The Turks and Caicos Islands comprise about 40 low-lying islands and cays covering 193 square miles, surrounded by one of the longest coral reefs in the world. They are separated by the Columbus Passage, a 22-mile channel over 7,000 ft deep which connects the Atlantic and the Caribbean, contributing to the area’s profusion of marine life. Generally, the windward sides of the islands are made up of limestone cliffs and sand dunes, while the leeward sides have more lush vegetation. The south islands of Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos are very dry, having had their trees felled by salt rakers long ago to discourage rain. The other islands have slightly more rain but very little soil and most of the vegetation is scrub and cactus. The islands lie 575 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, directly east of Inagua at the south tip of the Bahamas and north of Hispaniola.
The main islands of the Turks group, Grand Turk and Salt Cay, shelter 20% of the colony’s 7,901 ‘belongers’, as the islanders call themselves, but only 15% of the total resident population of 19,000, which includes many Haitians, Dominicans and ex-pat North Americans. The rest of the population is scattered among the larger Caicos group to the west: South Caicos, Middle (or Grand) Caicos, North Caicos, and Providenciales, the most populous, known locally as ‘Provo’; Pine Cay and Parrot Cay are privately owned resort islands; East and West Caicos, inhabited from 1797 to the mid-19th century, are now the private domain of wild animals. East Caicos is home to swarms of mosquitoes and wild cattle, while West Caicos harbours land crabs, nesting pairs of ospreys and flamingos. Most of the smaller cays are uninhabited. The people of the Turks and Caicos are welcoming and friendly. The development of tourism on Provo has changed attitudes there, however, and friendliness is not universal.
These days it seems that East Caicos may be up for sale by the Turks and Caicos Government. We keep our fingers crossed that no one develops it and East Caicos continues untouched so that future generations of Turks Islanders know what the islands were like before development took hold of their country.