National Parks of the Turks & Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands Government created a National Parks system in 1992 to keep these islands "Beautiful by Nature", to protect our precious wildlife, and to preserve the natural habitat of the Islands. At the same time, it is intended and hoped that visitors and residents will be encouraged to explore, learn, and enjoy the beauty and wonder of the islands.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are known for their secluded beaches, and pollution-free and crystal clear turquoise-blue waters. The islands also have pristine, unspoiled reefs and dramatic coral walls. In addition to these features, the Turks and Caicos Islands offer a wealth of history and untouched land for tropical wildlife and flora. The government of the Turks & Caicos Islands has set aside thirty-three protected areas; over 325 square miles of National Parks, Nature Reserves, Sanctuaries and Historical Sites. This may be the world's largest per capita area of land set aside for preservation. A large part (210 square miles) are the wetlands on the South Side of North, Middle and East Caicos (i.e. in the Caicos Bank). These nature reserves have been designated a wetland of international importance and they are afforded protection under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty. These sensitive and ecologically essential wetlands are home to many different intertidal and shallow water flora, water birds, conch, lobster and fish nurseries. The National Parks were designed to protect the scenic environment and wildlife habitats. Every island and cay offers interesting natural and historical sites to visit and explore. The Department of National Parks has devised different classifications for parks:
National Parks are areas that have been set aside for responsible recreational use. Each has special features for visitors to experience.
Nature Reserves were set up to protect particularly sensitive and unique areas or rare species. Development is not allowed and access is limited.
Sanctuaries are important breeding or spawning grounds for wildlife. Entry is by permit only.
Historical Sites are designated to protect and preserve the history and unique heritage of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
West Caicos Marine National Park
A good location for snorkelling and wall diving, close to shore. Also a popular location for underwater photography.
Lake Catherine Nature Reserve
A scenic park on the western coast of West Caicos. There are plenty of flamingoes, ospreys, ducks and waders.
Princess Alexandra Land and Sea National Park
Protected waters between Thompson Cove and Leeward Point, along Grace Bay, offering wonderful reef and wreck diving, a variety of water sports, and a spectacular thirteen mile sandy beach.
Northwest Point Marine National Park
At the northwest point of the island there are tempting deserted beaches. Below the surface of the water lies some of the best wall diving in the world and breathtaking Elkhorn coral stands. You can find black coral, brilliant sponges, rays, turtles, dolphins, sharks and a variety of fish.
Chalk Sound National Park
This striking turquoise inland lake, with hundreds of cays, can be simply breathtaking. A great location for sailing small boats, fishing for bonefish and photography.
Princess Alexandra, Little Water Cay, Mangrove Cay and Donna Cay Nature Reserve
Encompassing the north coast of Providenciales to the north end of Little Water Cay is a protected land and marine area full of nature reserves. A safe sanctuary to wildlife such as iguanas, ospreys, pelicans and flamingos, as well as various tropical flora.
Little Water Cay is 150 acres and has two small interior lakes surrounded by an abundance of native plants and trees. It is home to approximately 50,000 rock iguanas, with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 rare and endangered rock iguanas. Two trails (boardwalks) and signs have been added to Little Water Cay to protect and enhance the cay. As you walk along the boardwalks you can see several species of mangrove and learn about the ecosystems that revolve around them. From the viewing towers, you can see a magnificent osprey's nest, the fringing reef and the surrounding island. Visitors to the cay are asked to remain on the boardwalks to avoid trampling the iguanas' many burrows and underground nesting grounds.
The rock iguana is the largest native land animal. Approximately 50,000 rock iguana remain in the Turks & Caicos Islands, the largest and healthiest population in the Caribbean. Of special interest, there is one particular species that is unique to the TCI.
These reptiles are shy and harmless vegetarians feeding mainly on berries, leaves and fruits. They live in shallow burrows dug in sand or under rocks, emerging daily to bask in the sun's warmth and to feed.
Rock iguanas live for an average of fifteen years, and begin breeding at the age of six or seven. Unfortunately, these docile lizards are extremely vulnerable to extinction and are threatened by inappropriate development, domestic animals and habitat destruction. It is not surprising that these reptiles are now extinct on the settled islands and find refuge only on the smaller uninhabited islands and cays, away from human settlement.
Northwest Pond Point
On Providenciales' northwest coast, this is an important feeding area for migrant wading birds, as well as a breeding site for local waterfowl.
Pigeon's Pond & Frenchman's Creek
On Provo's western coast you will find a nature reserve for wetland shorebirds, and waders, in the tidal flats and mangrove creeks.
Cheshire Hall Historical Site
Located downtown, just off Leeward Highway and next to the Myrtle Rigby Medical Clinic, you may view ruins from a 1790's Loyalist plantation house. Here you can reflect on the British loyalist inhabitants who farmed cotton, enslaved the labourers and transported the cotton to waiting merchant ships. Most of the planters had moved away by 1820, as thin soil, insects and hurricanes devastated their crops.
Sapodilla & West Harbour Bluff Rock Carvings Historical Site
On the southern coast of the island, close to Sapodilla Bay and West Harbour, you can climb this hill to see carvings in rock made by shipwrecked sailors or, possibly by waiting wreckers.
Fort George Land & Sea National Park
Just off the north coast of Pine Cay, you will find cannons from the 1790's in three feet of water. This park is a popular wall diving destination and home to many iguanas and ospreys.
Fort George Historical Sites
Located just north of Pine Cay is the home of the British Fort George, built in the late 1790's.
East Bay Islands National Park
The eastern bay of North Caicos offers a scenic view and a pleasant picnic area. It is also home to beautiful coastal flora as well as numerous shorebirds and waders.
Three Mary's Cays Sanctuary
A sanctuary to flamingos and an osprey nesting site.
Cottage Pond Natural Reserve
A fifty metre deep sinkhole in the north eastern part of the island with a splendid botanical walk. Wildlife of grebes and West Indian Whistling-Ducks (an endangered species).
Pumpkin Bluff Pond Natural Reserve
In the centre of North Caicos, you will find a reserve of flamingos, Bahamian Pintails and waders.
Dick Hill Creek & Bellefield Landing Pond Natural Reserves
On the northwestern part of North Caicos you will find this reserve of West Indian Whistling-Ducks (an endangered species) and flamingos.
Conch Bar Caves National Park
On Middle Caves you will find this extensive cave system with lagoons, bat colonies and Arawak sites.
Vine Point (Man o' War Bush) & Ocean Hole Natural Reserves
Off the west coast of the island you will find a frigate-bird (hurricane-bird) breeding colony. Ocean Hole is a 400 metres wide and 70 metre deep marine sinkhole with turtles, bonefish and sharks.
Admiral Cockburn Land & Sea National Park
Off the southern coast of South Caicos this park has as a large assortment of marine life. This area is an excellent spot for diving.
Belle Sound & Admiral Cockburn Cays Nature Reserves
The area off the northwestern coast of South Caicos offers a sanctuary for bonefish, mangroves, tidal flats, shorebirds, and waders.
Boiling Hole Historical Site
In South Caicos, you will find this remarkable tidal-powered solar salt works, across from the ball park.
Grand Turk Cays Land & Sea National Park
Visitors to the tiny cays lying southeast of Grand Turk will enjoy an undisturbed day of snorkelling and swimming. The Turk's Head cacti dominate Martin Alonza Pinzon Cay, while a rare colony of grandly winged frigate birds rule Penniston Cay. Gibbs Cay is host to a large population of breeding seabirds, including sooty and noddy terns that return to lay their eggs in May and June each year.
Columbus Landfall National Park
Lying 300 yards off Grand Turk's western shore is a wall of underwater delight. The natural coral cliffs drop from 30 feet to 7,000 feet. This underwater park offers a variety of plant, fish and mammals. This is a wonderful park for wall diving. Many believe that Grand Turk was Columbus' first landfall in the new world and thus the park is named after Christopher Columbus.
South Creek National Park
Off the southeastern coast of Grand Turk you will find a natural reserve for birds and marine life in the mangrove swamps and lagoons. These thick mangroves offer a protected breeding and migrating area for shorebirds and waders.
Long Cay Sanctuary
Southeast of Grand Turk, Long Cay is a sanctuary for gulls, terns, iguanas and tropical flora.
Salt Industry Historical Site
Remnants of the solar salt industry (1700's to the 1960's), including salinas and windmills. Historical waterfront buildings including the White House and an old whaling station.
BIG SAND CAY
On this cay, south of Salt Cay, there are nesting seabirds, shorebirds and turtles.
HMS Endymion Historical Site
South of Big Sand Cay and sunken in 1790 in forty feet of water, the mighty HMS Endymion is a 140 foot wooden-hull British warship. Divers can see the remains: cannons, anchors, ballast, bronze pins and copper nails.
French, Bush & Seal Cays
French Cay located at the western edge of the Caicos Bank, and Bush and Seal Cays, at the south eastern part of the Caicos Bank, are home to many species of wildlife. You will find seabirds nesting, a nurse shark nursery, as well as plenty of conch, lobster, frigate birds and ospreys.
Molasses Reef Wreck Historical Site
This wreck site is the earliest known European shipwreck in the Western Hemisphere (pre-1509). You will find artifacts from this wreck in the National Museum.