Deputy Magistrates. Judges of the Court

of Appeal visit the Islands twice a year and there is a final

Right of Appeal to Her Majesty’s Privy Council in London.

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 79


There are currently no direct taxes on either income

or capital for individuals or companies. There are no

exchange controls. Indirect taxation comprises customs

duties and fees, stamp duty, taxes on accommodations,

restaurants, vehicle rentals, other services and gasoline,

as well as business license fees and departure taxes.


Historically, TCI’s economy relied on the export of salt.

Currently, tourism, the offshore finance industry and fishing

generate the most private sector income. The Islands

main exports are lobster and conch. Practically all consumer

goods and foodstuffs are imported.

The Turks & Caicos Islands are recognised as an

important offshore financial centre, offering services

such as company formation, offshore insurance, banking,

trusts, limited partnerships and limited life companies.

The Financial Services Commission regulates the industry

and spearheads the development of offshore legislation.


Citizens of the Turks & Caicos Islands are termed

“Belongers” and are primarily descendants of African

slaves who were brought to the Islands to work in the

salt ponds and cotton plantations. The country’s large

expatriate population includes Canadians, Americans,

Brits and Europeans, along with Haitians, Jamaicans,

Dominicans, Bahamians, Indians and Filipinos.


Churches are the center of community life and there

are many faiths represented in the Islands including:

Adventist, Anglican, Assembly of God, Baha’i, Baptist,

Catholic, Church of God, Episcopal, Jehovah’s Witnesses,

Methodist and Pentecostal. Visitors are always welcome.


Incoming pets must have an import permit, veterinary

health certificate, vaccination certificate and lab test

results to be submitted at the port of entry to obtain

clearance from the TCI Department of Agriculture, Animal

Health Services.

National symbols

The National Bird is the Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).

The National Plant is Island heather (Limonium

bahamense) found nowhere else in the world. The

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80 www.timespub.tc

National Tree is the Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea var.

bahamensis). The National Costume consists of white cotton

dresses tied at the waist for women and simple shirts

and loose pants for men, with straw hats. Colors representing

the various islands are displayed on the sleeves,

sashes and hat bands. The National Song is “This Land

of Ours” by the late Rev. E.C. Howell. Peas and Hominy

(Grits) with Dry Conch is revered as symbolic island fare.

Going green

TCI Waste Disposal Services currently offers recycling

services through weekly collection of recyclable aluminum,

glass and plastic. Single-use plastic bags have been

banned country-wide as of May 1, 2019.


Sporting activities are centered around the water. Visitors

can choose from deep-sea, reef or bonefishing, sailing,

glass-bottom boat and semi-sub excursions, windsurfing,

waterskiing, parasailing, sea kayaking, snorkelling,

scuba diving, kiteboarding, stand up paddleboarding and

beachcombing. Pristine reefs, abundant marine life and

excellent visibility make TCI a world-class diving destination.

Tennis and golf—there is an 18 hole championship

course on Providenciales—are also popular.

The Islands are an ecotourist’s paradise. Visitors can

enjoy unspoilt wilderness and native flora and fauna in 33

national parks, nature reserves, sanctuaries and areas of

historical interest. The National Trust provides trail guides

to several hiking trails, as well as guided tours of major

historical sites. There is an excellent national museum on

Grand Turk, with an auxillary branch on Providenciales. A

scheduled ferry and a selection of tour operators make it

easy to take day trips to the outer islands.

Other land-based activities include bicycling, horseback

riding and football (soccer). Personal trainers are

available to motivate you, working out of several fitness

centres. You will also find a variety of spa and body treatment


Nightlife includes local bands playing island music

at bars and restaurants and some nightclubs. There are

two casinos on Providenciales, along with many electronic

gaming parlours. Stargazing is extraordinary!

Shoppers will find Caribbean paintings, T-shirts,

sports and beachwear and locally made handicrafts,

including straw work and conch crafts. Duty free outlets

sell liquor, jewellery, watches, perfume, leather goods,

crystal, china, cameras, electronics, brand-name clothing

and accessories, along with Cuban cigars. a

Times of the Islands Fall 2021 81

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Our executive team: (L-r) Senior Vice President of Operations Devon Cox; Vice President of Corporate

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