WILDLIFE ON SOUTH CAICOS
South Caicos and its nearby cays and waters are an amazing place to see all manner of wildlife. The fauna includes such amazing animals as the migrating humpback whale, hawkbill turtle, great flamingo, ospreys, rock iguana and even wild donkeys. The flora is low lying and predominantly classified as deciduous shrubland and dwarf shrubland. The mangrove wetlands along the southern side of South Caicos and around the cays to the north of the island are some of the most vibrant in the archipelago.
The salt ponds of South Caicos provide for some great bird watching. Although they can flock in large numbers, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to view the pink flamingos as they tend to shy away when approached. Egrets, plovers, sandpipers, and stilts are all common sights in the salt ponds, and the extensive wetlands to the north provide habitat for numerous bird species as well. Ospreys can be counted at regular intervals along the coastal cliffs and stand like sentinels watching over the water below. Another treat is the Magnificent Frigate birds that often circle overhead, especially in the harbour when the fishing boats return.
Donkeys were introduced into the Turks and Caicos Islands in the eighteenth century to be used as work animals in the growing salt industry. They were also used to pull railway carts on East Caicos where sisal and guano mining enterprises were set up in the late nineteenth century. The bat guano was found in remote caves on East Caicos and exported for use as a fertilizer on neighbouring Caribbean sugar plantations.
The donkeys were left to fend for themselves on East Caicos when these enterprises came to a halt and the island was abandoned. On South Caicos the donkeys were also left to run wild as motorized machinery came into use and the salt production slowed down. The population of donkeys on these islands are wild and tend to avoid people. The donkeys on Salt Cay and Grand Turk, by comparison, often seek out human attention and love of good scratch or a free meal. The residents on these islands know to keep their gates firmly closed lest they lose their laundry or other belongings.
South Caicos is known as the fishing capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands. There are two commercial processing plants on South Caicos that cater to the intake of conch, lobster, and fish. The proximity of South Caicos to the deep ocean and a variety of habitats including extensive wetlands, shallow and deep reefs, and the grass beds across the sheltered Caicos banks all combine to make the waters rich in life.
As well as the corals and the diversity of fish and invertebrates they host, it is common to see rays, sharks, and turtles when exploring around South Caicos. Snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking all provide amazing access to view this marine life first hand and are available on South Caicos.
Each year the humpback whales of the North Atlantic Ocean migrate between their northern feeding grounds and the warmer Caribbean region where they mate and give birth. They journey in different groups and can be seen throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands, on the Silver Banks, and around the coast of the Dominican Republic between mid-January to early April.
While whale watching is not a primary activity on South Caicos, Humpback whales can be seen in the nearby deep water or in the remote southern banks. It is always worth keeping an eye out for them when on the water. You never know when the simple sighting of a whale’s breath or pectoral fin can turn into an amazing encounter.
The attractive indigenous rock iguana lives on many of the uninhabited cays around the Turks and Caicos Islands. They diet on leaves and berries although can occasionally be opportunistic feeders. Nearby Long Cay National Park is a great place to see the iguanas where they will approach visitors hoping for an easy snack. The Cockburn Land and Sea boat trip visit this island, and it is also possible to see them on small Iguana Cay near Jacksonville during the Joe Grant’s Cay and East Caicos boat adventure.