Times of the Islands Spring 2022

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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TIMES<br />



TCI birding<br />


A tale <strong>of</strong> sunken treasure<br />


South Caicos Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs<br />

OF THE<br />


Comfort Food Just Went A-list.<br />

If your idea <strong>of</strong> comfort feels like<br />

cashmere, you will find its culinary<br />

equivalent at Almond Tree,<br />

<strong>the</strong> Shore Club’s deliciously<br />

decadent new eatery.<br />

Golden, crusty wood-fired pizza.<br />

Savory skillets, bubbling over with flavor<br />

and just oozing with temptation.<br />

Salads and sides that give new meaning<br />

to <strong>the</strong> word “indulgence.”<br />

These days, we’re all hungry<br />

for contentment and satisfaction.<br />

Almond Tree at <strong>the</strong> Shore Club<br />

simply takes it to a whole new level.<br />

Reservations 649 339 8000<br />

<strong>the</strong>shoreclubtc.com<br />



Dinner 6 –10:30pm<br />

5pm – Midnight




23<br />




Key West Italian<br />

1. Village 2. Village<br />

3. Caribbean<br />

Village<br />

4. French<br />

Village<br />

5. Seaside<br />

Village<br />

TM/© 2021 Sesame Workshop<br />


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waterpark with a SurfStream® surf simulator, or simply just splash,<br />

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@beachesresorts<br />



*Visit www.beaches.com/disclaimers/times<strong>of</strong><strong>the</strong>islandsspring2021 or call 1-800-BEACHES for important terms and<br />

conditions. Beaches ® is a registered trademark. Unique Vacations, Inc. is an affiliate <strong>of</strong> Unique Travel Corp., <strong>the</strong> worldwide<br />

representative <strong>of</strong> Beaches Resorts.

contents<br />

Departments<br />

6 From <strong>the</strong> Editor<br />

17 Getting to Know<br />

A Long Journey to Paradise<br />

Beryl Nelson<br />

By Jody Rathgeb ~ Photo By Tom Rathgeb<br />

24 Talking Taíno<br />

Crawling Out <strong>of</strong> History<br />

By Bill Keegan, Betsy Carlson<br />

and Michael Pateman<br />

77 About <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>/TCI Map<br />

81 Subscription Form<br />

82 Classified Ads<br />

Features<br />

32 Discoveries and Mysteries<br />

TCI Birding<br />

By Simon Busuttil<br />

46 Wreck <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción<br />

By Ben Stubenberg<br />

Original Painting By Richard McGhie<br />

52 The Power <strong>of</strong> Vitamin Sea<br />

Story and Photos By Kelly Currington<br />

Green Pages<br />

57 Helping <strong>the</strong> Humpback<br />

By Katharine Hart & Cathy Bacon<br />

Photos By Katharine Hart, Deep Blue Charters<br />

62 Building an Ark<br />

By Alizee Zimmermann, TCRF<br />

65 Flamingo Flamboyance<br />

By Skylar Wuelfing, SFS<br />

TIMES<br />

OF THE<br />



On <strong>the</strong> Cover<br />

Marta Morton spent an hour filming a “flamboyance” <strong>of</strong><br />

flamingos last September at aptly-named Flamingo Lake<br />

in Providenciales. The speckled water added a naturally<br />

artistic touch to <strong>the</strong> image. You can read more about flamingos<br />

on page 65. For more <strong>of</strong> Marta’s beautiful images<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> TCI, visit www.harbourclubvillas.com.<br />

Astrolabe<br />

68 Raking Up <strong>the</strong> Past<br />

Story & Photos By Jeff Dodge<br />

73 Kings <strong>of</strong> Bonefishing<br />

By Dr. Carlton Mills<br />

32<br />


4 www.timespub.tc

TurksAndCaicosProperty.com<br />

Mandalay Estate, Long Bay Beachfront<br />

Nestled along coveted Long Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>, Mandalay Estate <strong>of</strong>fers a discerning buyer<br />

an idyllic private retreat with approximately 190 ft. <strong>of</strong> pristine, white sandy beach and brilliant turquoise<br />

waters. Mandalay features 7 bedrooms and an award-winning architectural design capturing <strong>the</strong> essence<br />

<strong>of</strong> open Caribbean living with a masterful layout that revolves around <strong>the</strong> spectacular multi-level pool.<br />

US$16,000,000<br />

Bernadette Hunt<br />

Cell ~ 649 231 4029 | Tel ~ 649 941 3361<br />

Bernadette@TurksAndCaicosProperty.com<br />

Bernadette has lived in <strong>the</strong> Turks and Caicos<br />

<strong>Islands</strong> for over 26 years and witnessed <strong>the</strong><br />

development and transition <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> islands<br />

into a significant tourist destination. Based<br />

on independent figures her gross transaction<br />

numbers are unrivalled. Bernadette<br />

has listings on Providenciales, Pine Cay,<br />

Ambergris Cay, North and Middle Caicos<br />

and is delighted to work with sellers and<br />

buyers <strong>of</strong> homes, condos, commercial real<br />

estate and vacant undeveloped sites.<br />

Turtle Tail Beachfront Land<br />

Newly listed for sale .65 <strong>of</strong> an acre Turtle Tail beachfront lot with 102 ft. <strong>of</strong> beachfront in <strong>the</strong> upscale Turtle<br />

Tail community. This rare sou<strong>the</strong>rn-facing beach lot is located just down <strong>the</strong> road from <strong>the</strong> South Side<br />

Marina and <strong>of</strong>fers direct access to <strong>the</strong> ocean. It is ideal for a buyer wanting to build <strong>the</strong>ir Turks and Caicos<br />

dream home or a vacation rental property amongst o<strong>the</strong>r multi-million dollar villas and estates.<br />

US$1,800,000<br />

Turks and Caicos Property is <strong>the</strong> leading<br />

independent real estate firm in <strong>the</strong> Turks and<br />

Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> with <strong>of</strong>fices located at Ocean<br />

Club West Resort and Ocean Club West<br />

Plaza on <strong>the</strong> Grace Bay Road.<br />

Bernadette’s reputation and success has been<br />

earned over time through her dedication,<br />

enthusiasm and passion for real estate. Her<br />

personal experience as having practiced law<br />

in <strong>the</strong> islands for more than 10 years toge<strong>the</strong>r<br />

with owning and renovating a number <strong>of</strong><br />

properties means she is well-placed to advise<br />

her customers and developers on what to<br />

anticipate in <strong>the</strong> purchasing and construction<br />

process.<br />

Bernadette delights in working in <strong>the</strong> real<br />

estate industry and her humor and energy<br />

make her a pleasure to work with.<br />

Crystal Sands, Sapodilla Bay Beachfront<br />

Recent price improvement! Crystal Sands is a luxury beachfront villa in Sapodilla Bay, one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks and<br />

Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> most coveted locations to reside. The 2 storey, 4,200 sq. ft. property is perfect for large<br />

ga<strong>the</strong>rings with friends and family. Each bedroom features an ensuite bathroom and breathtaking views <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> tranquil beach and turquoise waters.<br />

US$3,800,000<br />

Please contact Bernadette if you would like<br />

to find out more about owning real estate in<br />

<strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.

from <strong>the</strong> editor<br />


A walk along Grace Bay Beach as <strong>the</strong> sun sets is a providential opportunity to contemplate <strong>the</strong> “invisible footprints” in your life.<br />

Invisible Footprints<br />

As I find myself in a very difficult and sad season <strong>of</strong> life, I try to make sense <strong>of</strong> struggle and suffering in light <strong>of</strong> my<br />

faith. No doubt in this tumultuous world <strong>the</strong>re is no lack <strong>of</strong> hardship, sickness, grief, unthinkable acts <strong>of</strong> aggression<br />

and hurt against each o<strong>the</strong>r, such as what is happening in <strong>the</strong> Ukraine as I write this. I’ve long believed that our<br />

God does not wave a wand and remove difficulties, but walks with us through <strong>the</strong>m. Only He can supply <strong>the</strong> perfect<br />

comfort, grace, and mercy we need—His invisible footprint as He “carries” us through trouble.<br />

I realize “invisible footprints” are present all around us. In family and friends who lend an unselfish helping hand<br />

and persevere when it isn’t easy or fun. In organizations—like <strong>the</strong> TCI Reef Fund, Whale Project, and Iguana <strong>Islands</strong><br />

Partnership—whose unheralded, behind-<strong>the</strong>-scenes work is making important strides in protecting <strong>the</strong> natural treasures<br />

that make this country so special. In historians who take time to document <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>’ unique past; <strong>the</strong> artists<br />

who paint or photograph its cultural wonders. Examples abound in this issue.<br />

The work <strong>of</strong> our steadfast contributors—and <strong>the</strong>ir forbearance with me—along with <strong>the</strong> support <strong>of</strong> our loyal<br />

advertisers, are <strong>the</strong> footprints that walk beside us and carry us through each issue. For that I am so grateful.<br />

6 www.timespub.tc<br />

Kathy Borsuk, Editor<br />

timespub@tciway.tc • (649) 431-4788





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TIMES<br />

OF THE<br />



Kathy Borsuk<br />


Claire Parrish<br />


Cathy Bacon, Kathy Borsuk, Simon Busuttil,<br />

Dr. Betsy Carlson, Kelly Currington, Katharine Hart,<br />

Dr. Bill Keegan, Dr. Carlton Mills, Dr. Michael P. Pateman,<br />

Jody Rathgeb, Ben Stubenberg, Lisa Turnbow-Talbot,<br />

Sklylar Wuelfing, Alizee Zimmermann.<br />


Nichoy Bent, Jonathan Blair, Simon Busuttil,<br />

Kelly Currington, Florida Museum, Katharine Hart, Aravna<br />

Lucsama, Marta Morton, Caitlin E. O’Brien,<br />

Piping Plover Survey Team, Tom Rathgeb,<br />

James Roy–Paradise Photography, Marjorie Sadler,<br />

Shutterstock, Turks & Caicos Reef Fund.<br />

.<br />

TMW<strong>2022</strong>.qxp_Layout 1 3/2/22 3:41 PM Page 1<br />



Serving international & domestic clients<br />

in real estate, property development, mortgages,<br />

corporate matters, commercial matters,<br />

immigration, and more.<br />


Alejandra Baiz, Richard McGhie,<br />

Theodore Morris, Wavey Line Publishing.<br />


PF Solutions, Miami, FL<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> ISSN 1017-6853 is<br />

published quarterly by <strong>Times</strong> Publications Ltd.<br />

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No part <strong>of</strong> this publication may be<br />

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While every care has been taken in <strong>the</strong> compilation and reproduction <strong>of</strong><br />

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TELEPHONE 649.946.4261 | TMW@TMWLAW.TC<br />


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16 www.timespub.tc

getting to know<br />

After years <strong>of</strong> “hippie life,” living on <strong>the</strong> edges <strong>of</strong> society, Beryl Nelson is a law-abiding citizen <strong>of</strong> a country where he truly wants to live—<strong>the</strong><br />

Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

A Long Journey (by Boat)<br />

to Paradise<br />

Beryl Nelson<br />

By Jody Rathgeb ~ Photos by Tom Rathgeb and Courtesy <strong>of</strong> Beryl Nelson<br />

Q: How did you come to live in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>, Beryl?<br />

A: Well, it’s a long story . . .<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 17

Actually, <strong>the</strong> story<br />

itself is simple: Beryl<br />

Nelson, who grew up in<br />

Michigan and Indiana,<br />

decided when he came<br />

<strong>of</strong> age that he did not<br />

want to live in <strong>the</strong> turbulent<br />

and violent American<br />

culture <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> late 1960s<br />

and resettled himself on<br />

Providenciales. Simple,<br />

right? Ah, but <strong>the</strong> details<br />

<strong>of</strong> his journey between<br />

1969 and 1985 make for<br />

a more complicated tale,<br />

involving anti-war protests,<br />

trips abroad, work<br />

in The Bahamas and many<br />

boats.<br />

The boats are <strong>the</strong><br />

standouts when Beryl,<br />

now 77 years old, retired<br />

and living in Long Bay,<br />

talks about his life. He<br />

A young Beryl Nelson navigates at <strong>the</strong> helm <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> schooner America.<br />

punctuates his stories<br />

with details <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sailboats he has captained, refurbished<br />

and lived aboard, describing <strong>the</strong>m with <strong>the</strong> spark in his<br />

eye that marks a true sailor. The boats and <strong>the</strong> trips are<br />

jumbled in with Beryl’s Quaker roots, political activism<br />

and <strong>the</strong> desire for a peaceful life. “Classic hippie stuff,”<br />

he comments.<br />

various places. In Philadelphia, visiting his sister Marjorie,<br />

he saw a film on <strong>the</strong> Phoenix activities and became a volunteer<br />

for A Quaker Action Group. He spent 1968 on <strong>the</strong><br />

Phoenix, and on his return continued anti-war activities.<br />

“That was when I decided I didn’t want to live in <strong>the</strong> U.S.,”<br />

he says. “I figured my only option was to build a sailboat<br />

and sail away.”<br />

Phoenix<br />

While even his earlier days involved working around boats<br />

and on <strong>the</strong> water, perhaps <strong>the</strong> start <strong>of</strong> his 17-year journey<br />

to Provo was aboard <strong>the</strong> Phoenix <strong>of</strong> Hiroshima in 1968.<br />

The 50-foot, 30-ton yacht was designed and owned by<br />

anthropologist Dr. Earle Reynolds, who in <strong>the</strong> late 1950s<br />

became interested in protests against nuclear weapons<br />

For several years Beryl shuttled between Michigan,<br />

where he was building a boat (never completed) on his<br />

fa<strong>the</strong>r’s property, and Florida, where he was working<br />

at a shipyard and “learning more about boats.” He also<br />

became involved in salvage operations and delivering<br />

boats to The Bahamas. Those first tastes <strong>of</strong> The Bahamas<br />

made him start thinking about emigrating, which lent<br />

tests. Inspired by Quaker activists, Reynolds put his more reality to his “sail away” fantasies.<br />

yacht to use in those protests and o<strong>the</strong>r anti-war activities.<br />

In 1967–68, <strong>the</strong> Phoenix delivered medical supplies<br />

to civilians in both North and South Vietnam. (Reynolds<br />

Sheila A<br />

Then he fell in love . . . with a boat. During a delivery trip<br />

recounted those stories in his book, The Forbidden stop in Georgetown, Great Exuma, he saw <strong>the</strong> Sheila A,<br />

Voyage.)<br />

Enter Beryl Nelson, who had been knocking about<br />

among jobs at a Fort Lauderdale shipyard and with <strong>the</strong><br />

“and I thought she was very pretty.” The 22-foot wooden<br />

sailboat with canvas sails was a Bahamian “B Class” racing<br />

sloop. Beryl borrowed money to buy her and lived on <strong>the</strong><br />

Michigan State Waterways Commission; following an beach while he emptied and cleaned <strong>the</strong> boat. “I ended up<br />

interest in underwater archaeology; and visiting friends in at <strong>the</strong> Out Island Inn. They let me tie up to <strong>the</strong>ir dock, and<br />

18 www.timespub.tc

This is Beryl’s houseboat, Ashram, in Great Exuma. When he moved to <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos, he tied up Ashram at his property and lived aboard<br />

until he built a house.<br />

I would fish for <strong>the</strong>m. I could use <strong>the</strong>ir toilets, and <strong>the</strong>n I<br />

made a little extra by saving <strong>the</strong> backbones and heads <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> fish and trading with <strong>the</strong> locals. Of course, this was<br />

all highly illegal.”<br />

When <strong>the</strong> authorities began sniffing around, Beryl<br />

moved on to Nassau in Sheila A. “I got into a white<br />

Bahamian crowd and did carpentry work for <strong>the</strong>m and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r odd jobs.” There he learned about <strong>the</strong> Yoga Retreat<br />

on Paradise Island, where he became first a volunteer,<br />

<strong>the</strong>n a staffer. He also spent time on Rudder Cut Cay,<br />

where he sighted a disabled 40-foot houseboat in a pond.<br />

With some help from Swami Vishnu and a loan from his<br />

fa<strong>the</strong>r, Beryl bought it and named it Ashram.<br />

Ashram<br />

Eventually, Ashram would take him to Provo. But he got<br />

sidetracked when he was asked to take ano<strong>the</strong>r sailboat,<br />

Jubilee III, to Newport, Rhode Island for <strong>the</strong> 1977<br />

America’s Cup race. From <strong>the</strong>re he landed a job as first<br />

mate on <strong>the</strong> replica <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> schooner America. A bit later,<br />

during a trip on <strong>the</strong> schooner to The Bahamas via Norfolk,<br />

Virginia, Beryl received his 100-ton Coast Guard license<br />

and became its captain.<br />

Beryl had <strong>of</strong>fers for o<strong>the</strong>r jobs at this time, but “I<br />

wasn’t looking for a career in running yachts,” he says.<br />

Instead, he found work in <strong>the</strong> Exuma Cays, first as <strong>the</strong><br />

assistant manager <strong>of</strong> Lee Stocking Island, <strong>the</strong>n as <strong>the</strong> first<br />

park warden for <strong>the</strong> Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.<br />

During his three years as park warden, Beryl became<br />

more aware <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> and began<br />

thinking about settling <strong>the</strong>re. He had met Chuck Hesse,<br />

founder <strong>of</strong> Provo’s Conch Farm, at a Gulf Caribbean<br />

Fisheries Institute Conference in Nassau and became<br />

interested in <strong>the</strong> conch mariculture process, <strong>the</strong>n began<br />

looking at land on Providenciales. “My sister Marge had<br />

talked to me about buying land in The Bahamas,” he<br />

recalls, but he wasn’t impressed by <strong>the</strong> way The Bahamas<br />

handled land registry. The Turks & Caicos, however,<br />

did impress him. While still working in <strong>the</strong> Exumas, he<br />

bought land on Long Bay. After his park stint, he moved<br />

to TCI in 1985, towing his 40-foot houseboat. He tied up<br />

by his property and lived aboard while building his house<br />

himself and establishing a business and residency.<br />

Provo<br />

The business, Local Knowledge Computer Services,<br />

became his entry into <strong>the</strong> developing island, where Beryl<br />

made computer repairs and computerized <strong>the</strong> billing<br />

systems for various island mainstay businesses, such as<br />

Barclays Bank and American Airlines. “I watched Provo<br />

develop,” he recalls. “I saw Club Med being built, and all<br />

four terminal buildings at <strong>the</strong> airport.”

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After years <strong>of</strong> “hippie life,” living on <strong>the</strong> edges <strong>of</strong><br />

society (sometimes illegally), Beryl Nelson became a<br />

law-abiding citizen <strong>of</strong> a country where he truly wanted to<br />

live. “I intentionally emigrated out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> United States.<br />

knowing that I could NOT accept living in that culture,”<br />

he notes. “This meant that it was necessary for me to<br />

find a life where <strong>the</strong> culture and people I was surrounded<br />

with did not violate my inner beliefs. How blessed and<br />

thankful I feel for living in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. I<br />

look back and think through <strong>the</strong> experiences I’ve had and<br />

realize many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m grew out <strong>of</strong>, and refined, my desires<br />

and attitudes which I feel are being fulfilled here.” a<br />

Celebrating a milestone<br />

<strong>2022</strong> marks 30 years that I have been writing for<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> as a freelancer. It’s been my longest<br />

gig, and my favorite.<br />

Back in 1992, when I pitched my first article to <strong>the</strong><br />

magazine, <strong>the</strong> process was different. Folks weren’t<br />

using email yet, so I ei<strong>the</strong>r faxed or FedEx’d my hard<br />

copy (don’t recall which), and for photos we devised<br />

a system in which Tom would leave a roll <strong>of</strong> film at<br />

Gilley’s as we left <strong>the</strong> Provo airport for <strong>the</strong> editor to<br />

pick up. It got easier as we all became connected and<br />

digitized, although I still prefer doing my interviews<br />

in person ra<strong>the</strong>r than online.<br />

I’ve done a lot <strong>of</strong> “this and that” for TOTI, contributing<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>iles, features and items for such regular<br />

bits as “Resort Report,” “I Was Wondering . . .?” and<br />

“Faces and Places.” For several years, I did a column<br />

called “A Day in <strong>the</strong> Life,” in which I followed an<br />

Islander around as he/she did <strong>the</strong>ir day’s work: keeping<br />

shop, running cargo between Provo and Middle,<br />

conching, teaching, installing and repairing AC, etc.<br />

Those pieces were among my favorites because,<br />

like <strong>the</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>iles I choose to do, <strong>the</strong>y focused on<br />

ordinary people simply trying to do <strong>the</strong>ir best. They<br />

weren’t stars or superheroes, but I felt <strong>the</strong>ir contributions<br />

to <strong>the</strong> fabric <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> were (and are)<br />

greater than those <strong>of</strong> any top politician or big-time<br />

developer. I made a point <strong>of</strong> hopping around among<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> for <strong>the</strong>se pieces, reminding readers that<br />

<strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> are more than Provo.<br />

I ended “A Day in <strong>the</strong> Life” when I stopped living<br />

in TCI full-time, but I’ve continued writing for TOTI<br />

and will do so as long as <strong>the</strong>y’ll have me. I hope to<br />

go on celebrating <strong>the</strong>se <strong>Islands</strong> beyond this 30-year<br />

milestone. a<br />

~ Jody Rathgeb<br />

20 www.timespub.tc

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talking taíno<br />

Opposite page: This view over <strong>the</strong> ocean from <strong>the</strong> west side <strong>of</strong> North Creek in Grand Turk was likely enjoyed 1,300 years ago by its first<br />

human inhabitants.<br />

Above: The discovery <strong>of</strong> a previously unknown species <strong>of</strong> tortoise at Coralie (GT-3), <strong>the</strong> oldest known archaeological site in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos<br />

and The Bahamas, reflected <strong>the</strong> gigantism sometimes exhibited by species on islands.<br />


Crawling Out <strong>of</strong> History<br />

The Grand Turk Tortoise Chelonoidis alburyorum keegani<br />

By Bill Keegan, Betsy Carlson and Michael Pateman<br />

Just as <strong>the</strong> hare is zipping across <strong>the</strong> finish line, <strong>the</strong> tortoise has stopped once again<br />

by <strong>the</strong> roadside, this time to stick out his neck and nibble a bit <strong>of</strong> sweet grass,<br />

unlike <strong>the</strong> previous time when he was distractedby a bee humming in <strong>the</strong> heart <strong>of</strong> a wildflower<br />

“My Hero” By Billy Collins<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 25

Coralie (GT-3), on <strong>the</strong> west side <strong>of</strong> North Creek in<br />

Grand Turk, is a remarkable place. It was first inhabited<br />

about 1,300 years ago, and is <strong>the</strong> oldest known archaeological<br />

site in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> and all <strong>of</strong> The<br />

Bahamas. It provides us with a view <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> islands when<br />

humans first arrived, before <strong>the</strong> animal resources <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

archipelago had ever been exploited. Coralie was an outpost<br />

for short-term visitors from Hispaniola who came to<br />

<strong>the</strong> island to harvest its abundant resources. This tells us<br />

that Grand Turk was already a popular tourist destination<br />

1,300 years ago!<br />

Animal bones were exceptionally well preserved in<br />

<strong>the</strong> site’s dry, sandy soil. The most prominent was <strong>the</strong><br />

sea turtle, whose upper shell (carapace) was used as a<br />

cooking pot. Nowhere else in <strong>the</strong> Caribbean have <strong>the</strong><br />

bones <strong>of</strong> sea turtles been found in such abundance. In<br />

addition, <strong>the</strong> bones <strong>of</strong> some iguanas are almost twice<br />

<strong>the</strong> scientifically recognized size for this species. This<br />

is an example <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> gigantism sometimes exhibited<br />

by species on islands. (Island gigantism is a biological<br />

phenomenon in which <strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> an animal species isolated<br />

on an island increases dramatically in comparison<br />

to its mainland relatives.) Birds, such as <strong>the</strong> red-footed<br />

booby, no longer live on Grand Turk; and <strong>the</strong> inordinately<br />

large-size fishes show <strong>the</strong> benefits from being <strong>the</strong> first to<br />

inhabit a pristine island setting. While amazing in <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

own right, <strong>the</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> a previously unknown species<br />

<strong>of</strong> tortoise topped all.<br />

The partial remains <strong>of</strong> eleven tortoise individuals were<br />

found throughout <strong>the</strong> GT-3 deposits. Several <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir bones<br />

from <strong>the</strong> earliest occupation are burned, which shows that<br />

<strong>the</strong>y were butchered and eaten soon after people arrived.<br />

What is surprising is that after <strong>the</strong>se first meals, tortoises<br />

were mostly left unmolested for almost 400 years. But<br />

during <strong>the</strong> final visit <strong>of</strong> people from Hispaniola, sometime<br />

around AD 1100, all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> remaining tortoises on Grand<br />

Turk were rounded up and butchered. This renewed interest<br />

in <strong>the</strong> tortoise as food may have resulted from <strong>the</strong><br />

overharvesting <strong>of</strong> sea turtles. If sea turtles were no longer<br />

as abundant—and we do see a dramatic decline in <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

size over time—<strong>the</strong>n tortoise may have been <strong>the</strong> next best<br />

option. Or, <strong>the</strong>y may have been ignored because <strong>the</strong> taste<br />

<strong>of</strong> tortoise meat was not to <strong>the</strong>ir liking. After all, everyone<br />

has different food preferences. In <strong>the</strong> book The Yearling,<br />

for example, immigrants to Florida from <strong>the</strong> island <strong>of</strong><br />

Minorca are disparaged for eating gopher tortoise. Local<br />

Floridians would have nothing to do with <strong>the</strong>m. However,<br />

<strong>the</strong> Minorcans probably had a good reason. The Catholic<br />


This is <strong>the</strong> upper shell (carapace) <strong>of</strong> a giant tortoise ; tortoises were once widely distributed throughout <strong>the</strong> Caribbean.<br />

26 www.timespub.tc


Above: This Theodore Morris painting “Turtle Spirit” represents <strong>the</strong> importance <strong>of</strong> turtles in<br />

Taíno culture.<br />

Right: These are <strong>the</strong> bones <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sawmill sink tortoise uncovered in Abaco, The Bahamas.<br />

church does not classify tortoise as “meat,” so tortoise can be eaten on days<br />

when abstinence from meat is expected.<br />

Lacking information about tortoises in <strong>the</strong>se islands, we sought help<br />

from our colleagues at <strong>the</strong> Florida Museum who specialize in herpetology.<br />

They too were amazed, and knew <strong>of</strong> only one reported tortoise bone from<br />

<strong>the</strong> Banana Hole paleontology site on New Providence Island (Nassau). We<br />

anxiously waited for <strong>the</strong>ir findings, but <strong>the</strong> ensuing biological research proceeded<br />

at tortoise-like speed. An answer began to emerge with <strong>the</strong> 2004<br />

discovery <strong>of</strong> a variety <strong>of</strong> fossil animals and plants preserved in <strong>the</strong> anaerobic<br />

sediments at <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> Sawmill sink blue hole on Great Abaco Island<br />

(nor<strong>the</strong>rn Bahamas). (A blue hole is a subsurface void in carbonate bedrock<br />

that is open to <strong>the</strong> Earth’s surface and extends below water.) The nearly<br />

complete fossil tortoise skeletons renewed interest in <strong>the</strong> study <strong>of</strong> Bahamian<br />

tortoises, and eventually resulted in <strong>the</strong> first extraction <strong>of</strong> ancient DNA from<br />

a tropical species. Once again, <strong>the</strong> tortoise came in first!<br />

Ancient DNA revealed that Bahamian tortoises belong to a group <strong>of</strong><br />

Neotropical tortoises that includes species living today in South America<br />

and <strong>the</strong> Galápagos <strong>Islands</strong>. They diverged from <strong>the</strong>se relatives about 2–3<br />

million years ago. Tortoises were once widely distributed throughout <strong>the</strong><br />


<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 27

Caribbean, and an extinct species <strong>of</strong> giant tortoise was<br />

recently described in <strong>the</strong> Dominican Republic. They are<br />

today found only in Cuba, Hispaniola, and a few <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

sou<strong>the</strong>rn Lesser Antilles outside <strong>of</strong> Central and South<br />

America. The fossil species are related to <strong>the</strong> red-footed<br />

tortoise which is today a popular pet.<br />

In addition to Grand Turk, recent paleontological<br />

research has identified tortoise bones in cave deposits on<br />

virtually every island in <strong>the</strong> Bahamian archipelago, including<br />

Indian Cave on Middle Caicos. They shared <strong>the</strong> islands<br />

with <strong>the</strong> Indigenous Lucayans, although GT-3 is <strong>the</strong> only<br />

site at which tortoises have been found in direct association<br />

with humans. Current evidence indicates <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

driven to extinction about 700–800 years ago, which may<br />

be why <strong>the</strong>re is no recorded Taíno name for tortoise (only<br />

freshwater turtles, called jicotea). Recognizing that tortoises<br />

are important members <strong>of</strong> tropical ecosystems, <strong>the</strong><br />

Turtle Conservancy has expressed interest in rewilding<br />

tortoises in The Bahamas and TCI. But this project is also<br />

moving at a tortoise’s pace.<br />

So, how did tortoises get to <strong>the</strong> TCI and The<br />

Bahamas? Their story begins at a time <strong>of</strong> much lower sea<br />

levels. Somehow, <strong>the</strong>y managed to reach <strong>the</strong> Bahamas<br />

from Cuba or Hispaniola and spread out across <strong>the</strong> much<br />

larger landmasses. As sea level rose, <strong>the</strong> large land areas<br />

were transformed into smaller island banks. Isolated on<br />

islands separated by deep-water passages, <strong>the</strong> tortoises<br />

developed observable differences. As a result, <strong>the</strong> tortoises<br />

from every island looked different, reflecting <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

adaptation to unique local conditions.<br />

The Sawmill sink tortoise is <strong>the</strong> “parent” species<br />

because it was <strong>the</strong> first to be described scientifically<br />

(Chelonoidis alburyorum). There currently are two named<br />

subspecies, one for Middle Caicos (C. a. sementis) and<br />

ours on Grand Turk (C. a. keegani). Although o<strong>the</strong>rs are<br />

yet to be <strong>of</strong>ficially named, <strong>the</strong>re was perhaps a total <strong>of</strong><br />

seven subspecies, each restricted to its own small bank<br />

(e.g., Caicos Bank, Acklins Bank, Great Bahama Bank).<br />

Although <strong>the</strong>re was little genetic divergence in <strong>the</strong>se<br />

islands, <strong>the</strong> differences are sufficient to identify two distinct<br />

“clades” (a clade is a group <strong>of</strong> organisms believed to<br />

have evolved from a common ancestor). The occurrence<br />

<strong>of</strong> both clades on <strong>the</strong> same island has been interpreted<br />

by biologists as evidence for two separate colonization<br />

events. In o<strong>the</strong>r words, <strong>the</strong>se clades evolved on different<br />

islands and much later came to inhabit <strong>the</strong> same island.<br />

This looks very much like people were involved. It suggests<br />

that <strong>the</strong> Lucayans moved tortoises between islands,<br />

perhaps as a managed food source.<br />

This image <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> interior <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> plastron <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Grand Turk tortoise<br />

shows <strong>the</strong> “Madonna face” (at top) created by muscle insertions.<br />

The Grand Turk tortoise was <strong>of</strong> moderate size, measuring<br />

about 18 inches in length and about 50 pounds<br />

in weight. They were only a third <strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> largest,<br />

modern Galápagos tortoises (ano<strong>the</strong>r example <strong>of</strong> island<br />

gigantism). Although it is common to speak <strong>of</strong> a turtle’s<br />

“shell,” this <strong>of</strong>ten means only <strong>the</strong> thin keratinous (like<br />

fingernails) layer used to make “tortoiseshell” jewelry.<br />

More appropriately, <strong>the</strong> bone structure is described as<br />

a thin-walled, high dome carapace (top). A “high dome”<br />

(versus a “saddleback”) restricts <strong>the</strong> extension <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

neck, which means that <strong>the</strong>se tortoises had to feed close<br />

to <strong>the</strong> ground. The plastron (bottom) is flat. When we first<br />

saw <strong>the</strong> muscle markings on <strong>the</strong> interior <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> plastron,<br />

<strong>the</strong>y gave <strong>the</strong> impression <strong>of</strong> a woman’s face with her head<br />

covered by a veil. However, Keegan’s plans to market a<br />

“Virgin Mary sighting” never materialized.<br />

The Sawmill sink tortoises were exceptionally<br />

well-preserved. A total <strong>of</strong> 226 seeds were found inside<br />

two <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> complete shells—<strong>the</strong>ir last meals. These seeds<br />

came from wild mastic and satin leaf trees, which produce<br />

plum-like fruits that scatter on <strong>the</strong> ground in spring<br />

through summer. For <strong>the</strong>se seeds to have survived, <strong>the</strong><br />

animals must have died soon after eating. A stable isotope<br />

analysis <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> bones was conducted to obtain a<br />

more general picture <strong>of</strong> diet. It showed that tropical<br />

grasses, cactus pads and fruits (e.g., prickly pear [tuna]<br />


28 www.timespub.tc


This charcoal drawing, “One <strong>of</strong> Atabey’s Faces,” is artist Alejandra Baiz’s personal interpretation <strong>of</strong> a Taíno petroglyph found in <strong>the</strong> Caguana<br />

Taíno Ceremonial Park in Utuado, Puerto Rico. The turtle illustrated in this drawing is a jicotea.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 29


This image shows <strong>the</strong> internal (A) and external (B) Paratype plastron in situ at <strong>the</strong> Coralie archaeological site, Grand Turk.<br />

and Turks Head cactus), and carrion (e.g., marine fishes<br />

that washed ashore or were discarded by Osprey) were<br />

likely consumed. Modern tortoises have similar dietary<br />

preferences, and also consume a variety <strong>of</strong> snails, ants,<br />

termites, beetles, and carrion.<br />

Modern tortoises can live to be more than 100 years<br />

old. They are most active in <strong>the</strong> late afternoon and early<br />

morning. They <strong>of</strong>ten rest for 50% <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> day, and are<br />

reported to remain still for five to ten days after a large<br />

meal. Resting, <strong>of</strong> course, is a relative term. Their typical<br />

pace is a leisurely 5–20 meters per hour, although <strong>the</strong>y<br />

can reach a top speed <strong>of</strong> 100 meters per hour (only 1/2<br />

mile/hour). They can mate at any time <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> year, but<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten show a seasonal preference. Females dig a hole<br />

and lay an average <strong>of</strong> ten golf-ball-size eggs that hatch in<br />

about four months. Their small clutch size makes <strong>the</strong>m<br />

30 www.timespub.tc

vulnerable to overhunting. Tortoises are today considered<br />

a delicacy in South America, and <strong>the</strong>ir populations<br />

are declining accordingly.<br />

Prior to <strong>the</strong> arrival <strong>of</strong> humans, crocodiles were <strong>the</strong><br />

main predator <strong>of</strong> adult tortoise. Crocodiles were once<br />

common on many Caribbean and Bahamian islands,<br />

although <strong>the</strong>y have yet to be identified in <strong>the</strong> Turks &<br />

Caicos. Crocodile bite marks are clearly visible on many<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sawmill sink shells, and bite marks on <strong>the</strong> interior<br />

<strong>of</strong> shells indicate that crocodiles scavenged <strong>the</strong> discarded<br />

carcasses <strong>of</strong> tortoises (and sea turtles) after <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

butchered by humans.<br />

Christopher Columbus captured a crocodile in a saltwater<br />

pond at <strong>the</strong> northwest point <strong>of</strong> Crooked Island (The<br />

Bahamas). Having never seen one, he called it lagarto de<br />

la agua (water lizard). Caimán was later reported as <strong>the</strong><br />

Taíno name for crocodile. Historians have used GT-3 as<br />


Crocodile bite marks are visible on many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sawmill sink shells.<br />

pro<strong>of</strong> that people were living on Grand Turk at <strong>the</strong> time<br />

<strong>of</strong> Columbus’ first voyage, and <strong>the</strong>refore Grand Turk is<br />

Columbus’ first landfall in <strong>the</strong> Americas. However, our<br />

research showed that no people (or tortoises) had been<br />

living on Grand Turk for at least 300 years before he set<br />

sail. Had Columbus arrived at an earlier time, he might<br />

have named <strong>the</strong> island for <strong>the</strong> ubiquitous tortoise, using<br />

<strong>the</strong> Spanish name—Galápagos. Just imagine, you could be<br />

visiting <strong>the</strong> Galápagos & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>!<br />

For more on TCI tortoises see https://www.<br />

floridamuseum.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/<br />

sites/35/2020/08/Vol58No1smallarchival.pdf. a<br />

john redmond associates ltd.<br />

architects & designers<br />

construction consultants<br />

project management<br />

Dr. Bill Keegan is Curator <strong>of</strong> Caribbean Archaeology at <strong>the</strong><br />

Florida Museum <strong>of</strong> Natural History (University <strong>of</strong> Florida);<br />

Dr. Betsy Carlson is Senior Archaeologist at Sou<strong>the</strong>astern<br />

Archaeological Research (SEARCH, Inc.) in Jonesville, FL;<br />

and Dr. Michael Pateman is former Director <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks<br />

& Caicos National Museum and currently Curator/Lab<br />

Director <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> AEX Maritime Museum on Grand Bahama.<br />

p.o.box 21, providenciales, turks & caicos is.<br />

tel.: 9464440 cell: 2314569 email: redmond@tciway.tc<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 31


feature<br />

Opposite page: This is one <strong>of</strong> 77 Piping Plovers found on <strong>the</strong> inter-tidal flats at Sand Bore Cay in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> in January, <strong>2022</strong>.<br />

Above: These Short-billed Dowitchers are congregating on <strong>the</strong> Middle Caicos Banks in January, <strong>2022</strong>. They are part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> flock that comprises<br />

3% <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> world’s population.<br />

PIPING PLOVER SURVEY TEAM JANUARY <strong>2022</strong><br />

Discoveries and Mysteries<br />

TCI birding: Questions answered; questions raised.<br />

By Simon Busuttil<br />

“These islands are many in number . . . being low, sandy and barren . . .<br />

and <strong>the</strong> beach is covered with sea-fowl.”<br />

(Extract from <strong>the</strong> Annual Register 1764 quoted in H.E. Sadler’s book Turks Island Landfall.)<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 33

There are around 11,000 species <strong>of</strong> birds in <strong>the</strong><br />

world. “Around” because <strong>the</strong> number changes all <strong>the</strong> time.<br />

Totally new species are fairly frequently discovered, and<br />

a thankfully few (as yet) o<strong>the</strong>rs are deemed extinct, but<br />

most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> changes occur through “splitting” existing<br />

species. These “splits” come about ei<strong>the</strong>r when increased<br />

observation or research, or new scientific techniques such<br />

as DNA analysis, identify that races or sub-species <strong>of</strong> an<br />

existing single species are deemed sufficiently different<br />

to be considered different species despite superficially<br />

appearing <strong>the</strong> same. One, <strong>the</strong> widespread Rufous Antpitta<br />

Grallaria rufula <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Peruvian Andes has just been<br />

split—after years <strong>of</strong> taxonomic debate and research—into<br />

16 different species!<br />

An endemic species is one found only in one place.<br />

Almost anyone with an appreciation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> natural world<br />

knows that islands are hotbeds <strong>of</strong> endemism. That is,<br />

because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir geographic isolation, most islands are<br />

home to species found nowhere else in <strong>the</strong> world.<br />

Being an island-based species does come with downsides,<br />

particularly being more vulnerable to factors such<br />

as hurricanes or volcanic eruptions, habitat loss, or <strong>the</strong><br />

introduction <strong>of</strong> predators or o<strong>the</strong>r damaging non-native<br />

species. Only about 10% <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> world’s bird species are<br />

found on islands but 47% <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> world’s threatened bird<br />

species are. Many island species have small populations<br />

given <strong>the</strong> limited land area that <strong>the</strong>y cover and islands are<br />

particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic changes.<br />

Biogeographically, Turks & Caicos are two <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

banks that make up <strong>the</strong> Lucayan Archipelago. Nature<br />

does not generally conform to national boundaries, so<br />

a systematic list <strong>of</strong> bird species <strong>of</strong> TCI is very much an<br />

artificial affair. That in itself does not mean that <strong>the</strong> list<br />

has no value. Politics and thus nature conservation policy<br />

are man-made affairs, and a national bird list and <strong>the</strong><br />

associated status <strong>of</strong> each species can and should be an<br />

important tool in helping national governments carry out<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir moral—and in some instances internationally legal—<br />

duty to help conserve <strong>the</strong> world’s bird species.<br />

A systematic list with <strong>the</strong> status <strong>of</strong> each species can<br />

also be a useful tool in encouraging birdwatchers to visit<br />

a country. The worldwide bird tourism market is huge.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> USA alone it was valued at $32 billion in 2012,<br />

according to <strong>the</strong> United Nations. Central to visiting a<br />

country to watch birds is having an idea <strong>of</strong> what species<br />

are <strong>the</strong>re and what <strong>the</strong> chances are <strong>of</strong> seeing a certain<br />

species. This is one value <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> systematic list.<br />


From a bird-watching point <strong>of</strong> view, TCI is both under-watched and under-recorded. This gives visitors <strong>the</strong> chance to get away from <strong>the</strong><br />

bird-watching crowds and make <strong>the</strong>ir own discoveries.<br />

34 www.timespub.tc

Over 700 <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> earth’s bird species are found in <strong>the</strong><br />

Caribbean. Of <strong>the</strong>se, 171 are endemic—found only in<br />

<strong>the</strong> area. The larger islands <strong>of</strong> Hispaniola, Jamaica, and<br />

Cuba each support over 30 endemic bird species and <strong>the</strong><br />

Lucayan Archipelago just 8 endemic bird species. TCI<br />

has no endemic species <strong>of</strong> bird, but one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Lucayan<br />

endemics, <strong>the</strong> Bahama Woodstar (our “hummingbird”) is<br />

a familiar resident species. TCI is thus never going to<br />

“compete” as a birdwatching destination with <strong>the</strong> likes <strong>of</strong><br />

many o<strong>the</strong>r Caribbean countries which draw birdwatchers<br />

from around <strong>the</strong> world.<br />

That said, over 200 bird species have been recorded<br />

in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. There is a good range <strong>of</strong><br />

species, some accessible sites, and many species can be<br />

approached quite closely as <strong>the</strong>re is no tradition <strong>of</strong> hunting.<br />

With few birdwatchers and sparse historic records<br />

<strong>the</strong>re are opportunities to get away from <strong>the</strong> crowds—<br />

which can be difficult in some hot spots in popular<br />

regions—and make your own discoveries.<br />

From a birdwatching point <strong>of</strong> view, TCI is both<br />

under-watched and under-recorded. There are few resident<br />

or visiting birdwatchers and birders. Additionally,<br />

<strong>the</strong>re is no bird club or strong network <strong>of</strong> recording<br />

and sharing sightings. The online citizen science portal<br />

eBird (www.eBird.org) has helped, as anyone can log<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir sightings which are <strong>the</strong>n reviewed by a network <strong>of</strong><br />

regional experts. The sightings can <strong>the</strong>n be viewed by<br />

anyone.<br />

To be able to look after our birds, to conserve <strong>the</strong>m,<br />

we need to know what species occur here, how many <strong>of</strong><br />

each and where <strong>the</strong>y are. This is where birdwatchers can<br />

contribute <strong>the</strong>ir sightings and records as data to support<br />

<strong>the</strong> science <strong>of</strong> conservation. Once <strong>the</strong>se questions<br />

are answered, <strong>the</strong>n conservation planning—protecting<br />

<strong>the</strong> important areas—can be implemented as part <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> National Development Plan and <strong>the</strong> moral and legal<br />

imperatives to protect <strong>the</strong> world’s wonderful bird species<br />

can be met.<br />

So <strong>the</strong>n, what is TCI important for? What do we know<br />

and what more do we need to find out? Given <strong>the</strong> country’s<br />

ongoing rapid development and <strong>the</strong> needs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

humans living here, on what and where should we spend<br />

our political, social, and financial capital protecting?<br />

The Piping Plover Charadrius melodus is a federally<br />

protected species in both USA and Canada. It is also an<br />

incredibly cute little ball <strong>of</strong> fluff that spends its summers<br />

and winters on beaches around 1,000 miles apart.<br />

Like o<strong>the</strong>r beach-living species, it suffers from increased<br />

development and human recreational use <strong>of</strong> beaches<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 35

throughout its range. Having implemented significant<br />

protective programs in its breeding range in small areas<br />

on <strong>the</strong> Great Plains, around <strong>the</strong> Great Lakes and on <strong>the</strong><br />

Atlantic coast, authorities in North America realised that<br />

as numbers were not increasing, <strong>the</strong> problem lay elsewhere.<br />

The plover was known to spend its winters on <strong>the</strong><br />

sou<strong>the</strong>ast and Gulf coasts <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> USA, but regular counts<br />

<strong>of</strong> birds in <strong>the</strong>se largely accessible and well-watched<br />

areas could not account for <strong>the</strong> whole known population.<br />

A significant number were missing. Upon instigating an<br />

international Piping Plover census, several hundred were<br />

“discovered” wintering, widely dispersed in The Bahamas<br />

in 2006 and 2011, and in January 2016 a team from<br />

North America successfully searched likely habitat for<br />

this species in TCI, finding 96 birds.<br />

Since <strong>the</strong>n, teams have visited TCI almost every<br />

January to look for Piping Plovers. We now know that<br />

around 200 spend <strong>the</strong> winter with us at several key sites.<br />

The area between South Caicos and East Caicos is particularly<br />

important, with almost half <strong>of</strong> our birds on <strong>the</strong><br />

inter-tidal flats around Sand Bore, Plandon and McCartney<br />

Cays. A fur<strong>the</strong>r 30 stay on Little Ambergris Cay.<br />

The sixth and final year <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> TCI Piping Plover sur-<br />

Above: This is “<strong>of</strong>ficially” Piping Plover EY1, found in <strong>the</strong> TCI on<br />

Plandon Cay Beach in January, <strong>2022</strong>. This bird was ringed on Fire<br />

Island Beach, Long Beach, New York State in May, 2021!<br />

Below: Ano<strong>the</strong>r “dull” day at work, surveying waders on <strong>the</strong> Middle<br />

Caicos flats.<br />



36 www.timespub.tc

This typical Australian Pine woodland in TCI demonstrates how no native plants grow under <strong>the</strong> alien trees.<br />


vey was undertaken by a local team <strong>of</strong> six birdwatchers<br />

in February <strong>2022</strong>. We now have a very good idea <strong>of</strong> how<br />

many <strong>of</strong> this Globally Threatened species are here in TCI<br />

and which areas are important for <strong>the</strong>m.<br />

All surveys have also searched for birds “banded” with<br />

individually identifiable coloured plastic rings or flags on<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir legs at <strong>the</strong>ir breeding sites. With a good telescope or<br />

camera <strong>the</strong>se are legible in <strong>the</strong> field, allowing individual<br />

birds to be sighted and reported. From this we know that<br />

<strong>the</strong> birds spending <strong>the</strong> winter in TCI come from eastern<br />

Canada and nor<strong>the</strong>astern USA, a flight <strong>of</strong> around 1,200<br />

miles each way with stops at coastal sites in Virginia and<br />

North Carolina en route.<br />

This long migration is why disturbance on <strong>the</strong>ir wintering<br />

grounds is such an important issue for Piping<br />

Plovers. They need to be in peak physical condition to<br />

make <strong>the</strong> flight home to <strong>the</strong>ir nesting areas and breed.<br />

Disturbance has been shown conclusively to reduce this<br />

physical fitness. Birds feed less and are more stressed<br />

and this has a direct impact on <strong>the</strong>ir subsequent survival<br />

and breeding success.<br />

We need to consider taking this species’ needs into<br />

account in certain key areas such as <strong>the</strong> south side <strong>of</strong> Half<br />

Moon Bay. This is also a bird <strong>of</strong> open spaces and many<br />

<strong>of</strong> its favoured haunts such as <strong>the</strong> sandy spits on Dellis,<br />

Fort George, and Dickish Cays are being squeezed by<br />

<strong>the</strong> remorseless increase <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> invasive Australian pine<br />

or Casuarina. This tree favours <strong>the</strong> disturbed or newly<br />

created habitat at <strong>the</strong> backs <strong>of</strong> beaches, and it casts a<br />

physical shadow which many species appear to avoid.<br />

Removing it as <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos National Trust is now<br />

doing at Half Moon Bay will make more <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> beach available<br />

to birds like Piping Plovers.<br />

There is ano<strong>the</strong>r small plover that is rapidly declining<br />

across its world range (North America and Mexico) and<br />

about which <strong>the</strong>re is growing concern. The Snowy Plover<br />

Charadrius nivosus is superficially similar to <strong>the</strong> Snowy<br />

Plover and nests on beaches and saline flats. There are<br />

twice as many in <strong>the</strong> world as Piping Plovers, but unlike<br />

<strong>the</strong> Piping Plover population—which has been <strong>the</strong> subject<br />

<strong>of</strong> intense co-ordinated conservation management and<br />

is now stable and maybe increasing—Snowy Plovers are<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 37

thought to be declining and are not (yet) <strong>the</strong> subject <strong>of</strong><br />

international co-ordinated effort.<br />

Records in TCI suggest that it was just recently more<br />

widespread and common here. Small numbers are most<br />

regularly seen in winter on <strong>the</strong> salinas on Grand Turk<br />

and more frequently, South Caicos. However, <strong>the</strong> species<br />

was thought to breed here a few <strong>of</strong> decades ago—even<br />

on Providenciales. I have not seen one yet despite having<br />

spent hundreds <strong>of</strong> hours in <strong>the</strong> field, <strong>of</strong>ten in likely habitats<br />

such as saline lagoons at North West Point Preserve.<br />

We just don’t know what is happening and need to find<br />

out if we are to contribute at all to <strong>the</strong> effective action<br />

that needs to take place to conserve this charming and<br />

vulnerable little bird.<br />

In January 2017, <strong>the</strong> Piping Plover survey team visited<br />

<strong>the</strong> areas <strong>of</strong> sand flats exposed at low tide around Black<br />

Rock on <strong>the</strong> Caicos Banks a few miles south <strong>of</strong> Middle<br />

Caicos. There we found <strong>the</strong> single most important area<br />

in TCI for migrant waders from North America. Around<br />

3,500 birds were using this concentrated area. Among<br />

<strong>the</strong>m we found ano<strong>the</strong>r wading bird <strong>of</strong> global conservation<br />

concern. Breeding in <strong>the</strong> high Arctic, some Red<br />

Knots fly 18,000 miles annually on <strong>the</strong>ir migrations. We<br />

found 400 roosting at high tide on <strong>the</strong> Middle Caicos<br />

Banks, though we still do not know where <strong>the</strong>y all go to<br />

feed. Previously, only a few had ever been recorded in<br />

TCI and this is by far <strong>the</strong> largest population found in <strong>the</strong><br />

Caribbean—a real surprise. Surveyors have returned to<br />

this site several times and we have consistently recorded<br />

large numbers <strong>of</strong> birds here. There were almost 5,000<br />

wading birds in this small area in January 2020, including<br />

3% <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> entire world population <strong>of</strong> Short-billed<br />

Dowitchers. This is a migratory wader from <strong>the</strong> sub-Arctic<br />

that can <strong>of</strong>ten be seen close-up in much smaller numbers<br />

at places like Wheeland Pond on Providenciales or many<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> salinas.<br />

A bird on which <strong>the</strong>re is less focus <strong>the</strong>se days (compared<br />

to 20 years ago) is <strong>the</strong> West Indian Whistling<br />

Duck Dendrocygna arborea. As its name suggests, it is<br />

a Caribbean endemic and unlike <strong>the</strong> wading birds discussed<br />

above, does not migrate. Hunted for food and<br />

sport and suffering from <strong>the</strong> destruction <strong>of</strong> its habitats<br />

and from predation by introduced predators like cats, this<br />

crepuscular and nocturnal species underwent years <strong>of</strong><br />


Members <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> survey team count migratory waders on <strong>the</strong> Middle Caicos Banks in January, <strong>2022</strong>.<br />

38 www.timespub.tc

Red Knots breed in <strong>the</strong> high Arctic. This is one <strong>of</strong> 400 roosting at high tide on <strong>the</strong> Middle Caicos Banks, <strong>the</strong> largest population in <strong>the</strong> Caribbean.<br />

It is in <strong>the</strong> dull winter plumage that we see on <strong>the</strong>ir wintering grounds in TCI. They are named for <strong>the</strong>ir summer breeding plumage which is<br />

brilliant brick red.<br />


decline. It is now recovering largely due to public awareness<br />

and education campaigns across <strong>the</strong> region.<br />

At <strong>the</strong> height <strong>of</strong> concern for this species in 1999,<br />

surveys were carried out across likely areas <strong>of</strong> habitat<br />

in TCI but no large, previously undiscovered population<br />

were found here and <strong>the</strong> species’ status remained as it<br />

was; a scarce breeding resident possibly moving between<br />

smaller cays and <strong>the</strong> larger islands in search <strong>of</strong> food and<br />

water. With recovery taking place across many parts <strong>of</strong> its<br />

range, <strong>the</strong>re is less concern for this species here now. It<br />

will probably continue to exist largely secretively in small<br />

numbers, particularly in <strong>the</strong> east <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> archipelago.<br />

That said, we should still look after this enigmatic<br />

species. New threats can arise quickly. Destruction or<br />

inappropriate development <strong>of</strong> a key wetland on somewhere<br />

like East Caicos could be <strong>the</strong> loss <strong>of</strong> a key link in<br />

<strong>the</strong> chain <strong>of</strong> sites that this species needs. This would be<br />

a shame. This species may be a more important part <strong>of</strong><br />

TCI’s natural and cultural heritage than currently thought.<br />

There is an interesting reference to it being domesticated<br />

on Salt Cay in <strong>the</strong> 1930s quoted in <strong>the</strong> Birds <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Sou<strong>the</strong>rn Bahamas by D.W. Buden. I have not yet found<br />

any o<strong>the</strong>r reference to this species being domesticated<br />

anywhere else.<br />

An observation made by many birdwatchers from temperate<br />

climes when <strong>the</strong>y visit <strong>the</strong> Caribbean is just how<br />

few seabirds <strong>the</strong>re are given <strong>the</strong> vast areas <strong>of</strong> food-filled<br />

seas and numerous islands for nesting. The explanation<br />

for this unexpected scenario has been given in terms <strong>of</strong><br />

trophic levels; tropical seas are like tropical forests, very<br />

complex, giving rise to a great variety <strong>of</strong> species none <strong>of</strong><br />

which was present in vast numbers. Think <strong>of</strong> a coral reef.<br />

The temperate and polar seas, on <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r hand, gave<br />

rise to far fewer species, but in productive areas many<br />

fish and seabird species occur in vast numbers. Think <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> vast shoals <strong>of</strong> herring or a penguin colony.<br />

We now understand from both written records and<br />

archaeological remains that human colonisation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Caribbean brought about two factors which have, almost<br />

unbelievably, led to a loss <strong>of</strong> between 90 and 99% <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

seabirds that once bred here. Harvesting <strong>of</strong> seabirds and<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir eggs on <strong>the</strong>ir breeding islands has almost certainly<br />

been a part <strong>of</strong> every colonisation event, temporary or permanent,<br />

over <strong>the</strong> thousands <strong>of</strong> years <strong>of</strong> human history.<br />

Today it is <strong>of</strong>ten functionally replaced by high levels <strong>of</strong><br />

disturbance. Seabirds are long-lived species that reproduce<br />

slowly—many just lay a couple <strong>of</strong> eggs per year.<br />

Pressure on <strong>the</strong>se populations, for instance when eggs<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 39

40 www.timespub.tc<br />

The West Indian Whistling Duck is an important part <strong>of</strong> TCI’s natural and cultural heritage.

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 41<br />



Shown here are three <strong>of</strong> TCI’s breeding seabirds at <strong>the</strong> National Trust’s Wheeland Pond on Providenciales, one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> best sites in TCI to watch<br />

and photograph birds. From left to right are: a Royal Tern, Laughing Gull, and Cabot’s (formerly Sandwich) Tern.<br />

don’t hatch because <strong>the</strong>y are taken or are abandoned,<br />

inevitably leads to declines.<br />

With European colonisation came <strong>the</strong> additional pressure<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> introduction <strong>of</strong> non-native predatory species<br />

such as cats and rats to most islands, and on some,<br />

mongooses were introduced to control <strong>the</strong> previously<br />

introduced rats. The impact <strong>of</strong> introduced predators on<br />

species which previously had no experience with <strong>the</strong>m is<br />

described in a seminal paper from our own Pine Cay. John<br />

Iverson studied Turks & Caicos Rock Iguanas Cyclura carinata<br />

<strong>the</strong>re before, during, and after <strong>the</strong> construction <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Meridian Hotel in 1973/74. His 1978 paper describes<br />

<strong>the</strong> numbers <strong>of</strong> iguanas falling from over 15,000 to fewer<br />

than 30 as a result <strong>of</strong> predation by cats and dogs introduced<br />

to <strong>the</strong> island by construction workers. Elsewhere,<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r non-predatory species such as goats significantly<br />

change <strong>the</strong> vegetation on islands which had never had a<br />

significant population <strong>of</strong> grazing animals and <strong>the</strong> plant<br />

communities <strong>of</strong> which changed through grazing.<br />

With over 250, mainly uninhabited, cays it is no surprise<br />

that 15 <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 23 Caribbean species <strong>of</strong> seabirds<br />

breed in TCI. Counts <strong>of</strong> breeding seabirds in TCI from<br />

some 15 years ago suggest that <strong>the</strong>re are about 60,000<br />

pairs <strong>of</strong> seabirds breeding here, mainly on those cays on<br />

<strong>the</strong> edge <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> banks that are adjacent to oceanic waters,<br />

but <strong>the</strong>re are small numbers across <strong>the</strong> country even still<br />

on Providenciales itself. Since <strong>the</strong> counts were made<br />

much has happened which may have impacted on <strong>the</strong>se<br />

important populations—from <strong>the</strong> Deepwater Horizon oil<br />

spill to significantly increased numbers <strong>of</strong> tourists and<br />

residents which may cause added disturbance.<br />

It is important that we get a clearer understanding<br />

<strong>of</strong> how our breeding seabirds are doing and areas <strong>the</strong>y<br />

currently use. This data can inform planning and development<br />

decisions so that this asset is not damaged fur<strong>the</strong>r.<br />

There are plans for a full survey <strong>of</strong> all TCI’s breeding<br />

seabirds over <strong>the</strong> next few years using both human surveyors<br />

and a range <strong>of</strong> recently developed technology such<br />

as drones, remote cameras, and acoustic recording. The<br />

latter will be particularly important to help understand<br />

how many Audubon’s Shearwaters Puffinus Iherminien<br />

<strong>the</strong>re still are in <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>. These birds breed in burrows<br />

so are particularly vulnerable to predation by rats.<br />

They are also nocturnal so are rarely encountered. They<br />

are still here though. Small flocks can be seen beyond <strong>the</strong><br />

reef in Grace Bay during <strong>the</strong> spring and summer.<br />

42 www.timespub.tc

The Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> are blessed with natural<br />

beauty. The threat <strong>of</strong> destruction from development is<br />

obvious but if <strong>the</strong>re is to be a vibrant economy and homes<br />

and jobs for people <strong>the</strong>n this is <strong>the</strong> inevitable trade-<strong>of</strong>f<br />

that must be made. There are though far more insidious<br />

threats which degrade and eat away at <strong>the</strong> remaining<br />

natural areas. even those protected through legislation.<br />

Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se arise directly from Invasive Non-Native<br />

Species (INNS), species which have been introduced ei<strong>the</strong>r<br />

deliberately or accidentally to <strong>the</strong>se islands. The negative<br />

impacts <strong>of</strong> Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease and alien<br />

Lionfish on TCI’s valuable reef and marine life have been<br />

effectively communicated locally by <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos<br />

Reef Fund and Department <strong>of</strong> Environment and Coastal<br />

Resources (DECR).<br />

On land, Green Iguanas Iguana iguana are already<br />

present in small numbers on Providenciales. The DECR,<br />

National Trust, and volunteers are catching and euthanising<br />

<strong>the</strong>m when found. This creature is a significant<br />

economic pest. The Cayman <strong>Islands</strong> Government has<br />

just spent over $8 million removing over 1.2 million <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>se animals from Grand Cayman, an island just twice<br />

<strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> Providenciales, and will have to spend valuable<br />

resources into <strong>the</strong> foreseeable future managing a species<br />

which should simply not be <strong>the</strong>re. If we want to keep TCI<br />

“Beautiful by Nature,” we need to work toge<strong>the</strong>r to keep<br />

this species out. A project funded by <strong>the</strong> UK Government<br />

through Darwin Plus is currently underway to highlight<br />

<strong>the</strong> threat this species poses to both <strong>the</strong> natural environment<br />

and <strong>the</strong> economy <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

What does this have to do with <strong>the</strong> systematic list<br />

<strong>of</strong> birds <strong>of</strong> TCI? Ano<strong>the</strong>r invasive non-native species is<br />

<strong>the</strong> Australian Pine Casuarina equisetifolia which is widespread<br />

at <strong>the</strong> back <strong>of</strong> beaches and on disturbed ground<br />

across <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>, particularly on <strong>the</strong> north shore. Around<br />

human settlements it has a function <strong>of</strong> creating shade<br />

and is appreciated for <strong>the</strong> sound <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wind blowing<br />

through its leaves. In natural areas it is a disaster, shading<br />

out native vegetation that is food for <strong>the</strong> endemic<br />

Rock Iguanas. It was noticeable during our Piping Plover<br />

surveys that <strong>the</strong> birds avoid beaches where tall Australian<br />

pine trees create a shadow effect and in January/February<br />

<strong>2022</strong>, we identified that many sandy spits being used by<br />

<strong>the</strong> plovers as roosts at high tide were beginning to be<br />

hemmed in by Australian pines.<br />

We do not know what impact <strong>the</strong> fur<strong>the</strong>r spread and<br />

growth <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se trees will have on this marvellous migratory<br />

wader for which so much effort is being put into<br />

saving by communities in North America. A precaution-<br />

The longest established legal practice<br />

in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong><br />

Real Estate Investments<br />

& Property Development<br />

Immigration, Residency<br />

& Business Licensing<br />

Company & Commercial Law<br />

Trusts & Estate Planning<br />

Banking & Insurance<br />

1 Caribbean Place, P.O. Box 97<br />

Leeward Highway, Providenciales<br />

Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>, BWI<br />

Ph: 649 946 4344 • Fax: 649 946 4564<br />

E-Mail: dempsey@tciway.tc<br />

Cockburn House, P.O. Box 70<br />

Market Street, Grand Turk<br />

Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>, BWI<br />

Ph: 649 946 2245 • Fax: 649 946 2758<br />

E-Mail: ffdlawco@tciway.tc<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 43


This image demonstrates that native plants re-grow vigorously where Australian pine has been removed at Half Moon Bay.<br />

ary principle should be applied, and areas <strong>of</strong> Australian<br />

Pine quickly removed from Piping Plover roost sites, all<br />

<strong>of</strong> which have been identified. At Half Moon Bay, where<br />

National Trust volunteers are removing this tree, <strong>the</strong> plovers<br />

were clearly feeding adjacent to areas which had<br />

been cleared but not areas backed by tall trees. This is<br />

active conservation management and it seems likely that<br />

to counter <strong>the</strong> threats from invasive alien species and<br />

to balance <strong>the</strong> impacts <strong>of</strong> development, more <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se<br />

initiatives will need to be developed and implemented in<br />

<strong>the</strong> future if we are to keep our piping plovers, flocks <strong>of</strong><br />

migrant waders and cays <strong>of</strong> breeding seabirds.<br />

There is already a largely unsung story to be told<br />

about a world-leading conservation success in Turks &<br />

Caicos. Over <strong>the</strong> past decade or so, over $2.7 million has<br />

been invested in <strong>the</strong> conservation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos<br />

Rock Iguana, resulting in <strong>the</strong> International Union for <strong>the</strong><br />

Conservation <strong>of</strong> Nature uplifting <strong>the</strong> conservation status<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> species from Critically Endangered (one step short<br />

<strong>of</strong> extinction in <strong>the</strong> wild) to Endangered. To date, this is<br />

<strong>the</strong> only one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 44 species <strong>of</strong> iguana worldwide which<br />

has had a genuine positive change in fortune. Part <strong>of</strong> this<br />

success story is on Pine Cay, where <strong>the</strong> cats introduced<br />

in <strong>the</strong> mid 1970s have now been successfully removed.<br />

Pine Cay is thus one <strong>of</strong> a small but growing number <strong>of</strong><br />

islands worldwide (currently fewer than 100) which has<br />

successfully removed feral cats.<br />

Turks & Caicos has a proven track record <strong>of</strong> conservation<br />

success. We need to build on this and identify what<br />

are <strong>the</strong> fur<strong>the</strong>r challenges we need to tackle. a<br />

Simon Busuttil is Biosecurity Advisor for The Iguana<br />

<strong>Islands</strong> Partnership.The partnership is a collaboration<br />

between Turks & Caicos National Trust, Turks & Caicos<br />

Government, private island managers, and international<br />

wildlife conservation organisations—The Royal Society<br />

for <strong>the</strong> Protection <strong>of</strong> Birds, San Diego Zoo, and Wildlife<br />

Management International Ltd. The partnership, with<br />

funding from <strong>the</strong> Darwin Initiative, is working to ensure<br />

Turks & Caicos’ iguana islands remain “Beautiful by<br />

Nature.”<br />

44 www.timespub.tc

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 45


feature<br />

Opposite page: Local artist Richard McGhie painted this image <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción in stormy seas. He has been avidly drawing and painting<br />

since moving to Turks & Caicos in 2014. Captivated by his surroundings, he tries to capture <strong>the</strong> beauty and rich history <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> in his<br />

art. You can see more <strong>of</strong> his work on Instagram at richmcghie_art or contact him directly at richardmcghie@outlook.com.<br />

Above: A “treasure hunter” handles one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> few remaining pieces <strong>of</strong> wood from <strong>the</strong> wreck <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción, now a protected site. The<br />

ship wrecked on what is now <strong>the</strong> Silver Bank (Banco de la Plata), 85 miles (136 km) north <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Dominican Republic and 100 miles (160 km)<br />

sou<strong>the</strong>ast <strong>of</strong> Grand Turk in 1641.<br />


Wreck <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción<br />

The fateful final voyage <strong>of</strong> a treasure-laden Spanish galleon.<br />

By Ben Stubenberg ~ Original Painting by Richard McGhie<br />

Strewn across <strong>the</strong> long barrier reefs and shallow banks that encircle <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos lie more than<br />

1,000 shipwrecks. Each one comes with a unique yet kindred story <strong>of</strong> crew and passengers staring down<br />

death as relentless waves drag <strong>the</strong>ir helpless vessel over hull-ripping coral. Some manage to hang on long<br />

enough to ride out <strong>the</strong> storm before <strong>the</strong> ship breaks up and make it to shore. But for many more, it’s one<br />

last gasp <strong>of</strong> air before <strong>the</strong> sea pulls <strong>the</strong>m under to a blue-water grave.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 47

Every so <strong>of</strong>ten, however, a wreck stands out with<br />

a tale <strong>of</strong> transcendent irony. A voyage <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> doomed<br />

cursed by <strong>the</strong> plunder <strong>the</strong>y carry. A desperate reckoning<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> soul as mortality beckons. Such is <strong>the</strong> case <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de la Pura y Limpia<br />

Concepción, one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> richest treasure ships <strong>of</strong> all time.<br />

On April 21, 1640 <strong>the</strong> Concepción set sail from <strong>the</strong><br />

Bay <strong>of</strong> Cadiz, Spain, as <strong>the</strong> Capitana (Flagship) <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> La<br />

Flota de Nueva España (The New Spain Fleet), a convoy<br />

<strong>of</strong> 21 ships bound for Vera Cruz, Mexico. In <strong>the</strong> months<br />

before, <strong>the</strong> Concepción had been refitted with new masts,<br />

sails, anchors, deck space, and 36 bronze cannons. They<br />

transformed <strong>the</strong> ship from a nao (large merchant ship)<br />

to a formidable galeón that carried 500 passengers that<br />

included noblemen, servants, fortune seekers, friars, and<br />

bureaucrats. Stowaways too bribed <strong>the</strong>ir way onto <strong>the</strong><br />

ship, trying to remain invisible. Also on board were hundreds<br />

<strong>of</strong> penned up animals, barrels <strong>of</strong> wine, and crates<br />

<strong>of</strong> supplies—all to fortify and expand <strong>the</strong> settlements in<br />

<strong>the</strong> colonized lands in <strong>the</strong> Americas.<br />

The more privileged passengers took up quarters in<br />

<strong>the</strong> lavishly decorated superstructure or “poop decks” at<br />

<strong>the</strong> stern, towering four stories above main deck. They<br />

included <strong>the</strong> new Viceroy for Mexico and and three bishops<br />

who brought with <strong>the</strong>m religious relics, including,<br />

purportedly, a thorn from <strong>the</strong> crown <strong>of</strong> Jesus Christ and<br />

<strong>the</strong> severed finger <strong>of</strong> St. Andrew. As added protection, a<br />

magnificent statue <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Virgin Mary, <strong>the</strong> patroness <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> vessel, was fastened with bolts to <strong>the</strong> poop deck for<br />

all to see.<br />

The fleet kept close toge<strong>the</strong>r during <strong>the</strong> crossing<br />

and a sharp lookout for Corsairs or pirates who appeared<br />

menacingly on <strong>the</strong> horizon from time to time. On June 24,<br />

all ships made it to <strong>the</strong> port <strong>of</strong> Vera Cruz, a stifling hot<br />

and humid town on <strong>the</strong> Mexican coast and <strong>the</strong> gateway to<br />

what <strong>the</strong> newcomers called New Spain. Soon after arrival,<br />

<strong>the</strong> fleet commander, known as <strong>the</strong> Capitana-General,<br />

died, probably <strong>of</strong> yellow fever. That elevated Admiral<br />

Juan de Campos to <strong>the</strong> new Capitana-General on <strong>the</strong> flagship<br />

Concepción. The shuffle also promoted Don Juan de<br />

Villavicencio to <strong>the</strong> rank <strong>of</strong> Vice Admiral or Almiranta on<br />

<strong>the</strong> smaller galleon San Pedro y San Pablo. Villavicencio<br />

at just 37 years old was already an experienced veteran<br />

<strong>of</strong> many Atlantic crossings. De Campos, by contrast, was<br />

more a businessman than a mariner.<br />

Fateful delays<br />

The ships stayed anchored for a year to await <strong>the</strong> arrival<br />

<strong>of</strong> mule trains and boats carrying tons <strong>of</strong> silver mined by<br />

enslaved Native Americans and Africans in Mexico and<br />

Petosi (now Bolivia), along with gold bullion. They also<br />

waited for ano<strong>the</strong>r caravan making its way overland from<br />

Acapulco, this one hauling jade, silks, spices, fragile porcelain<br />

pots, and o<strong>the</strong>r luxuries from China brought across<br />

<strong>the</strong> Pacific by <strong>the</strong> Manila fleet.<br />

When <strong>the</strong> valuable cargoes arrived, haggling merchants<br />

traded <strong>the</strong> supplies from Spain for <strong>the</strong> silver and<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r valuables that were loaded onto <strong>the</strong> Concepción and<br />

<strong>the</strong> San Pedro y San Pablo for <strong>the</strong> voyage back to Spain.<br />

The Concepción alone took in at least 100 tons <strong>of</strong> silver,<br />

possibly as much a 140 tons, filling it up to <strong>the</strong> gunwales.<br />

No galleons with treasure had made it back to Spain in<br />

1640, causing great anxiety for shipowners, merchants,<br />

and <strong>the</strong> Spanish Crown. Spanish King Philip IV in particular<br />

desperately needed his royal fifth (quinto real) cut <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> treasure to pay his armies to keep <strong>the</strong> wars going with<br />

<strong>the</strong> Dutch and French. But as c<strong>of</strong>fers emptied and time<br />

dragged on, bankruptcies loomed for all.<br />

Just before departing Vera Cruz for a stop in Havana,<br />

de Campos switched <strong>the</strong> Capitana <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> fleet from <strong>the</strong><br />

Concepción to <strong>the</strong> San Pedro y San Pablo. The decision<br />

appeared to be triggered by <strong>the</strong> deteriorating condition<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción’s from shipworms that had worsened<br />

while at anchor for a year in warm tropical waters.<br />

Villavicencio, now in command <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción, forcefully<br />

pointed out that <strong>the</strong> ship would need to be repaired<br />

in Havana before it could make it back across <strong>the</strong> Atlantic.<br />

In making <strong>the</strong> switch, de Campos also made a fateful decision<br />

to transfer <strong>the</strong> inexperienced senior pilot, Bartolomé<br />

Guillen, to <strong>the</strong> Concepción.<br />

The fleet set sail for Havana in late July. The leaking<br />

and slow moving Concepción took a long 35 days to<br />

reach Cuba’s bustling capital city on August 27, 1641.<br />

That date put <strong>the</strong> ships a full week after August 20, <strong>the</strong><br />

last day Spanish shipmasters deemed it safe to depart<br />

Havana to avoid hurricanes. The ships remained in port<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r 17 days to take on more passengers and allow<br />

Villavicencio to caulk <strong>the</strong> seams <strong>of</strong> his ship. But he still did<br />

not feel <strong>the</strong> repairs were sufficient for safe passage. He<br />

petitioned de Campos for a fur<strong>the</strong>r delay, but to no avail.<br />

De Campos, well aware <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> crown’s urgent dependence<br />

on <strong>the</strong> treasure, wanted to get underway and brooked no<br />

more postponement.<br />

De Campos’s anxiousness to set sail, however, was<br />

also driven by a more self-serving motive. La Flota de<br />

Nueva España was supposed to be joined by ano<strong>the</strong>r fleet,<br />

La Flota Terra Firma, on its way north from Cartageña to<br />

Havana with its own treasure <strong>of</strong> precious metals and jew-<br />

48 www.timespub.tc

els. But that fleet’s Capitana-General was equal in rank to<br />

de Campos and held in much higher regard for successfully<br />

raiding an English settlement in what is now Nassau.<br />

If <strong>the</strong> fleets traveled toge<strong>the</strong>r, de Campos would have to<br />

share <strong>the</strong> glory <strong>of</strong> delivering <strong>the</strong> treasure to <strong>the</strong> crown<br />

with a much more popular and accomplished Capitana-<br />

General. His ego and jealousy would seal <strong>the</strong> fate <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Concepción and all <strong>the</strong> ships in his flotilla.<br />

The hurricane<br />

Deep into hurricane season, La Flota de Nueva España<br />

finally departed Havana on September 13, heading<br />

nor<strong>the</strong>ast toward <strong>the</strong> Florida Straits to catch <strong>the</strong> Gulf<br />

Stream back across <strong>the</strong> Atlantic. But less than a day out,<br />

<strong>the</strong> Concepción sprang a serious leak that put <strong>the</strong> ship<br />

at risk <strong>of</strong> sinking. Villavicencio signaled with a lantern<br />

that his ship must return to port. That required all <strong>the</strong><br />

o<strong>the</strong>r ships to turn around as well so that <strong>the</strong> Concepción<br />

didn’t sail solo and risk attack by pirates. Back in Havana,<br />

Villavicencio unloaded <strong>the</strong> galleon <strong>of</strong> its massive treasure<br />

cargo and hundreds <strong>of</strong> passengers to lighten <strong>the</strong> ship and<br />

bring it above <strong>the</strong> waterline to plug <strong>the</strong> leaks. The fleet<br />

set sail once more on September 20, now a month after<br />

<strong>the</strong> final date set for fleets heading back to Spain.<br />

Eight days out <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> coast <strong>of</strong> Florida, a major hurricane<br />

struck. For two days, violent winds and waves<br />

battered <strong>the</strong> ships <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> fleet and almost capsized <strong>the</strong><br />

top-heavy Concepción. Mast snapped, water poured into<br />

<strong>the</strong> portholes, and cannons were thrown overboard.<br />

Priests led <strong>the</strong> terrified passengers and crew in prayer and<br />

took confessions from everyone. All anxiously looked for<br />

some sign <strong>of</strong> a reprieve, but <strong>the</strong> storm continued to rage.<br />

At some point, <strong>the</strong> statue <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Virgin Mary broke loose<br />

and disappeared into <strong>the</strong> churning ocean. The shock <strong>of</strong><br />

losing <strong>the</strong> ship’s patron saint induced deep despair that<br />

<strong>the</strong> end was truly nigh.<br />

When <strong>the</strong> storm cleared, <strong>the</strong> sailors worked <strong>the</strong> hand<br />

pumps around <strong>the</strong> clock to bail out water. They cut away<br />

<strong>the</strong> mast and rigged makeshift sails on remaining spars<br />

to try to gain some control <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ship. The damage to <strong>the</strong><br />

rudder, already too small for <strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ship, made<br />

steering difficult. The crew spotted some ships from <strong>the</strong><br />

fleet in <strong>the</strong> distance, including <strong>the</strong> flagship San Pedro y<br />

San Pablo, just as beaten up as <strong>the</strong> Concepción. But <strong>the</strong>y<br />

all disappeared from view after a day.<br />

Using an astrolabe, <strong>the</strong> pilot Guillen attempted to<br />

determine <strong>the</strong> ship’s latitude. The navigation instrument<br />

worked by taking measurements from <strong>the</strong> height <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

sun or <strong>the</strong> polar star over <strong>the</strong> horizon. His calculations<br />

showed <strong>the</strong> ship could be somewhere near St. Augustine,<br />

north <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Bahamas, or maybe near Bermuda. The chronometer<br />

for determining longitude had not yet been<br />

invented, so <strong>the</strong>y did not know how far east <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

from Florida.<br />

Villavicencio decided that <strong>the</strong> Concepción’s best hope<br />

was to try to make it to San Juan, Puerto Rico, that lay<br />

somewhere to <strong>the</strong> south. For weeks, <strong>the</strong> crippled vessel<br />

lumbered in a sou<strong>the</strong>asterly direction. Along <strong>the</strong> way,<br />

unsanitary conditions contaminated <strong>the</strong> dwindling supply<br />

<strong>of</strong> food and water that hadn’t washed overboard and<br />

began to sicken people.<br />

At about 22º N latitude, east <strong>of</strong> Grand Turk, Guillen<br />

claimed that Puerto Rico must be due south. He called<br />

on Villavicencio to set <strong>the</strong> course accordingly. But<br />

Villavicencio, who plainly had no confidence in <strong>the</strong> pilot’s<br />

capabilities, countered that Puerto Rico was fur<strong>the</strong>r east.<br />

A contentious argument broke out between <strong>the</strong> two <strong>of</strong>ficers<br />

until <strong>the</strong> pilot invoked his right per Spanish maritime<br />

regulations to overrule <strong>the</strong> captain when navigation disputes<br />

arise. A frustrated Villavicencio, knowing <strong>the</strong> rules,<br />

ordered that a silver basin with water brought to him. In<br />

front <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> weary crew and sullen passengers ga<strong>the</strong>red<br />

on main deck <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> struggling ship, he literally and symbolically<br />

washed his hands <strong>of</strong> responsibility. The ship’s<br />

fate was <strong>the</strong>n in <strong>the</strong> hands <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pilot Guillen.<br />

Wreck on <strong>the</strong> reef<br />

In calm water on <strong>the</strong> night <strong>of</strong> October 31, <strong>the</strong> eve <strong>of</strong> All<br />

Saints Day, <strong>the</strong> Concepción’s hull scraped against a reef<br />

and came to a shuttering halt. The ship had jammed<br />

between two giant coral heads shaped like mushrooms<br />

rising from <strong>the</strong> seafloor. Called Abrojos, <strong>the</strong>y appeared<br />

as flat rocks just above <strong>the</strong> water at low tide. Some were<br />

<strong>the</strong> size <strong>of</strong> a living room, some as big as a football field<br />

that stretched out for miles. Guillen’s new calculations<br />

put <strong>the</strong> ship about 20 miles (32 km) north <strong>of</strong> Anagada<br />

Island in <strong>the</strong> Virgin <strong>Islands</strong> and east <strong>of</strong> Puerto Rico. In<br />

fact, <strong>the</strong> pilot’s new assertions were wildly <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> mark.<br />

The ship wrecked on what is now <strong>the</strong> Silver Bank (Banco<br />

de la Plata), 85 miles (136 km) north <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Dominican<br />

Republic and 100 miles (160 km) sou<strong>the</strong>ast <strong>of</strong> Grand<br />

Turk.<br />

The crew tried to tow <strong>the</strong> Concepción away from <strong>the</strong><br />

coral heads using a longboat that had somehow survived<br />

intact. They almost succeeded, but waves drove<br />

<strong>the</strong> ship back in. The bow <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ship split open and<br />

began submerging. The stern with its lavishly appointed<br />

superstructure rose above <strong>the</strong> surface, as around 450<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 49

desperate survivors crammed into <strong>the</strong> remaining space.<br />

Villavicencio ordered rafts to be built that could take<br />

<strong>the</strong>m to Anagada, which he also believed to be <strong>the</strong> closest<br />

island, notwithstanding his disdain for <strong>the</strong> pilot. But a<br />

widespread belief that cannibals lived <strong>the</strong>re caused some<br />

hesitation, even as options were quickly running out.<br />

While preparing to evacuate <strong>the</strong> wreck, Villavicencio<br />

and o<strong>the</strong>r <strong>of</strong>ficers turned <strong>the</strong>ir attention to how best to<br />

protect <strong>the</strong> treasure. To our 21st century ears, such a<br />

consideration amidst great suffering and imminent lifethreatening<br />

danger comes across as ra<strong>the</strong>r unsettling. In<br />

<strong>the</strong> 17th century, however, securing <strong>the</strong> treasure for <strong>the</strong><br />

Crown had <strong>the</strong> same priority.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> midst <strong>of</strong> a thunder and lightning storm on<br />

<strong>the</strong> third night after running aground, fights broke out<br />

that killed several people. Villavicencio tried to stop <strong>the</strong><br />

violence with reassurances that everyone would get <strong>of</strong>f<br />

<strong>the</strong> ship, and that he would be <strong>the</strong> last to leave. But by<br />

<strong>the</strong>n his authority had collapsed, replaced by panic and<br />

anarchy. At that point, Villavicencio and 31 <strong>of</strong>ficers and<br />

noblemen clamored into <strong>the</strong> remaining longboat to get<br />

away. Accounts differ on how Villavicencio actually came<br />

to be on <strong>the</strong> boat. He would later claim that he tried to<br />

stay on <strong>the</strong> ship, but that one <strong>of</strong> his <strong>of</strong>ficers pushed him<br />

to <strong>the</strong> water where he was pulled into <strong>the</strong> boat unconscious.<br />

The hundreds still on board ripped planks to finish<br />

a dozen rafts. In chaotic groups, <strong>the</strong>y set out on <strong>the</strong> sea<br />

with most heading south. Some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> rafts sank so low<br />

in <strong>the</strong> water that sharks swam into <strong>the</strong>m and fed on <strong>the</strong><br />

people hanging on. After three or four days, <strong>the</strong> rafts that<br />

didn’t sink washed up on <strong>the</strong> north coast <strong>of</strong> what is now<br />

<strong>the</strong> Dominican Republic, as happened with <strong>the</strong> longboat<br />

carrying Villavicencio. Even after reaching land, <strong>the</strong> ordeal<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> survivors was far from over. They still had to trek<br />

through <strong>the</strong> jungle or along stretches <strong>of</strong> empty beach<br />

with little food or water to find help.<br />

About 30 survivors took <strong>the</strong>ir chances and remained<br />

with <strong>the</strong> Concepción, hoping to be rescued. As <strong>the</strong> ship<br />

continued to disintegrate, <strong>the</strong>y unloaded as much silver<br />

as <strong>the</strong>y could and piled it onto <strong>the</strong> flat top <strong>of</strong> a coral head<br />

that could serve as a marker for rescuers. The pile was<br />

so high <strong>the</strong>y could walk on what became essentially a<br />

platform above <strong>the</strong> water at high tide.<br />

The irony is not lost. The silver bars brutally and<br />

forcibly extracted and refined by <strong>the</strong> enslaved to pay for<br />

endless European wars and make fabulous fortunes for<br />

merchants and shipowners lost <strong>the</strong>ir anticipated value.<br />

Instead, <strong>the</strong>y acquired a much higher transformative<br />

value as slabs that staved <strong>of</strong>f death for ano<strong>the</strong>r day. When<br />

<strong>the</strong> Concepción totally broke apart, <strong>the</strong>y too escaped on a<br />

raft. Of <strong>the</strong> last 30 to leave <strong>the</strong> wreck, only one, a Native<br />

American, lived to tell <strong>the</strong> story.<br />

Searching for <strong>the</strong> Concepción<br />

Of <strong>the</strong> more than 500 passengers and crew on <strong>the</strong><br />

Concepción, fewer than 200 survived. The pilot Guillen<br />

made it to land, but knowing <strong>the</strong> likely fate <strong>of</strong> long imprisonment<br />

or execution that awaited him, he disappeared,<br />

never to be heard from again. Spanish <strong>of</strong>ficials first<br />

learned about <strong>the</strong> wreck when Villavicencio and <strong>the</strong> survivors<br />

from <strong>the</strong> longboat straggled into Santo Domingo<br />

famished and in rags. They had walked 170 miles (272<br />

km) over mountainous terrain guided by locals. More survivors<br />

would follow. Spanish <strong>of</strong>ficials questioned <strong>the</strong>m<br />

about <strong>the</strong> location <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wreck to mount a search and<br />

recover <strong>the</strong> silver. But no one could pinpoint <strong>the</strong> location.<br />

Word got out quickly among pirates and opportunists,<br />

and for years <strong>the</strong>y scoured <strong>the</strong> reef for signs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> wreck<br />

and <strong>the</strong> chance to become rich beyond dreams. But none<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m found it ei<strong>the</strong>r.<br />

In 1687, 46 years later, William Phips from New<br />

England came across an old survivor <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción.<br />

With funding from a London syndicate <strong>of</strong> investors and<br />

<strong>the</strong> backing <strong>of</strong> King James II, as well as incredible luck, he<br />

managed to find <strong>the</strong> wreck. As in <strong>the</strong> first extraction <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> gold and silver decades before, Phips used enslaved<br />

Africans and Native Americans to do <strong>the</strong> hard and dangerous<br />

work to recover treasure. These enslaved may have<br />

numbered as many as 60 skilled free divers who brought<br />

up several tons <strong>of</strong> precious metal up from <strong>the</strong> sea floor.<br />

Without <strong>the</strong>se divers from Bermuda, Jamaica,<br />

Barbados, and <strong>the</strong> Dominican Republic, Phips would not<br />

have retrieved much, if anything. Europeans at <strong>the</strong> time<br />

had none <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> aquatic capabilities, such as five minutes<br />

<strong>of</strong> underwater breath holding, required for such an operation.<br />

The haul made Phips a vast fortune and got him<br />

knighted by <strong>the</strong> King, who also appointed him Governor<br />

<strong>of</strong> Massachusetts Colony. Interestingly, during his tenure<br />

as Governor, he created a special court in 1692 to handle<br />

<strong>the</strong> infamous Salem witch trials.<br />

Almost 300 years would pass before <strong>the</strong> Concepción<br />

was rediscovered in 1978 by American treasure hunter<br />

Burt Webber. Using magnetometers and scuba gear to<br />

find what Phips missed, Webber managed to bring up gold<br />

and silver valued at US$13 million. This time, <strong>the</strong> recovery<br />

was made under <strong>the</strong> watchful eye <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Dominican<br />

Republic Government, that also received a substantial<br />

50 www.timespub.tc

share <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> treasure. UK/TCI also has a long standing<br />

claim to <strong>the</strong> reefs that include <strong>the</strong> Silver Bank where <strong>the</strong><br />

wreck is located. The claim <strong>of</strong> jurisdiction remains unresolved<br />

to this day.<br />

Many treasure hunters like Phips and Webber became<br />

popular heroes in <strong>the</strong>ir day for <strong>the</strong> bold, adventurous<br />

expeditions that also made <strong>the</strong>m multi-millionaires.<br />

Today, however, <strong>the</strong> reputation <strong>of</strong> treasure hunters has<br />

tarnished as preservationists and nautical archeologists<br />

portray <strong>the</strong>m as reef destroyers, heritage stealers, and<br />

little more than grave robbers.<br />

Governments still permit recoveries <strong>of</strong> treasure <strong>of</strong>f<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir shores, but under strict guidelines and direct observation.<br />

Reflective <strong>of</strong> modern times, <strong>the</strong> reefs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Silver<br />

Bank where <strong>the</strong> Concepción met a grim and grisly end is<br />

now a UN Underwater Cultural Heritage, World Heritage<br />

Site and protected from fur<strong>the</strong>r exploitation.<br />

Tarnished treasure<br />

Ships in peril have always fascinated and drawn us in.<br />

They serve as metaphors for journeys <strong>of</strong> self discovery<br />

and vulnerability, as well as microcosms <strong>of</strong> society that<br />

lend clarity to <strong>the</strong> eternal conflict between good and evil.<br />

Wrecks can also play out like Greek tragedies with a flawed<br />

captain battling forces where <strong>the</strong> outcome has already<br />

been decided by fate. The voyage <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción contains<br />

<strong>the</strong>se elements, but ano<strong>the</strong>r comparison comes<br />

mind: a passage into <strong>the</strong> Heart <strong>of</strong> Darkness.<br />

Just as Joseph Conrad’s novella about a steamer heading<br />

up <strong>the</strong> Congo River reveals <strong>the</strong> horrors <strong>of</strong> colonialism<br />

in Africa, so too does <strong>the</strong> voyage <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Concepción<br />

expose <strong>the</strong> heinous plunder <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Americas. There is no<br />

mysterious Kurtz to find, nor is Charlie Marlow’s steamer<br />

about to run aground. But <strong>the</strong> meandering vessel across<br />

<strong>the</strong> sea, unsure <strong>of</strong> where it is and laden with blood money<br />

extracted for an imperial class, reflects <strong>the</strong> same essential<br />

<strong>the</strong>me. Both are damning indictments that challenge<br />

our notions <strong>of</strong> civilization. And <strong>the</strong> shipworms infesting<br />

<strong>the</strong> leaky vessel, <strong>of</strong> course, take on <strong>the</strong>ir own potent symbolism<br />

<strong>of</strong> rot and demise.<br />

Perhaps those aboard <strong>the</strong> Concepción made a connection<br />

between <strong>the</strong>ir fate and <strong>the</strong> cargo <strong>the</strong>y carried,<br />

as <strong>the</strong>y sought to cleanse <strong>the</strong>ir souls while <strong>the</strong> hurricane<br />

bore down. But it seems unlikely, as none were recorded<br />

by <strong>the</strong> survivors. We do know that when <strong>the</strong> dying galleon<br />

hit <strong>the</strong> reef and <strong>the</strong> game was up, Villavicencio and<br />

<strong>of</strong>ficials worried about how to save <strong>the</strong> treasure, not how<br />

it came to be. That ingrained ethos <strong>of</strong> avarice would continue<br />

to shape <strong>the</strong> conquest <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Americas for <strong>the</strong> next<br />

250 years.<br />

Pieces <strong>of</strong> that tainted silver still lie sprinkled in <strong>the</strong><br />

sand and encrusted in coral around <strong>the</strong> wreck <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Concepción, just three hours by boat from <strong>the</strong> Turks &<br />

Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. In <strong>the</strong> quiet <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> deep, <strong>the</strong>y resonate as<br />

poignant reminders <strong>of</strong> a harrowing history lingering just<br />

below <strong>the</strong> surface that never remains in <strong>the</strong> past. a<br />

Ben Stubenberg (bluewaterben@gmail.com) is a regular<br />

contributor to <strong>the</strong> <strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> and a storyteller<br />

about pirates and sunken treasure. He is <strong>the</strong> co-founder<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> TCI tour and swim company Caicu Naniki Vacation<br />

Adventures and <strong>the</strong> annual “Race for <strong>the</strong> Conch” Eco-<br />

SeaSwim.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 51


feature<br />

Opposite page: The sense <strong>of</strong> peace and balance instilled by <strong>the</strong> sea can create more healing than any <strong>the</strong>rapy session.<br />

Above: Sea anemones are actually marine animals, named after a terrestrial flowering plant because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir colourful appearance. What joy<br />

<strong>the</strong>y bring to a scuba diver!<br />

The Power <strong>of</strong> Vitamin Sea<br />

One dose released Tristan to bloom.<br />

Story & Photos By Kelly Currington<br />

For anyone who loves <strong>the</strong> sea, <strong>the</strong> feeling <strong>of</strong> being connected to its powers seems to come naturally. We<br />

feel drawn to it for our sense <strong>of</strong> peace and balance, and to reset from <strong>the</strong> chaos <strong>of</strong> everyday life. When we<br />

slip below <strong>the</strong> surface <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> waves, our souls are at home, and everything is as it should be. As a scuba<br />

instructor, I have had <strong>the</strong> pleasure <strong>of</strong> experiencing those powers first-hand and understand <strong>the</strong>y create<br />

more healing than many a <strong>the</strong>rapy session could provide.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 53

Teaching people to scuba dive is rewarding in so many<br />

ways, but every now and <strong>the</strong>n you come across a student<br />

whose transformation is as rewarding to you as it is to<br />

<strong>the</strong> new diver. These are <strong>the</strong> moments instructors live<br />

for. Teaching skills is pretty straight forward, but when<br />

<strong>the</strong> power <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sea makes an actual, literal, and visual<br />

change in a person it stays with you forever. One such<br />

experience is definitely worth sharing . . .<br />

A young man and his mom walked into <strong>the</strong> dive shop<br />

to fill out paperwork for a Discover Scuba Dive, and it<br />

was immediately apparent that this 16 year-old was very<br />

shy and withdrawn, and that I would need patience and<br />

understanding to get him through <strong>the</strong> training. During<br />

<strong>the</strong> pool sessions he surprised me, and accomplished <strong>the</strong><br />

skills with ease, though he never maintained eye contact<br />

for any length <strong>of</strong> time. He would look long enough to see<br />

<strong>the</strong> skill demonstrated and <strong>the</strong>n look down. But he was<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>icient and comfortable in performing <strong>the</strong>m. I was confident<br />

that he was ready to explore <strong>the</strong> underwater world.<br />

On <strong>the</strong> 45-minute boat ride out to <strong>the</strong> dive site, I<br />

briefed him on <strong>the</strong> dive plan and as before, he never<br />

looked at me—just stared at <strong>the</strong> deck. The time came to<br />

gear up to enter <strong>the</strong> water. He was very quiet and waited<br />

for instructions. As soon as we stepped <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong> boat into<br />

<strong>the</strong> sea, I looked up and saw <strong>the</strong> worry on his mo<strong>the</strong>r’s<br />

face. I assured her that I would look after him as if he<br />

were my own son; she nodded and <strong>of</strong>f we went.<br />

As we swam to <strong>the</strong> mooring line, I stayed beside him<br />

and assured him he was doing just fine. We made it to<br />

<strong>the</strong> line and I briefed him on how we would descend—<br />

exact instructions. I asked him if he understood, if he was<br />

ready, and reminded him that he must look at me and<br />

communicate. He nodded and we slowly slipped below<br />

<strong>the</strong> surface. As an instructor I was on high alert, fearing<br />

that he would ei<strong>the</strong>r panic and try to bolt to <strong>the</strong> surface<br />

or never look at me for instructions or assurance.<br />

I noticed his mask was fully flooded. I gave him <strong>the</strong><br />

signal to clear it and he did. It flooded again; he cleared<br />

it. This is a skill that can derail experienced divers, but he<br />

had listened and learned and did exactly what he should.<br />

He stayed calm, looked to me for guidance, and followed<br />

those instructions. To my surprise, he was fine and didn’t<br />

seem stressed at all.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> next few moments, <strong>the</strong> magical healing power<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sea took hold <strong>of</strong> this introverted, shy teenager, and<br />

he blossomed like a morning glory in <strong>the</strong> early morning<br />

light. I could not believe what I was seeing. He started<br />

pointing out fish and coral and looking at me with bright,<br />

excited eyes. His SOUL was smiling! It was truly magical<br />

to watch. We completed our dive, did our safety stop, and<br />

got back on <strong>the</strong> boat. I was so proud. We went to <strong>the</strong> bow<br />

between dives to debrief and plan <strong>the</strong> next dive. With his<br />

mo<strong>the</strong>r beside him, I asked how he felt about <strong>the</strong> dive.<br />

This young man looked me square in <strong>the</strong> eyes and talked<br />

about all <strong>the</strong> fish and coral we had seen. He wanted to<br />

know <strong>the</strong> names <strong>of</strong> each one, and asked questions about<br />

how to learn <strong>the</strong>m all. We spent <strong>the</strong> entire surface interval<br />

conversing about <strong>the</strong> beauty <strong>the</strong> sea held.<br />

What a treat to spot a friendly Nassau grouper, so-named from its historically large populations in <strong>the</strong> Bahamas.<br />

54 www.timespub.tc

When I asked if he was ready to do <strong>the</strong> next dive, he<br />

looked at me and said, “Would you really take me on<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r dive?” The process was different this time. He<br />

was looking at me and smiling; he was ready to go. We<br />

geared up and <strong>of</strong>f we went. He was equalizing and signaling,<br />

looking confident and relaxed. With no mask issues<br />

to deal with, he went right back to looking for creatures<br />

and showing me his hand signals for each one he found.<br />

My mask filled with tears <strong>of</strong> joy as I watched this young<br />

man experiencing <strong>the</strong> wonder <strong>of</strong> this underwater world<br />

and <strong>the</strong> healing power <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sea. We stayed side-by-side,<br />

and he showed me creatures and I showed him creatures,<br />

and when he saw his first shark, instead <strong>of</strong> being afraid,<br />

he turned to me, beaming <strong>the</strong> biggest smile and did <strong>the</strong><br />

“shark” sign.<br />

Often spotted in schools, <strong>the</strong> yellowtail snapper is an abundant species<br />

<strong>of</strong> snapper native to <strong>the</strong> western Atlantic Ocean.<br />

We made our way to <strong>the</strong> boat and headed back to<br />

shore. The flower that had blossomed was closed again.<br />

He laid his head on his mo<strong>the</strong>r’s back and never said<br />

a word. She told me that he had never had a conversation<br />

with ano<strong>the</strong>r adult and when he talked to me <strong>the</strong><br />

entire surface interval, she knew something special had<br />

happened under water. She opened up to me about his<br />

struggles, his low self-worth, and his depression. The<br />

things I learned about this young man broke my heart,<br />

but also made me realize that being below <strong>the</strong> waves had<br />

reached a part <strong>of</strong> him previously shut <strong>of</strong>f and inaccessible.<br />

I was determined to help him re-gain <strong>the</strong> happiness<br />

and confidence <strong>the</strong> sea had drawn out <strong>of</strong> him.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 55

Spotting a Hawksbill turtle during a dive or snorkel in <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> is a treat. Staying quiet and calm can encourage it to stay near.<br />

Back at <strong>the</strong> shop I addressed him directly and told him<br />

how amazing it was to see him smiling and pointing out<br />

fish and taking charge <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> dive, and <strong>the</strong> confidence<br />

he had demonstrated. I encouraged him to nurture <strong>the</strong><br />

experience and get certified and assured him I would<br />

dive with him any time. He looked at me and merely said,<br />

“Thank you.” I encouraged his mo<strong>the</strong>r to keep this experience<br />

fresh in his mind, and reiterated <strong>the</strong> difference in<br />

<strong>the</strong> shy, withdrawn, closed-<strong>of</strong>f kid above <strong>the</strong> waves, and<br />

<strong>the</strong> excited, smiling, happy, and confident young man I<br />

had seen on our dives. She promised me she would and<br />

thanked me.<br />

The day ended and I went home, but <strong>the</strong> events <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

day weighed heavy on my heart. I wondered how this kid<br />

felt and if he would ever bloom again. I wondered if he<br />

realized <strong>the</strong> effect that being underwater had on him. I<br />

wondered if he knew how he had affected me.<br />

The next morning, I was at our shop getting gear<br />

ready for <strong>the</strong> boats and I saw two people on bicycles cutting<br />

across <strong>the</strong> lot. It was this young man and his mo<strong>the</strong>r.<br />

I was a little stunned to say <strong>the</strong> least. She approached<br />

me and said, “He insisted on getting up at 5:00 AM and<br />

coming down here so he could say good-bye to you.” I felt<br />

<strong>the</strong> tears welling up and choked <strong>the</strong>m back as he stepped<br />

in front <strong>of</strong> me. He said he wanted to thank me for taking<br />

him diving and for showing him all <strong>the</strong> amazing things<br />

down <strong>the</strong>re. He asked for my e-mail address so he could<br />

stay in touch. I told him what an incredible young man<br />

he was and how proud I was <strong>of</strong> him. I reminded him to<br />

find a dive shop in his home town and get certified. They<br />

hugged me, went on <strong>the</strong>ir way and my tears were free<br />

to stream down my face. THESE are <strong>the</strong> moments that<br />

remind us how powerful and healing is a single dose <strong>of</strong><br />

vitamin “Sea.”<br />

He did get certified, keeping me informed through his<br />

journey. He and his mo<strong>the</strong>r came back two years later,<br />

and he and I went diving toge<strong>the</strong>r. On <strong>the</strong> last dive <strong>of</strong><br />

his trip, he motioned for me to approach him underwater.<br />

This young man hugged me tight, and gave me <strong>the</strong><br />

“Thank You” signal. My mask was again filled with happy,<br />

proud tears. He has continued to come out <strong>of</strong> his shell<br />

and has dreams <strong>of</strong> becoming a divemaster, and maybe<br />

even an instructor.<br />

The powers <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sea took this shy kid and drowned<br />

his insecurities and self-doubt, unveiled his curiosity for<br />

exploring, and filled him with <strong>the</strong> desire to grow. Of all <strong>the</strong><br />

students I have taught over <strong>the</strong> years, this young man’s<br />

transformation remains in <strong>the</strong> forefront <strong>of</strong> my mind and<br />

heart. Vitamin Sea had saved my life many years back . .<br />

. and now I watched it save ano<strong>the</strong>r.<br />

This is Tristan’s story, and how one dose <strong>of</strong> Vitamin<br />

Sea empowered him to bloom . . . a<br />

56 www.timespub.tc

green pages<br />

Newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Department <strong>of</strong> Environment & Coastal Resources<br />

Head <strong>of</strong>fice: Church Folly, Grand Turk, tel 649 946 2801 • fax 649 946 1895<br />

• Astwood Street, South Caicos, tel 649 946 3306 • fax 946 3710<br />

• National Environmental Centre, Lower Bight Road, Providenciales<br />

Parks Division, tel 649 941 5122 • fax 649 946 4793<br />

Fisheries Division, tel 649 946 4017 • fax 649 946 4793<br />

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

The underside <strong>of</strong> a humpback whale’s tail is like a fingerprint and can be used to identify individual whales between feeding and breeding<br />

grounds. A single photograph like this one can provide valuable information about humpback whale migrations.<br />

Helping <strong>the</strong> Humpback<br />

Protecting one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>’ biggest natural wonders.<br />

Each winter, hundreds <strong>of</strong> North Atlantic Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) travel thousands <strong>of</strong><br />

kilometers from <strong>the</strong>ir summer feeding grounds in colder waters to <strong>the</strong> turquoise shallows surrounding<br />

<strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. It is here, along <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>’ extensive stretch <strong>of</strong> underwater banks, that <strong>the</strong><br />

animals come to find a mate or give birth to <strong>the</strong>ir calves, making it one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> world’s premiere locations<br />

for whale watching.<br />

By Katharine Hart and Cathy Bacon, Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> Whale Project<br />

Photos By Katharine Hart, Deep Blue Charters<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 57

green pages newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> department <strong>of</strong> environment & coastal resources<br />

This is one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> few<br />

places in <strong>the</strong> world where<br />

you can get in <strong>the</strong> water<br />

and snorkel eye-to-eye<br />

with one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> planet’s<br />

largest mammals. It is<br />

also one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> few places<br />

in <strong>the</strong> world where you<br />

can have such an up-close<br />

encounter with marine<br />

wildlife without any<br />

regulations in place to<br />

ensure <strong>the</strong> safety <strong>of</strong> both<br />

<strong>the</strong> animals and curious<br />

observers.<br />

Currently, tour operators<br />

are not required to<br />

have any specific license<br />

or training to facilitate<br />

whale watching activities.<br />

There are no limits as to<br />

how many tour operators<br />

can approach <strong>the</strong> whales<br />

at one time, or how close<br />

<strong>the</strong>y can get. And with <strong>the</strong><br />

pressure from guests to<br />

capture selfies and o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

Instagram-worthy photos<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>mselves swimming<br />

with whales, some operators can be tempted to get as<br />

close to <strong>the</strong> animals as possible. The Department <strong>of</strong><br />

Environment & Coastal Resources (DECR) has issued a<br />

voluntary code <strong>of</strong> ethics for whale watching to discourage<br />

such behavior, but <strong>the</strong>re are no legal ramifications<br />

for those who do not follow <strong>the</strong>se guidelines.<br />

As whale watching tourism continues to increase in<br />

Turks & Caicos, it is vital to implement laws that protect<br />

this species from behavior that can stress <strong>the</strong>m at a time<br />

in <strong>the</strong>ir lives when <strong>the</strong>y are particularly vulnerable after<br />

just having given birth.<br />

The newly formed Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> Whale<br />

Project is a collaborative project between researchers,<br />

<strong>the</strong> DECR and watersports operators, including Deep Blue<br />

Charters, to collect data on <strong>the</strong> local humpback whale<br />

population that will be used to inform <strong>the</strong> development<br />

<strong>of</strong> protective legislation in <strong>the</strong> near future.<br />

This humpback whale is breaching during competition with o<strong>the</strong>r whales. Competitive groups <strong>of</strong> males are<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten seen fighting over a female on <strong>the</strong> Turks Bank.<br />

Over <strong>the</strong> next year, private whale watching operators<br />

will be encouraged to document whale sightings during<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir daily excursions using photography and video at <strong>the</strong><br />

surface and underwater cameras for in-water encounters.<br />

Hydrophones may also be used to collect acoustic samples<br />

from singing male humpback whales or groups <strong>of</strong><br />

males competing for a female mate.<br />

Photographing individual whales—specifically <strong>the</strong><br />

underside <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir flukes, which have unique fingerprint-like<br />

patterns—will allow researchers to track <strong>the</strong><br />

whales’ migratory routes between feeding and breeding<br />

grounds. By partnering with both local and international<br />

whale watching companies, researchers, and non-governmental<br />

organizations, photographic matches can be<br />

made, which can tell us where humpback whales have<br />

migrated from and if <strong>the</strong> same ones continue to return<br />

to <strong>the</strong> Turks and Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. Already this season, at<br />

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Pectoral fin slapping is a frequently seen behaviour when whale watching in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

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least one mo<strong>the</strong>r whale has been identified as one who<br />

has given birth several times in <strong>the</strong> region over <strong>the</strong> last<br />

few years. O<strong>the</strong>rs have been tracked to Maine, New York,<br />

Virginia Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Samaná<br />

Bay (Dominican Republic). Monitoring and assessment <strong>of</strong><br />

humpback whale behavior in response to boat vessels on<br />

<strong>the</strong> surface and interaction with humans in <strong>the</strong> water will<br />

also be used to inform future proposed legislation that<br />

will enforce safe and conservation-focused interactions<br />

with <strong>the</strong>se beautiful giants once pushed to <strong>the</strong> brink <strong>of</strong><br />

extinction by whaling.<br />

Our hope is that this research will allow us to better<br />

understand <strong>the</strong>se creatures and how we as humans can<br />

support <strong>the</strong>m while continuing to have safe interactions<br />

with <strong>the</strong>m for generations to come.<br />

All members <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> public can support marine mammal<br />

conservation in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> and be<br />

part <strong>of</strong> this collaborative conservation effort by adhering<br />

to <strong>the</strong> Fisheries Protection and <strong>the</strong> National Parks<br />

Ordinances and by submitting photographs and videos<br />

taken while out on <strong>the</strong> water in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos<br />

<strong>Islands</strong>. If <strong>the</strong> TCI Whale Project is able to match your<br />

image, <strong>the</strong> information about that whale will be shared<br />

with you and credit given for <strong>the</strong> images. Submissions<br />

are welcomed by email at tciwhaleproject@gmail.com<br />

or via Facebook.com/tciwhaleproject or Instagram @<br />

TCIWhaleProject.<br />

Fisheries Protection Ordinance (5 <strong>of</strong> 1941) as amended,<br />

Regulations Part III Conservation Provisions:<br />

Restrictions on means <strong>of</strong> taking marine product and<br />

harmful activities:<br />

9. (1) No person shall —<br />

(g) engage in <strong>the</strong> practice <strong>of</strong> throwing any food into <strong>the</strong><br />

water for <strong>the</strong> purposes <strong>of</strong> feeding or attracting or harvesting<br />

any species <strong>of</strong> marine life unless authorized to do so<br />

by <strong>the</strong> Director;<br />

Restrictions relating to marine mammals<br />

18. No person shall engage in fishing for, molest or o<strong>the</strong>rwise<br />

interfere with any marine mammal.<br />

This humpback whale calf approaches snorkelers during a humpback<br />

whale watching charter. Young whales are <strong>of</strong>ten curious about snorkelers<br />

in <strong>the</strong> water and swim over for a closer look.<br />

National Parks Ordinance (11 <strong>of</strong> 1975) as amended,<br />

Regulations on Prohibitions and Permitted Activities:<br />

3(1),(2),(3):<br />

(a) The taking <strong>of</strong> any animal or plant by any method on<br />

land or at sea except to <strong>the</strong> extent permitted in any fishing<br />

zone;<br />

(c) The destruction <strong>of</strong>, or damage or injury to, any animal<br />

or plant;<br />

(d) The removal <strong>of</strong> sand, rock, coral, coral-rag or any calcareous<br />

substance;<br />

(e) Anchor damage to coral reef structures living or dead<br />

and associated marine plant and animal life.<br />

As per <strong>the</strong> regulations, any person who contravenes<br />

any provision <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se regulations commits an <strong>of</strong>fence<br />

and is liable on conviction to a fine <strong>of</strong> $50,000 or to a<br />

term <strong>of</strong> imprisonment <strong>of</strong> twelve months or to both such<br />

fine and imprisonment. a<br />

Similarly, <strong>the</strong> following activities are prohibited within all<br />

national parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries, and will<br />

not be tolerated:<br />

Katharine Hart is a marine biologist and co-owner <strong>of</strong><br />

Deep Blue Charters on Grand Turk. Cathy Bacon is a<br />

marine biologist based in <strong>the</strong> United States. Both are lead<br />

researchers for <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> Whale Project.<br />

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green pages newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> department <strong>of</strong> environment & coastal resources<br />

To ensure that Humpback Whales return <strong>the</strong> following year, here are some points to<br />

consider to keep both you happy and <strong>the</strong> whales safe on <strong>the</strong>ir journey:<br />

During this sensitive period, vessels should approach slowly, carefully, and quietly<br />

(keeping engine noise to a minimum). Maintaining a respectful distance ensures that<br />

<strong>the</strong>y will not be stressed or feel threatened.<br />

Avoid “fencing in” <strong>the</strong> whales. This includes blocking <strong>the</strong>m between boats, too close to<br />

shore/shallow water, cutting <strong>of</strong>f <strong>the</strong>ir direction <strong>of</strong> travel, chasing after <strong>the</strong>m, or getting<br />

between mo<strong>the</strong>r and calf.<br />

If whales change <strong>the</strong>ir direction 3-5 times, it means <strong>the</strong>y are feeling hassled or<br />

stressed. Simply maintain your distance and allow <strong>the</strong>m <strong>the</strong>ir space. Disturbed whales<br />

will swim away and your viewing could be unfortunately cut short.<br />

When operating a vessel, move parallel to <strong>the</strong> whales to avoid approaching <strong>the</strong>m headon,<br />

as this may give <strong>the</strong> whales <strong>the</strong> impression that <strong>the</strong>y are being chased. Surprised<br />

whales may show aggression and become very dangerous given <strong>the</strong>ir size.<br />

Mo<strong>the</strong>rs and calves are tired and are more likely to be “spooked.” They will need extra<br />

consideration <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> above.<br />

If ano<strong>the</strong>r vessel is with a whale or a group <strong>of</strong> whales, have some courtesy: Radio or<br />

call that vessel to a) find out if it is safe to approach and b) ask if you may join <strong>the</strong> experience.<br />

Proper communication will allow everyone to enjoy <strong>the</strong> experience.<br />

Remember: whales are much bigger than people and most whale watching vessels.<br />

Safety is always a priority, for both <strong>the</strong> whales and <strong>the</strong> viewers. Approaching with caution<br />

ensures <strong>the</strong> whales stay happy and you will get <strong>the</strong> most out <strong>of</strong> your experience!<br />

For more information, please contact DEMA at environment@gov.tc<br />

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A coral restoration plan is key to preserving <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>’ stunning reefs.<br />

Building an Ark<br />

Pilot nursery can help stony corals survive.<br />

By Alizee Zimmermann<br />

<strong>2022</strong> is <strong>of</strong>f to a great start for coral restoration in <strong>the</strong>se little blue islands we call home. The Turks &<br />

Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF) has received a grant from <strong>the</strong> John Ellerman Foundation in <strong>the</strong> UK to establish a<br />

pilot land-based coral nursery in an effort to create a species survival program for stony corals that have<br />

been severely affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD).<br />

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TCRF<br />

The John Ellerman Foundation grant will allow TCRF to preserve genetic samples <strong>of</strong> coral on coral tables (or raceways) as shown here.<br />

This $173,000 grant, which provides funding for <strong>the</strong><br />

two-year pilot project, will allow TCRF to ga<strong>the</strong>r live samples<br />

<strong>of</strong> some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 30+ reef building corals that have<br />

been devastated by SCTLD since <strong>the</strong> initial outbreak in<br />

early 2019. By taking genetic samples <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> corals out <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> water we can preserve <strong>the</strong>m (essentially infinitely) in<br />

what’s called “coral tables” or “raceways” and use <strong>the</strong>m to<br />

actively restore live tissue to <strong>the</strong> reef. Through a process<br />

<strong>of</strong> micro-fragmentation, which involves cutting pieces <strong>of</strong><br />

coral into as small as 1x1cm 2 , we can prompt live tissue<br />

to grow up to 40 times faster than it might in <strong>the</strong> wild.<br />

That’s pretty wild!<br />

The pilot tank will be set up in <strong>the</strong> TCRF <strong>of</strong>fice located<br />

at South Bank Marina and <strong>the</strong> facility will be open to visitors.<br />

We’re excited about <strong>the</strong> opportunities this will<br />

provide for educational tours and for <strong>the</strong> training <strong>of</strong> local<br />

volunteers in <strong>the</strong> basics <strong>of</strong> coral husbandry so that when<br />

we are able to grow and increase our efforts, we’ll have<br />

<strong>the</strong> local knowledge and capacity to do so.<br />

But first, Step 1: Learn about <strong>the</strong> ins and outs <strong>of</strong><br />

coral husbandry as well as all <strong>the</strong> technical/engineering<br />

aspects involved with aquaculture and closed-system<br />

tanks. For this we have partnered with The Reef Institute<br />

(www.reefinstitute.org) based in West Palm Beach,<br />

Florida. They are a non-pr<strong>of</strong>it research and education-based<br />

facility and have played a significant role in<br />

<strong>the</strong> rescue efforts for Florida’s coral reefs. They house<br />

<strong>the</strong> third largest collection <strong>of</strong> corals rescued from <strong>the</strong><br />

path <strong>of</strong> SCTLD along <strong>the</strong> Florida Reef Tract and <strong>the</strong>y align<br />

closely with our educational goals focusing on three main<br />

areas: environmental sensitivity + scientific skills = oceanic<br />

stewards.<br />

With this grant award, we will be able to begin to<br />

preserve samples <strong>of</strong> many iconic coral species that have<br />

been <strong>the</strong> foundation <strong>of</strong> our reefs. The ultimate goal is<br />

to greatly expand our land-based coral nursery program<br />

allowing us to propagate <strong>the</strong>se important reef building<br />

corals and ultimately restore <strong>the</strong>m to <strong>the</strong> reefs around <strong>the</strong><br />

Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

SCTLD has exacted a terrible toll on <strong>the</strong> reefs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

TCI—it is a coral disease unlike any o<strong>the</strong>r, having now<br />

affected reefs in 20+ tropical Atlantic and Caribbean<br />

Island nations. It is a fast-moving, highly lethal disease<br />

with a yet unknown cause affecting nearly all <strong>the</strong> major<br />

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reef building corals and has been identified on all <strong>the</strong><br />

reefs throughout <strong>the</strong> TCI.<br />

This project, in essence, is providing an ark to preserve<br />

<strong>the</strong> reef’s genetic diversity. Ultimately, we expect<br />

to grow this project into a much bigger nursery program<br />

that will allow us to re-establish many coral species on<br />

TCI reefs whose numbers have been significantly reduced<br />

due to this disease.<br />

There is a lot <strong>of</strong> work ahead if we are to be successful,<br />

but we’re committed to <strong>the</strong> cause and optimistic that<br />

through carefully planned science and active restoration<br />

we can not only preserve genetic diversity that might o<strong>the</strong>rwise<br />

be lost, but we can also bring that diversity back to<br />

<strong>the</strong> reef through active restoration. <strong>2022</strong> is going to be a<br />

good year for conservation in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos. a<br />

About <strong>the</strong> John Ellerman Foundation<br />

The foundation was set up as a generalist grantmaking<br />

trust in 1971 to focus on <strong>the</strong> broad philanthropic interests<br />

<strong>of</strong> our benefactor Sir John Ellerman, while reflecting<br />

changing times. Its aim is to advance <strong>the</strong> well-being <strong>of</strong><br />

people, society, and <strong>the</strong> natural world by focusing on<br />

<strong>the</strong> arts, environment, and social action. The Foundation<br />

supports organizations whose work has reach and significance<br />

across <strong>the</strong> UK.<br />

About TCRF<br />

Founded in 2010, <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos Reef Fund is <strong>the</strong><br />

country’s only active environmental advocacy organization.<br />

It provides funding for education, research, and<br />

conservation programs to individuals, organizations, and<br />

agencies that help to preserve and protect TCI’s environment.<br />

Anyone wishing to donate or assist can contact<br />

visit www.TCReef.org. Scuba divers visiting <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong><br />

are encouraged to make a $10 donation through <strong>the</strong> purchase<br />

<strong>of</strong> a dive tag that can be attached to <strong>the</strong>ir dive gear<br />

to show <strong>the</strong>ir support. Snorkelers can show <strong>the</strong>ir support<br />

through <strong>the</strong> $5 purchase <strong>of</strong> a pink or blue silicone<br />

wristband. Visitors can also support TCRF by purchasing<br />

a rash guard designed each year by a different local artist.<br />

A complete list <strong>of</strong> outlets for TCRF merchandise can be<br />

found on <strong>the</strong> organization’s website.<br />

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Flamingoes like to nest in Salinas (large flat pools historically used for salt production), as <strong>the</strong> salt-encrusted, damp mud is inaccessible to<br />

flamingo predators such as cats and birds.<br />


Flamingo Flamboyance<br />

The relationship between <strong>the</strong> salt industry and <strong>the</strong> American flamingo.<br />

By Skylar Wuelfing, Waterfront Assistant<br />

The School for Field Studies Center for Marine Resource Studies<br />

Looking out across <strong>the</strong> salt flats <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> (TCI), one can <strong>of</strong>ten spot a flamboyance (or<br />

large group) <strong>of</strong> brightly colored birds known as American flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber). These fluorescent<br />

pink birds can be seen flocking around <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> and are a popular attraction in <strong>the</strong> Caribbean,<br />

a frequented breeding and feeding ground. Although <strong>the</strong>y can be sighted on eight <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> islands that<br />

make up <strong>the</strong> Archipelago, flamingoes are most <strong>of</strong>ten seen on Providenciales, North Caicos and South<br />

Caicos due to <strong>the</strong>se islands being more highly populated, with more people actively looking for <strong>the</strong>m.<br />

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While <strong>the</strong>re are six species <strong>of</strong> flamingoes around <strong>the</strong><br />

world, <strong>the</strong> only species found in <strong>the</strong> TCI is <strong>the</strong> American<br />

flamingo (also known as <strong>the</strong> Caribbean or West Indian flamingo).<br />

They are found throughout Caribbean due to <strong>the</strong><br />

ideal conditions for nesting grounds on various islands.<br />

Flamingoes like to nest in salinas (large flat pools historically<br />

used for salt production), as <strong>the</strong> salt-encrusted,<br />

damp mud is inaccessible to flamingo predators such as<br />

cats and birds. It is currently estimated that <strong>the</strong>re are<br />

260,000–330,000 mature American flamingoes in <strong>the</strong><br />

Caribbean, making it a species <strong>of</strong> least concern on <strong>the</strong><br />

International Union for <strong>the</strong> Conservation <strong>of</strong> Nature (IUCN)<br />

red list, a scale that rates <strong>the</strong> level <strong>of</strong> endangerment <strong>of</strong><br />

species.<br />

Salinas can be found on three islands within <strong>the</strong><br />

Turks & Caicos: Grand Turk, Salt Cay, and South Caicos.<br />

On South Caicos, <strong>the</strong> salinas cover approximately 22%<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> island (455 acres), whereas <strong>the</strong>y only cover 5% <strong>of</strong><br />

Grand Turk and 7% <strong>of</strong> Salt Cay. Historically in <strong>the</strong> TCI,<br />

salinas were used for salt production from <strong>the</strong> mid 1700s<br />

into <strong>the</strong> 1900s. Total salt exports reached around 140<br />

million pounds annually, and across <strong>the</strong> three islands 800<br />

acres <strong>of</strong> salinas were utilized for production.<br />

A unique feature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> salt industry on South Caicos<br />

is <strong>the</strong> Boiling Hole, a historically significant site and a<br />

unique tourist attraction. Because it is comprised <strong>of</strong> a<br />

subterranean cave system that is connected to <strong>the</strong> ocean,<br />

it is periodically refreshed by <strong>the</strong> tide. As <strong>the</strong> tides bring<br />

in water, <strong>the</strong>y also bring brine shrimp which are one <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> flamingoes’ main prey.<br />

Flamingoes tend to forage and breed in shallow bodies<br />

<strong>of</strong> high saline environments consisting <strong>of</strong> a mix <strong>of</strong><br />

saline (sea water), brackish (a mix <strong>of</strong> sea water and fresh<br />

water), and fresh water. Flamingoes prefer habitat types<br />

with naturally high salinity as <strong>the</strong>ir prey (gastropods,<br />

crustaceans, brine shrimp, and small insects) are more<br />

abundant under high salinity conditions. In addition, <strong>the</strong><br />

salt-encrusted, damp mud allows for an ideal location to<br />

build a nest as it provides <strong>the</strong> perfect conditions for egg<br />

incubation.<br />

Because flamingoes desire <strong>the</strong>se very specific environments,<br />

<strong>the</strong>y are particularly vulnerable to human<br />

disturbance in <strong>the</strong> Caribbean due to habitat destruction<br />

and pollution. For instance, through <strong>the</strong> ups and downs<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> salt industry, populations <strong>of</strong> organisms residing in<br />

<strong>the</strong> salinas fluctuated due to <strong>the</strong> uncontrolled changes<br />

in <strong>the</strong> levels <strong>of</strong> salinity. Research has shown that <strong>the</strong>se<br />

salinity fluctuations affect flamingo behavior by changing<br />

<strong>the</strong> population density <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir food supply, which can<br />

cause <strong>the</strong>m to migrate away from or return to <strong>the</strong> TCI less<br />

frequently.<br />

As <strong>the</strong> salt industry grew to meet global demand<br />

(becoming a world-wide commodity), <strong>the</strong> influx <strong>of</strong> people<br />

and machines harvesting <strong>the</strong> salt created habitat changes<br />

in <strong>the</strong> salinas that <strong>the</strong> flamingoes occupy, thus causing<br />

<strong>the</strong>m to frequent <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> less <strong>of</strong>ten. Despite <strong>the</strong> massive<br />

amounts <strong>of</strong> salt being produced and exported, <strong>the</strong><br />

TCI’s salt production entered a decline in <strong>the</strong> late 1960s.<br />


This flamboyance <strong>of</strong> flamingoes is ga<strong>the</strong>ring near <strong>the</strong> Boiling Hole on South Caicos. As <strong>the</strong> tides bring in water, <strong>the</strong>y also bring brine shrimp<br />

which are one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> flamingoes’ main prey.<br />

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Due to <strong>the</strong> small scale <strong>of</strong> production and a lack <strong>of</strong> both<br />

funds and infrastructure, <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> could no longer<br />

keep up with <strong>the</strong> salt demand.<br />

As <strong>the</strong> salt industry declined, <strong>the</strong> flamingoes had<br />

all <strong>the</strong>y needed for survival without <strong>the</strong> disturbance<br />

<strong>of</strong> humans, which enabled <strong>the</strong>m to slowly return.<br />

Researchers found that in <strong>the</strong> late 1970s — right after<br />

<strong>the</strong> decline <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> salt industry — <strong>the</strong> American flamingo<br />

population consisted <strong>of</strong> approximately 29,773 mature<br />

individuals within <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

Flamingoes are one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> most charismatic bird<br />

species and a symbol for <strong>the</strong> conservation <strong>of</strong> tropical<br />

ecosystems. This is <strong>of</strong>ten due to <strong>the</strong>ir fluorescent pink<br />

coloring, which stems from <strong>the</strong>ir diets <strong>of</strong> algae, insects,<br />

aquatic invertebrates, and small fishes. The algae contains<br />

beta carotene, an organic chemical that contains<br />

a reddish-orange pigment. This pigment, along with <strong>the</strong><br />

brine shrimp, are what turn <strong>the</strong> flamingoes’ fea<strong>the</strong>rs<br />

pink. As flamingoes trigger an influx in tourism, many <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>ir foraging and breeding grounds have been deemed<br />

reserves or sanctuaries. As such, <strong>the</strong> popularity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

American flamingo indirectly protects many o<strong>the</strong>r species<br />

that frequent or reside in <strong>the</strong>ir coastal habitat such as<br />

molluscs (snails, mussels, or slugs), crustaceans (crabs<br />

or shrimps), smaller birds (shorebirds), and chironomids<br />

(small insects).<br />

Flamingoes tend to forage and breed in shallow bodies <strong>of</strong> high saline<br />

environments consisting <strong>of</strong> a mix <strong>of</strong> saline (sea water), brackish (a<br />

mix <strong>of</strong> sea water and fresh water), and fresh water.<br />

While flamingo habitat in <strong>the</strong> TCI is currently mostly<br />

undisturbed, <strong>the</strong> country is beginning to experience<br />

an increase in tourism. (Tourism is <strong>the</strong> main source <strong>of</strong><br />

revenue for many Caribbean islands and <strong>the</strong>ir local communities.)<br />

Yet tourism is a major potential threat for<br />

many local species, not just <strong>the</strong> American flamingo. While<br />

wea<strong>the</strong>r, pollution, and salt production are key reasons<br />

for population declines in many species, <strong>the</strong> threat that<br />

seems to cause <strong>the</strong> most damage is <strong>the</strong> land development<br />

that comes with tourism. This will not only affect <strong>the</strong> flamingoes<br />

but also all <strong>the</strong> organisms and plants that thrive<br />

in and around <strong>the</strong> salinas.<br />

Because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> increasing potential for disturbance,<br />

<strong>the</strong>re is a need for conservation <strong>of</strong> flamingo habitat and<br />

<strong>the</strong> species <strong>the</strong>y associate with. Many places around <strong>the</strong><br />

Caribbean have already begun flamingo conservation initiatives.<br />

The Caribbean Alliance for Flamingo Research<br />

and Conservation (CAFRC) was established in 2007 to<br />

ensure <strong>the</strong> protection and conservation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> flamingo<br />

species. This alliance is similar to <strong>the</strong> Caribbean Flamingo<br />

Network, and both organizations aim to promote <strong>the</strong><br />

study <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> American flamingo and monitor flamingo<br />

populations. They have also been working on establishing<br />

areas <strong>of</strong> protection for <strong>the</strong> flamboyances <strong>of</strong> flamingoes<br />

based on site fidelity.<br />

It is imperative that conservation efforts and future<br />

research are continued so that we may protect <strong>the</strong><br />

American flamingoes that live throughout <strong>the</strong> Caribbean.<br />

With tourism increasing steadily, <strong>the</strong>re is a growing need<br />

for conservation efforts and public awareness.<br />

Along with <strong>the</strong>se efforts, tourists can help to protect<br />

flamingoes in various ways. By staying on designated<br />

paths/roads in <strong>the</strong> salinas and refraining from littering or<br />

feeding <strong>the</strong> wildlife, tourists will ensure that <strong>the</strong>y don’t<br />

damage feeding areas or tread on a flamingo nest.<br />

By being an eco-friendly tourist, we can help to protect<br />

<strong>the</strong>se iconic pink creatures so that future generations<br />

can witness <strong>the</strong>ir beauty and grace. When you visit <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>Islands</strong>, make sure you have plenty <strong>of</strong> sunscreen and a<br />

decent pair <strong>of</strong> walking shoes so that you can have a flamingood<br />

time while visiting <strong>the</strong> flamboyances that can be<br />

found in <strong>the</strong> salinas <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos! a<br />

To learn more about <strong>the</strong> The School for Field Studies’<br />

projects on South Caicos, go to http://www.fieldstudies.<br />

org/tci.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 67

astrolabe<br />

newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos National Museum<br />

Front Street, PO Box 188, Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>, BWI TKCA 1ZZ<br />

tel 649 247 2160/US incoming 786 220 1159 •<br />

email info@tcmuseum.org • web www.tcmuseum.org<br />

This postcard depicts raking salt on Grand Turk Island. Notice <strong>the</strong> jail and library in background. (Circa 1906.)<br />

Raking Up <strong>the</strong> Past<br />

Salt production on <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> (Part 1)<br />

Story & Postcard Images Courtesy Jeff Dodge<br />

Salt was <strong>the</strong> most important industry on <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> for almost 300 years. Salt was <strong>of</strong><br />

critical importance, not only for culinary purposes, but to preserve meat and fish. Since salt production<br />

involved so many people and occupied so much land, it would be a photographer’s obvious subject.<br />

Consequently, picture postcards made from early photographs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se islands included pictures <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

salt production process. All <strong>the</strong> postcards included in this article were printed from photographs taken<br />

between 1905 and 1933.<br />

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The discovery that <strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong> were well suited<br />

for <strong>the</strong> commercial production <strong>of</strong> salt by <strong>the</strong> solar evaporation<br />

<strong>of</strong> seawater came about accidently.<br />

Shipping between Bermuda and <strong>the</strong> West Indies was<br />

common during <strong>the</strong> early 1600s. During <strong>the</strong>se passages,<br />

Bermudian vessels would sometimes stop at Grand Turk<br />

or Salt Cay to salvage cargoes from ships wrecked on <strong>the</strong><br />

reefs near <strong>the</strong>se islands. The practice <strong>of</strong> “wrecking” began<br />

in Bermuda in <strong>the</strong> early 17th century and <strong>the</strong> practice<br />

soon extended to <strong>the</strong> Caribbean.<br />

The Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> were uninhabited in<br />

<strong>the</strong> 1660s—<strong>the</strong> Lucayan population had been gone for<br />

more than a century. The <strong>Islands</strong> were not only unpopulated,<br />

but were unclaimed by any o<strong>the</strong>r country. It was<br />

during this wrecking activity on <strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong> that<br />

Bermudians noticed that salt collected in naturally occurring<br />

shallow pans or ponds after seawater held in <strong>the</strong>m<br />

evaporated in <strong>the</strong> sun.<br />

Bermudians began collecting salt by hand from <strong>the</strong>se<br />

shallow depressions on <strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong> on an informal<br />

basis in <strong>the</strong> 1660s. By 1673 salt collection became more<br />

organized—first on Salt Cay and five years later on Grand<br />

Turk. In <strong>the</strong> beginning, Bermudians and <strong>the</strong>ir slaves occupied<br />

<strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong> on a seasonal basis—arriving in<br />

March and returning to Bermuda in November. The summer<br />

months provided <strong>the</strong> Bermudian “salt rakers” with<br />

<strong>the</strong> wea<strong>the</strong>r conditions needed to extract salt from seawater<br />

by solar evaporation—hot temperatures, little rain<br />

and steady trade winds.<br />

The success <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Bermudian salt merchants did not<br />

go unnoticed by <strong>the</strong> Spanish in Santo Domingo or <strong>the</strong><br />

French in Hispaniola. Between <strong>the</strong> years 1710 and 1783,<br />

<strong>the</strong>y repeatedly attacked <strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong>, <strong>the</strong> ships carrying<br />

salt and <strong>the</strong> salt rakers working <strong>the</strong> salt ponds. In<br />

1764 Great Britain declared <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> a British possession.<br />

In 1767, Andrew Symmer from Nassau was appointed<br />

as <strong>the</strong> King’s Agent on Grand Turk. He devised <strong>the</strong> Royal<br />

Regulations that year. These regulations, approved in<br />

1781, established rules <strong>of</strong> governance for <strong>the</strong> Turks<br />

<strong>Islands</strong> and for <strong>the</strong> salt industry. The Head Right System<br />

that outlined who had <strong>the</strong> right to work <strong>the</strong> salt ponds was<br />

part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se regulations. Under <strong>the</strong> Head Right System,<br />

shares <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> salt ponds were issued each February to<br />

This postcard bears an image <strong>of</strong> East Harbour on South Caicos circa 1906. East Harbour would eventually become <strong>the</strong> largest producer <strong>of</strong><br />

salt on <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

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every adult, including<br />

slaves, living on Grand<br />

Turk and Salt Cay. The<br />

shares issued to slaves<br />

however, actually went to<br />

<strong>the</strong> slave owner.<br />

Agent Symmer’s activities<br />

during his 30-year<br />

tenure served to ensure<br />

that <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> would<br />

eventually become part<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Bahamas, which<br />

<strong>the</strong>y did in 1799. The<br />

<strong>Islands</strong> were variously<br />

under <strong>the</strong> control <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Bahamian government or<br />

<strong>the</strong> Jamaican government<br />

until 1973.<br />

Great Britain’s<br />

Emancipation Act <strong>of</strong> 1834<br />

freed over 1,900 slaves on<br />

<strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong>. In <strong>the</strong>ory,<br />

freed slaves, under<br />

<strong>the</strong> Head Right System,<br />

would be given shares<br />

in <strong>the</strong> salt ponds. Since<br />

this was not favorable<br />

to <strong>the</strong> former slave owners,<br />

a leasehold system<br />

was introduced in 1845.<br />

Those with money (former<br />

slave owners) remained in<br />

control <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ponds while<br />

freed slaves, having no<br />

money, were no better <strong>of</strong>f<br />

than before emancipation. Many remained working for<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir former owners.<br />

At <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> 1861, following two years <strong>of</strong> dreadful<br />

salt yields and <strong>the</strong> low prices salt commanded, lessees<br />

found <strong>the</strong>mselves unable to pay <strong>the</strong> rent for <strong>the</strong> salt properties<br />

<strong>the</strong>y leased from <strong>the</strong> government. A committee <strong>of</strong><br />

lessees at Grand Turk and Salt Cay was formed and in<br />

1862 <strong>the</strong> leasehold system was replaced by a freehold<br />

system. The government made up <strong>the</strong>ir loss <strong>of</strong> rental revenue<br />

with an ad valorem royalty imposed on salt exports.<br />

From top: This postcard depicts a canal leading from <strong>the</strong> sea to <strong>the</strong><br />

salt ponds. At one time <strong>the</strong>re were seven such canals on Grand Turk<br />

Island. (Circa 1905.)<br />

This image shows <strong>the</strong> salt ponds on Grand Turk Island circa 1920.<br />

Seawater coming from <strong>the</strong> ocean through canals entered public ponds<br />

as large as five acres and 12 to 18 inches deep.<br />

Salt production<br />

Systematic salt production began on Salt Cay and Grand<br />

Turk in <strong>the</strong> 1670s. East Harbour (Cockburn Harbour) on<br />

South Caicos began salt production about 1848. East<br />

Harbour would eventually become <strong>the</strong> largest producer<br />

<strong>of</strong> salt on <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

In 1857 salt production on West Caicos was explored.<br />

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astrolabe newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos National Museum<br />

From top: This postcard depicts a hand-operated water wheel for “turning pickle,” circa 1910.<br />

This wind-powered water wheel (circa 1905) was heavy and could not be moved. Kids would sometimes<br />

ride on <strong>the</strong>m as though <strong>the</strong>y were riding on a carousel.<br />

A company was formed, land was leased from <strong>the</strong> government<br />

and a railway and wharf were built. Three years later<br />

<strong>the</strong>se attempts to produce salt on West Caicos ended as<br />

<strong>the</strong> company in charge was no longer solvent.<br />

The Bermudians organized and improved <strong>the</strong> salt<br />

collection process in <strong>the</strong><br />

1670s by constructing<br />

sluices to keep out <strong>the</strong><br />

sea and building stone<br />

walls around <strong>the</strong> naturally<br />

occurring salt ponds.<br />

They also constructed new<br />

ponds and built canals to<br />

bring water from <strong>the</strong> sea<br />

to flood <strong>the</strong>ir ponds.<br />

Seawater coming from<br />

<strong>the</strong> ocean through canals<br />

entered public ponds as<br />

large as five acres and 12<br />

to 18 inches deep. When<br />

<strong>the</strong> seawater in <strong>the</strong> public<br />

ponds registered 30º on<br />

a salometer (a device that<br />

measures <strong>the</strong> percentage<br />

<strong>of</strong> salt in solution), it was<br />

sent through sluices to<br />

smaller, privately owned<br />

ponds. These ponds were<br />

known as “weak ponds” or<br />

No. 1 ponds. The brine or<br />

“pickle” remained in a No.<br />

1 pond until it measured<br />

60º on <strong>the</strong> salometer. This<br />

took about 20 days.<br />

When <strong>the</strong> pickle measured<br />

60º, it was moved to<br />

a “strong pond” or a No.<br />

2 pond. At this point, <strong>the</strong><br />

volume <strong>of</strong> seawater had<br />

been reduced by 50%. The<br />

pickle remained in <strong>the</strong> No.<br />

2 pond for ano<strong>the</strong>r 15 to<br />

20 days until it measured<br />

90º on a salometer. The<br />

pickle was <strong>the</strong>n pink in<br />

color.<br />

Since <strong>the</strong> salt ponds were at <strong>the</strong> same elevation, water<br />

wheels were used to move pickle from pond to pond.<br />

Water wheels were ei<strong>the</strong>r hand-operated or wind-powered.<br />

Hand-operated water wheels were portable and could be<br />

moved from one pond to ano<strong>the</strong>r as needed.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 71

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This postcard shows <strong>the</strong> salt pans circa 1906. Salt raked into small<br />

piles is ready to be moved to storage areas or to salt sheds.<br />

Wind-powered water wheels were heavy and could<br />

not be moved. Kids would sometimes ride on <strong>the</strong>m as<br />

though <strong>the</strong>y were riding on a carousel.<br />

From pond No. 2, <strong>the</strong> pickle was moved to shallow<br />

salt pans where it would begin to crystalize after 15 to<br />

20 days. It was ready to rake after ano<strong>the</strong>r 20 to 25 days.<br />

Too<strong>the</strong>d wooden rakes were used to break up <strong>the</strong> salt<br />

crystals and rake <strong>the</strong>m into small piles.<br />

Salt raked into piles next to <strong>the</strong> salt pans would <strong>the</strong>n<br />

be loaded on donkey carts or wheelbarrows and moved<br />

to outdoor storage areas near <strong>the</strong> beach or to salt sheds.<br />

The next issue <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Astrolabe will continue <strong>the</strong><br />

story <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> salt industry on <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. a<br />

Thanks to Nigel Sadler <strong>of</strong> Sands <strong>of</strong> Time Consultancy for<br />

providing information on <strong>the</strong> Royal Regulations <strong>of</strong> 1767.<br />

Jeff Dodge spent a year at <strong>the</strong> Naval Base on Grand Turk<br />

in 1966. He returned in <strong>the</strong> 1990s with his wife for a<br />

diving vacation. A visit to <strong>the</strong> Museum led by Brian Riggs,<br />

spurred his interest in collecting early picture postcards<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks and Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.<br />

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astrolabe newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos National Museum<br />

These historic images are among few available <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> bonefishing<br />

greats <strong>of</strong> South Caicos in <strong>the</strong> early 1960s.<br />

At left and top: Julius “Goo” Jennings in his boat and bringing home<br />

<strong>the</strong> catch.<br />

Bottom right: Stanley Jennings at work.<br />

Kings <strong>of</strong> Bonefishing<br />

Remembering <strong>the</strong> Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs.<br />

Story & Photos Courtesy Dr. Carlton Mills<br />

In <strong>the</strong> early 1960s, <strong>the</strong> only fishing plant in <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos was in South Caicos. This attracted fishermen<br />

from throughout <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> who came over to improve <strong>the</strong>ir livelihood. Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m stayed on<br />

<strong>the</strong> fishing bank for several days diving or hooking conch which was sold to <strong>the</strong> local plant or sold in<br />

Haiti. Conch Ground Bay was <strong>the</strong> fishing hub. It was also <strong>the</strong> home to some <strong>of</strong> South Caicos’ greats—<strong>the</strong><br />

Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs. They were Benjamin (Banner), Felix (Par Fee), Julius (Par Julius also known as Big Man)<br />

and Oswald (Sam).<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 73

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Banner had two sons—Bruce and Willis. Par Julius also<br />

had two sons Julius (Jr.) who was affectionately known<br />

as “Goo” and George. The “Supreme Leader” <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pack<br />

was Banner. These men were rated as <strong>the</strong> “best” bonefish<br />

haulers on <strong>the</strong> island.<br />

Banner could also be described as <strong>the</strong> patriarch <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> family. He was <strong>of</strong> firm stature—towering to almost six<br />

feet in height and weighing close to two hundred pounds<br />

or more. He was very quiet and easy-going. His passion<br />

and desire was bonefishing. He was also a family man<br />

who encouraged his sons to also get into fishing. His<br />

wife Helen was <strong>the</strong> traditional housewife whose passion<br />

was baking bread for sale. This went hand in hand with<br />

<strong>the</strong> local culture—South Caicos people loved <strong>the</strong>ir fried<br />

bonefish and fresh-baked bread on a Saturday afternoon.<br />

Banner provided <strong>the</strong> fish and Helen <strong>the</strong> bread—voted as<br />

being some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> best in South Caicos at <strong>the</strong> time.<br />

Felix (Par Fee) was <strong>the</strong> most talkative <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> bro<strong>the</strong>rs.<br />

It was said that you could hear his mouth before you<br />

saw him coming. He seemed to have developed a spinal<br />

problem, as he walked bent over with both hands usually<br />

clasped behind his back. He was an ardent Methodist who<br />

hardly missed a Sunday service, usually sharply dressed<br />

in his black suit. Par Fee was a straightforward man. He<br />

told it like it was fearing no man despite his condition. He<br />

“called a spade a spade.” You basically knew where you<br />

stood with him.<br />

Oswald (Sam) was very quiet but with a terrifying tone<br />

<strong>of</strong> voice. He was also firm. Sam invested his earnings from<br />

fishing into a bar and nightclub. This was a popular spot<br />

especially on weekends. During <strong>the</strong> annual South Caicos<br />

Regatta, he would bring in a band from The Bahamas to<br />

entertain <strong>the</strong> public. Sam and his wife Helene also had a<br />

small grocery store selling food items and dry goods to<br />

<strong>the</strong> community.<br />

Sam was strict. No children were allowed around his<br />

establishment. He would also personally escort drunks<br />

<strong>of</strong>f his property if <strong>the</strong>y misbehaved. People generally<br />

feared Sam. He was one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> few persons in South<br />

Caicos at <strong>the</strong> time known to be in possession <strong>of</strong> a firearm.<br />

As boys, we believed that “If you mess with Sam, he will<br />

shoot you.” At times, he was seen hunting flamingos in<br />

<strong>the</strong> ponds with his gun. This reinforced our belief that he<br />

wasn’t a guy you would want to mess with.<br />

Julius (Big Man or Par Julius), was also huge in statue.<br />

He stammered a lot. Like <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r bro<strong>the</strong>rs, he was a<br />

Oswald (Sam) Jennings invested his earnings from fishing into a bar<br />

and nightclub, along with a small grocery store.<br />

regular at <strong>the</strong> Methodist Church. Despite his massive physique,<br />

he was a very quiet and loving man, one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

most pleasant guys you would ever meet. He was one<br />

who seemed not to keep many friends outside <strong>of</strong> his family<br />

circle. His son Julius (Jr.) was also an integral part <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> fishing group.<br />

One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> fascinating things about this exceptional<br />

family was that <strong>the</strong>y hauled toge<strong>the</strong>r. They worked as a<br />

unit—a team. They possessed exceptional skills and talent<br />

like no o<strong>the</strong>r, putting <strong>the</strong>m in a class by <strong>the</strong>mselves.<br />

The Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs were recognized as “Kings.” They<br />

were indeed kings <strong>of</strong> a very important industry.<br />

Fish was <strong>the</strong> main diet <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> people in South Caicos.<br />

Since <strong>the</strong>re was little opportunity at <strong>the</strong> time to acquire<br />

o<strong>the</strong>r forms <strong>of</strong> meat (or relish as it was called), <strong>the</strong> South<br />

Caicos community was dependent on <strong>the</strong> Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs<br />

for <strong>the</strong>ir catch. Bonefish was a delicacy. Most people<br />

who came to South Caicos in those days hardly left without<br />

feasting on bonefish or taking supplies with <strong>the</strong>m.<br />

There were certain important strategies that had<br />

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to be applied if one was to have a successful hauling<br />

day. First, it required that <strong>the</strong> fishermen be extremely<br />

quiet. Bonefish move in schools. The slightest movement<br />

or noise result in an unproductive day as <strong>the</strong> fish will<br />

speed away. Bonefish are very sensitive and Banner knew<br />

this. Verbal communication was banned during hauling.<br />

Sign language was <strong>the</strong> main form <strong>of</strong> communication. The<br />

fishermen had to understand this. Their catch depended<br />

largely on <strong>the</strong>ir ability to master sign language.<br />

The net was stretched out as wide as possible with a<br />

man holding each end. The o<strong>the</strong>rs remained in <strong>the</strong> boat<br />

as one man steered it towards <strong>the</strong> fish, chasing <strong>the</strong>m in<br />

<strong>the</strong> direction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> net. Both men holding <strong>the</strong> net would<br />

<strong>the</strong>n close in on <strong>the</strong> fish. They would all join in on pulling<br />

<strong>the</strong> net in <strong>the</strong> boat full <strong>of</strong> bonefish. Following this, <strong>the</strong>y<br />

would clear <strong>the</strong> net and prepare for <strong>the</strong>ir journey home.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> early days <strong>the</strong>y did not have <strong>the</strong> luxury <strong>of</strong> a boat<br />

engine. They ei<strong>the</strong>r had to set or skull <strong>the</strong> boat in order<br />

to get back to Conch Ground Bay which was usually not<br />

very far away. When <strong>the</strong>y arrived, <strong>the</strong> boat was docked.<br />

Before being sold, <strong>the</strong> fish was shared. The owner <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

boat (who was usually Banner) received two shares—his<br />

and <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r for <strong>the</strong> boat. Finally, it was time to sell.<br />

Consumers were free to purchase bonefish from any <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> fishermen.<br />

As little boys, we would eagerly await <strong>the</strong> arrival <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> bonefish haulers. It was thrilling to watch <strong>the</strong> boat<br />

come in loaded with fish. We longed for <strong>the</strong> days when<br />

we could participate in this fascinating venture.<br />

The Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs took <strong>the</strong>ir sales seriously. Pa<br />

Fee would be talking at <strong>the</strong> top <strong>of</strong> his voice in an aggressive<br />

tone which was a clear indication that <strong>the</strong>re was<br />

“no credit.” Crowds <strong>of</strong> eager men descended on Conch<br />

Ground Bay to purchase bonefish. This was usually not an<br />

activity for women. Saturday afternoons in South Caicos<br />

became a spectacular occasion for male bonding.<br />

As <strong>the</strong>re was no widespread electricity in South Caicos<br />

at <strong>the</strong> time, freezing fish was not possible. The Jennings<br />

bro<strong>the</strong>rs <strong>the</strong>refore mastered <strong>the</strong> skill <strong>of</strong> preserving <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

fish that was not sold. This was done by a process called<br />

“corning.” They spread salt from <strong>the</strong> local salt ponds over<br />

<strong>the</strong> fish after <strong>the</strong>y were sliced down <strong>the</strong> middle. The fish<br />

were <strong>the</strong>n hung over racks. So for days after <strong>the</strong> catch,<br />

folks could still purchase fish.<br />

The Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs made a major contribution to<br />

South Caicos. They made bonefish hauling a respected<br />

and admirable pr<strong>of</strong>ession. Their names will always be<br />

synonymous with fishing as <strong>the</strong>y made bonefishing an<br />

integral part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> local culture. They will always be<br />

regarded as fishing icons. Their legacy continues as<br />

Banner’s son Willis and his grandboys Dave (Big Cow) and<br />

Gilbert (Snuka) continue to follow <strong>the</strong> family’s tradition.<br />

One can still purchase bonefish from <strong>the</strong>se boys although<br />

not in as large quantities as before. Helen passed on her<br />

baking skills to her daughter Jacklyn, whose popular<br />

bread gained <strong>the</strong> pet name “Mama’s Bread.”<br />

The baking tradition entered its third generation as<br />

Nita, Jacklyn’s daughter, continues to bake bread for<br />

sale. Goo also had three sons who were all involved in<br />

bonefishing—Stanley, Hudson, and Nelson. Although<br />

Hudson and Nelson are deceased, Stanley continued<br />

<strong>the</strong> tradition until he retired. Goo also formed a band,<br />

“Gillette and His Blades” (also called “Goo and <strong>the</strong> Yellow<br />

Teeth Movement”.) The group would play regularly at <strong>the</strong><br />

Admiral’s Arms Hotel entertaining guests.<br />

The Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs made time to be involved in<br />

community and church life. They were also active in <strong>the</strong><br />

local Odd Fellows Lodge and <strong>the</strong> Benevolent Association.<br />

Felix Jennings “Par Fee” made sure buyers knew <strong>the</strong>re was NO CREDIT<br />

when it came to bonefish.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> afternoons after a day in <strong>the</strong> boat, <strong>the</strong>y could be<br />

seen mingling with <strong>the</strong> men on Conch Ground Bay, having<br />

a few drinks and discussing events <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> day.<br />

Benjamin, Felix, Julius (Sr.), Oswald and Julius (Jr.) are<br />

all deceased. They were instrumental in setting <strong>the</strong> stage<br />

for <strong>the</strong> growth and development <strong>of</strong> small businesses<br />

in South Caicos stemming from fishing. The island witnessed<br />

<strong>the</strong> expansion in this industry to include conch,<br />

scalefish, and lobster because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> contribution made<br />

by <strong>the</strong> Jennings bro<strong>the</strong>rs.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 75

astrolabe newsletter <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos National Museum<br />

Being men <strong>of</strong> great physical stature, <strong>the</strong>y utilized<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir strength as needed by assisting people to move <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

wooden houses from one location to ano<strong>the</strong>r. During this<br />

event, <strong>the</strong>y were assisted by <strong>the</strong>ir cousin Lambert Wilson<br />

(Par Lumbie) and Robert and David Adams. During this<br />

occasion, everyone would join in and sing <strong>the</strong> popular<br />

song “Gal le we go down.” This singing made <strong>the</strong> task<br />

lighter. They were also involved in launching big boats in<br />

South Caicos.<br />

As Dave (Big Cow) and Gilbert (Snuka) get older,<br />

<strong>the</strong>re is concern as to <strong>the</strong> future <strong>of</strong> bonefishing in South<br />

Caicos. Bonefishing is becoming more <strong>of</strong> a sports fishing<br />

adventure—catch and release ra<strong>the</strong>r than for consumption.<br />

The concern is whe<strong>the</strong>r someone will take <strong>the</strong> baton<br />

from <strong>the</strong>se grandsons so that bonefishing will remain an<br />

integral part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> South Caicos culture.<br />

Undoubtedly, South Caicos has produced some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

country’s greatest fishermen. Because <strong>of</strong> this, <strong>the</strong> island<br />

has earned <strong>the</strong> distinction <strong>of</strong> being called <strong>the</strong> “Fishing<br />

Capital <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>.” a<br />

Museum Matters<br />


Return <strong>of</strong> cruise ships<br />

Cruise ships returned to Grand Turk on December 13,<br />

2021. We are pleased to have <strong>the</strong> guests return to visit<br />

and learn about Turks & Caicos history and culture. A<br />

very special thank you to visitors who stay in <strong>the</strong> hotels<br />

and vacation rental homes. Their continued support<br />

both now and when <strong>the</strong> ships were suspended helped<br />

keep us open during <strong>the</strong> pandemic restrictions. a<br />

Snip, snip<br />

Grand Turk will once again be hosting a spay and neuter<br />

clinic from April 22 to 29. This project benefits <strong>the</strong><br />

entire community, and we are proud to be able to assist<br />

and host this much needed service. a<br />


The work and improvements to <strong>the</strong> Heritage Garden continue.<br />

We are currently working with The Strand Turks<br />

& Caicos development to safely remove and replant any<br />

vegetation that would have o<strong>the</strong>rwise been destroyed in<br />

<strong>the</strong> process <strong>of</strong> construction. Over 20 species <strong>of</strong> plants<br />

have been identified and we hope to rescue as many as<br />

possible in <strong>the</strong> Heritage Garden. a<br />

Current Days & Hours <strong>of</strong> Operation:<br />

• Grand Turk—Open Monday to Friday; 9 AM to 1 PM.<br />

The days a ship arrives on or after 11 AM, we will open<br />

1 hour after arrival.<br />

Located in historic Guinep House on Front Street, this<br />

location includes exhibits on <strong>the</strong> Salt Industry, Molasses<br />

Reef Wreck, Lucayans, John Glenn Landing and more.<br />

The Heritage Garden’s new clearing includes West Indian Mahogany,<br />

Silver and Green Buttonwood, Gumbo Limbo and Palmettos.<br />

• Providenciales—Open Tuesday and Thursday; 10 AM<br />

to 2 PM. Also open <strong>the</strong> first and third Saturday <strong>of</strong> each<br />

month; 10 AM to 2 PM.<br />

Located in The Village at Grace Bay, this location<br />

includes a Historical Timeline that gives an overview <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> most important dates in <strong>the</strong> history <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks &<br />

Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>. Our residents have descended from a<br />

vast array <strong>of</strong> peoples, and an incredibly rich history.<br />

Additional Exhibits—Slave ship Trouvadore, Molasses<br />

Reef Wreck Artifacts, Sapodilla Hill Rock Carvings. Tour<br />

<strong>the</strong> Heritage House, which is a historically correct recreation<br />

<strong>of</strong> a typical 1800s Caicos dwelling, and <strong>the</strong><br />

Heritage Garden.<br />

Days and times <strong>of</strong> operation are subject to change so<br />

please check our website or Facebook page for updated<br />

information. a<br />

www.tcmuseum.org• info@tcmuseum.org<br />

(649) 247-2160<br />


76 www.timespub.tc

about <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong><br />

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

Bahamas and Hispaniola are available in shops throughout <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>. Visit www.amnautical.com.<br />

Where we are<br />

The Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> lie some 575 miles sou<strong>the</strong>ast<br />

<strong>of</strong> Miami — approximately 1 1/2 hours flying time —<br />

with The Bahamas about 30 miles to <strong>the</strong> northwest and<br />

<strong>the</strong> Dominican Republic some 100 miles to <strong>the</strong> sou<strong>the</strong>ast.<br />

The country consists <strong>of</strong> two island groups separated<br />

by <strong>the</strong> 22-mile wide Columbus Passage. To <strong>the</strong> west are<br />

<strong>the</strong> Caicos <strong>Islands</strong>: West Caicos, Providenciales, North<br />

Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos. To<br />

<strong>the</strong> east are <strong>the</strong> Turks <strong>Islands</strong>: Grand Turk and Salt Cay.<br />

The Turks & Caicos total 166 square miles <strong>of</strong> land<br />

area on eight islands and 40 small cays. The country’s<br />

population is approximately 43,000.<br />

Getting here<br />

There are international airports on Grand Turk,<br />

Providenciales, and South Caicos, with domestic airports<br />

on all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> islands except East Caicos.<br />

As <strong>of</strong> September 1, 2021, all visitors ages 16 and<br />

above must be fully vaccinated and provide a negative<br />

PCR or antigen COVID-19 test taken within three days<br />

<strong>of</strong> travel. (Children under <strong>the</strong> age <strong>of</strong> 10 are not required<br />

to be tested.) Additionally, travellers must have medical/<br />

travel insurance that covers medevac, a completed health<br />

screening questionnaire and certification that <strong>the</strong>y have<br />

read and agreed to <strong>the</strong> privacy policy document. These<br />

requirements must be uploaded to <strong>the</strong> TCI Assured portal,<br />

which is available at www.turksandcaicostourism.<br />

com, in advance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir arrival.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 77

The TCI has expanded COVID-19 testing capacity in<br />

response to testing requirements implemented for travellers<br />

entering <strong>the</strong> United States and Canada. Many resorts<br />

<strong>of</strong>fer on-site testing, along with numerous local health<br />

practitioners.<br />

Language<br />

English.<br />

Time zone<br />

Eastern Standard Time (EST)/Daylight Savings Time<br />

observed.<br />

Currency<br />

The United States dollar. The Treasury also issues a Turks<br />

& Caicos crown and quarter. Travellers cheques in U.S.<br />

dollars are widely accepted and o<strong>the</strong>r currency can be<br />

changed at local banks. American Express, VISA and<br />

MasterCard are welcomed at many locations.<br />

Climate<br />

The average year-round temperature is 83ºF (28ºC). The<br />

hottest months are September and October, when <strong>the</strong><br />

temperature can reach 90 to 95ºF (33 to 35ºC). However,<br />

<strong>the</strong> consistent easterly trade winds temper <strong>the</strong> heat and<br />

keep life comfortable.<br />

Casual resort and leisure wear is accepted attire for<br />

daytime; light sweaters or jackets may be necessary on<br />

some breezy evenings. It’s wise to wear protective clothing<br />

and a sunhat and use waterpro<strong>of</strong> sunscreen when out<br />

in <strong>the</strong> tropical sun.<br />

Entry requirements<br />

Passport. A valid onward or return ticket is also required.<br />

Customs formalities<br />

Visitors may bring in duty free for <strong>the</strong>ir own use one carton<br />

<strong>of</strong> cigarettes or cigars, one bottle <strong>of</strong> liquor or wine,<br />

and some perfume. The importation <strong>of</strong> all firearms including<br />

those charged with compressed air without prior<br />

approval in writing from <strong>the</strong> Commissioner <strong>of</strong> Police is<br />

strictly forbidden. Spear guns, Hawaiian slings, controlled<br />

drugs and pornography are also illegal.<br />

Returning residents may bring in $400 worth <strong>of</strong><br />

merchandise per person duty free. A duty <strong>of</strong> 10% to<br />

60% is charged on most imported goods along with a<br />

7% customs processing fee and forms a major source <strong>of</strong><br />

government revenue.<br />

Transportation<br />

A valid driver’s license from home is suitable when renting<br />

vehicles. A government tax <strong>of</strong> 12% is levied on all<br />

rental contracts. (Insurance is extra.) Driving is on <strong>the</strong><br />

left-hand side <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> road, with traffic flow controlled by<br />

round-abouts at major junctions. Please don’t drink and<br />

drive! Taxis and community cabs are abundant throughout<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> and many resorts <strong>of</strong>fer shuttle service<br />

between popular visitor areas. Scooter, motorcycle and<br />

bicycle rentals are also available.<br />

Telecommunications<br />

FLOW Ltd. provides land lines and superfast broadband<br />

Internet service. Mobile service is on a LTE 4G network,<br />

including pre- and post-paid cellular phones. Most resorts<br />

and some stores and restaurants <strong>of</strong>fer wireless Internet<br />

connections. Digicel operates mobile networks, with<br />

a full suite <strong>of</strong> LTE 4G service. FLOW is <strong>the</strong> local carrier<br />

for CDMA roaming on US networks such as Verizon and<br />

Sprint. North American visitors with GSM cellular handsets<br />

and wireless accounts with AT&T or Cingular can<br />

arrange international roaming.<br />

Electricity<br />

FortisTCI supplies electricity at a frequency <strong>of</strong> 60HZ,<br />

and ei<strong>the</strong>r single phase or three phase at one <strong>of</strong> three<br />

standard voltages for residential or commercial service.<br />

FortisTCI continues to invest in a robust and resilient grid<br />

to ensure <strong>the</strong> highest level <strong>of</strong> reliability to customers. The<br />

company is integrating renewable energy into its grid and<br />

provides options for customers to participate in two solar<br />

energy programs.<br />

Departure tax<br />

US $60. It is typically included in your airline ticket cost.<br />

Courier service<br />

Delivery service is provided by FedEx, with <strong>of</strong>fices on<br />

Providenciales and Grand Turk, and DHL. UPS service is<br />

limited to incoming delivery.<br />

Postal service<br />

The Post Office and Philatelic Bureau in Providenciales are<br />

located downtown on Airport Road. In Grand Turk, <strong>the</strong><br />

Post Office and Philatelic Bureau are on Church Folly. The<br />

<strong>Islands</strong> are known for <strong>the</strong>ir colorful stamp issues.<br />

78 www.timespub.tc

Media<br />

Multi-channel satellite television is received from <strong>the</strong> U.S.<br />

and Canada and transmitted via cable or over <strong>the</strong> air.<br />

Local station WIV-TV broadcasts on Channel 4 and Island<br />

EyeTV on Channel 5. People’s Television <strong>of</strong>fers 75 digitally<br />

transmitted television stations, along with local news<br />

and talk shows on Channel 8. There are also a number <strong>of</strong><br />

local radio stations, magazines and newspapers.<br />

Medical services<br />

There are no endemic tropical diseases in TCI. There are<br />

large, modern hospitals on Grand Turk and Providenciales.<br />

Both hospitals <strong>of</strong>fer a full range <strong>of</strong> services including:<br />

24/7 emergency room, operating <strong>the</strong>aters, diagnostic<br />

imaging, maternity suites, dialysis suites, blood bank,<br />

physio<strong>the</strong>rapy and dentistry.<br />

In addition, several general practitioners operate in<br />

<strong>the</strong> country, and <strong>the</strong>re is a recompression chamber, along<br />

with a number <strong>of</strong> private pharmacies.<br />

Immigration<br />

A resident’s permit is required to live in <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>. A<br />

work permit and business license are also required to<br />

work and/or establish a business. These are generally<br />

granted to those <strong>of</strong>fering skills, experience and qualifications<br />

not widely available on <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong>. Priority is given<br />

to enterprises that will provide employment and training<br />

for T&C Islanders.<br />

Government/Legal system<br />

TCI is a British Crown colony. There is a Queen-appointed<br />

Governor, HE Nigel John Dakin. He presides over an executive<br />

council formed by <strong>the</strong> elected local government.<br />

Hon. Charles Washington Misick is <strong>the</strong> country’s premier,<br />

leading a majority Progressive National Party (PNP) House<br />

<strong>of</strong> Assembly.<br />

The legal system is based upon English Common<br />

Law and administered by a resident Chief Justice, Chief<br />

Magistrate,and Deputy Magistrates. Judges <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Court<br />

<strong>of</strong> Appeal visit <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> twice a year and <strong>the</strong>re is a final<br />

Right <strong>of</strong> Appeal to Her Majesty’s Privy Council in London.<br />

Taxes<br />

There are currently no direct taxes on ei<strong>the</strong>r income<br />

or capital for individuals or companies. There are no<br />

exchange controls. Indirect taxation comprises customs<br />

duties and fees, stamp duty, taxes on accommodations,<br />

restaurants, vehicle rentals, o<strong>the</strong>r services and gasoline,<br />

as well as business license fees and departure taxes.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 79

Economy<br />

Historically, TCI’s economy relied on <strong>the</strong> export <strong>of</strong> salt.<br />

Currently, tourism, <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore finance industry and fishing<br />

generate <strong>the</strong> most private sector income. The <strong>Islands</strong>’<br />

main exports are lobster and conch. Practically all consumer<br />

goods and foodstuffs are imported.<br />

The Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> are recognised as an<br />

important <strong>of</strong>fshore financial centre, <strong>of</strong>fering services<br />

such as company formation, <strong>of</strong>fshore insurance, banking,<br />

trusts, limited partnerships and limited life companies.<br />

The Financial Services Commission regulates <strong>the</strong> industry<br />

and spearheads <strong>the</strong> development <strong>of</strong> <strong>of</strong>fshore legislation.<br />

People<br />

Citizens <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Turks & Caicos <strong>Islands</strong> are termed<br />

“Belongers” and are primarily descendants <strong>of</strong> African<br />

slaves who were brought to <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> to work in <strong>the</strong><br />

salt ponds and cotton plantations. The country’s large<br />

expatriate population includes Canadians, Americans,<br />

Brits and Europeans, along with Haitians, Jamaicans,<br />

Dominicans, Bahamians, Indians and Filipinos.<br />

Churches<br />

Churches are <strong>the</strong> center <strong>of</strong> community life and <strong>the</strong>re<br />

are many faiths represented in <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> including:<br />

Adventist, Anglican, Assembly <strong>of</strong> God, Baha’i, Baptist,<br />

Catholic, Church <strong>of</strong> God, Episcopal, Jehovah’s Witnesses,<br />

Methodist and Pentecostal. Visitors are always welcome.<br />

Pets<br />

Incoming pets must have an import permit, veterinary<br />

health certificate, vaccination certificate and lab test<br />

results submitted at port <strong>of</strong> entry to obtain clearance<br />

from <strong>the</strong> TCI Department <strong>of</strong> Agriculture.<br />

National symbols<br />

The National Bird is <strong>the</strong> Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).<br />

The National Plant is Island hea<strong>the</strong>r (Limonium<br />

bahamense) found nowhere else in <strong>the</strong> world. The<br />

National Tree is <strong>the</strong> Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea var.<br />

bahamensis). The National Costume consists <strong>of</strong> white cotton<br />

dresses tied at <strong>the</strong> waist for women and simple shirts<br />

and loose pants for men, with straw hats. Colors representing<br />

<strong>the</strong> various islands are displayed on <strong>the</strong> sleeves,<br />

sashes and hat bands. The National Song is “This Land<br />

<strong>of</strong> Ours” by <strong>the</strong> late Rev. E.C. Howell. Peas and Hominy<br />

(Grits) with Dry Conch is revered as symbolic island fare.<br />

Going green<br />

TCI Waste Disposal Services currently <strong>of</strong>fers recycling<br />

services through weekly collection <strong>of</strong> recyclable aluminum,<br />

glass and plastic. Single-use plastic bags have been<br />

banned country-wide as <strong>of</strong> May 1, 2019. There is also a<br />

ban on importation <strong>of</strong> plastic straws and some polystyrene<br />

products, including cups and plates.<br />

Recreation<br />

Sporting activities are centered around <strong>the</strong> water. Visitors<br />

can choose from deep-sea, reef or bonefishing, sailing,<br />

glass-bottom boat and semi-sub excursions, windsurfing,<br />

waterskiing, parasailing, sea kayaking, snorkelling, scuba<br />

diving, snuba, kiteboarding, stand up paddleboarding,<br />

mermaid encounters and beachcombing. Pristine reefs,<br />

abundant marine life and excellent visibility make TCI<br />

a world-class diving destination. Whale and dolphin<br />

encounters are possible, especially during <strong>the</strong> winter/<br />

spring months.<br />

Tennis and golf—<strong>the</strong>re is an 18 hole championship<br />

course on Providenciales—are also popular.<br />

80 www.timespub.tc

The <strong>Islands</strong> are an ecotourist’s paradise. Visitors can<br />

enjoy unspoilt wilderness and native flora and fauna in<br />

33 national parks, nature reserves, sanctuaries and areas<br />

<strong>of</strong> historical interest. The National Trust provides trail<br />

guides to several hiking trails, as well as guided tours <strong>of</strong><br />

major historical sites. Birdwatching is superb, and <strong>the</strong>re<br />

is a guided trail on Grand Turk.<br />

There is an excellent national museum on Grand<br />

Turk, with an auxillary branch on Providenciales that<br />

includes <strong>the</strong> Caicos Heritage House. A scheduled ferry<br />

and a selection <strong>of</strong> tour operators make it easy to take day<br />

trips to <strong>the</strong> outer islands.<br />

O<strong>the</strong>r land-based activities include bicycling, horseback<br />

riding and football (soccer). Personal trainers are<br />

available to motivate you, working out <strong>of</strong> several fitness<br />

centres. You will also find a variety <strong>of</strong> spa and body treatment<br />

services.<br />

Nightlife includes local bands playing island music<br />

at bars and restaurants and some nightclubs. There are<br />

two casinos on Providenciales, along with many electronic<br />

gaming parlours. Stargazing is extraordinary!<br />

Shoppers will find Caribbean paintings, T-shirts,<br />

sports and beachwear and locally made handicrafts,<br />

including straw work, conch crafts and handmade beach<br />

jewellery. Duty free outlets sell liquor, jewellery, watches,<br />

subscription form<br />

TIMES<br />

OF THE<br />



One year subscription<br />

$28 U.S. addresses/$32 non-U.S. addresses<br />

Food for Thought provides free daily<br />

breakfast to government school students.<br />

A donation <strong>of</strong> $300 will provide breakfast<br />

to one child for a whole school year.<br />

To donate or learn more please<br />

email info@foodforthoughttci.com<br />

or visit foodforthoughttci.com<br />

Food for Thought Foundation Inc. (NP #102)<br />

perfume, lea<strong>the</strong>r goods, crystal, china, cameras, electronics,<br />

brand-name clothing and accessories, along with<br />

Cuban cigars. a<br />


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Please allow 30 to 60 days for delivery <strong>of</strong> first issue.<br />

<strong>Times</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Islands</strong> <strong>Spring</strong> <strong>2022</strong> 81

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D&Bswift_Layout 1 5/8/18 7:24 AM Page 1<br />





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We’re here to<br />

make your holiday<br />

<strong>the</strong> island way...<br />



Provo & North-Middle Caicos<br />

Office: 946-4684<br />

Amos: 441-2667 (after hours)<br />

Yan: 247-6755 (after hours)<br />

Bob: 231-0262 (after hours)<br />

scooterbobs@gmail.com<br />

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82 www.timespub.tc



Our executive team: (L-r) Senior Vice President <strong>of</strong> Operations Devon Cox; Vice President <strong>of</strong> Corporate<br />

Services and CFO Aisha Laporte; President and CEO Ruth Forbes; Vice President <strong>of</strong> Grand Turk and<br />

Sister Island Operations Allan Robinson; Vice President <strong>of</strong> Innovation, Technology and Strategic Planning<br />

Rachell Roullet and Vice President <strong>of</strong> Engineering and Energy Production and Delivery Don Forsyth<br />

The energy landscape is changing.<br />

And at FortisTCI, we are leading <strong>the</strong> transition to cleaner energy with<br />

innovative solutions, and <strong>the</strong> highest level <strong>of</strong> service to customers.<br />

With sustainability as a guiding principle, we are strategically investing<br />

in new technologies, people and processes to deliver least-cost, reliable,<br />

resilient and sustainable energy to keep <strong>the</strong> Turks and Caicos <strong>Islands</strong><br />

economy moving forward.<br />

At FortisTCI, we are powered by a team <strong>of</strong> energy experts, who are proud<br />

to serve as your energy partners.<br />

www.fortistci.com | 649-946-4313 |

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Each franchise is Independently Owned and Operated.

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