The Turks and Caicos islands are one of the top destinations for travelers and vacations—for good reason too. The islands have beautiful beaches, temperate waters, and stunning coral reefs. It’s the very picture of paradise.
Countless animals think the same thing and have done what many tourists hope and dream of doing. They call the Turks and Caicos islands home.
In fact, many biologists and ecologists view the Turks and Caicos islands as a biodiversity hotspot. The United Kingdom archipelago territory is home to many native land and marine organisms as well as introduced species beginning from the days of the Caribbean’s earliest salt-pan establishments.
The United Kingdom and Turks and Caicos Islands Governments share responsibility in conserving and preserving the nature reserves. The natural ecosystems are so well regarded that the United Kingdom has placed the islands on their list for future UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
While many Turks and Caicos vacations are geared towards luxury retreats and water activities, there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to enjoy the natural beauty while learning about the island’s wildlife and delicate ecosystems at the same time.
Here are some wildlife visitors can hope to see during their Turks and Caicos vacation.
Land Animals of the Turks and Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos islands are home to the critically endangered rock iguana. It is the largest indigenous land animal still alive, but with only about 50,000 left in existence.
The best place to see the iguanas is Iguana Island (or Little Water Cay) near Providenciales. While it’s possible to kayak to Iguana Island from Providenciales, you can also hire private charter boats to take you there.
Birds of the Turks and Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos islands are common nesting sites for a variety of birds with over 200 species of birds observed on the islands. Each of the seven major islands and 40 smaller islands and cays have their own unique terrain and ecosystems so birdwatchers will see different birds depending on what type of habitat they are observing from.
Because the Turks and Caicos islands are relatively free of development, most of the birds on the islands are not used people. While the Turks and Caicos resorts will see the occasional green heron or cattle egret, the most avid birdwatchers will want to travel to some of the more remote areas of the islands to spot larger wading birds and the less common species.
The islands and cays hold a variety of ecosystems, which creates a huge spectrum of niches for birds to fill.
The ecosystems include:
- Beaches, coves, and tide pools
- Mangrove forests
- Inland saline ponds
- Rocky cliffs
While the vast majority of the birds are skittish and tend to avoid humans, there are some great ways to get close enough for photographs. For wetlands like marshes or mangrove forests, kayaking or stand up paddleboarding is great way to get around. Kayaks and stand up paddleboards are quiet, unobtrusive, easily navigable, and extremely eco-friendly. You’ll see the unique mangrove cuckoo, West Indian whistling duck, several varieties of herons, and more.
Biking is great for inland birdwatching sites, especially for places within North and Middle Caicos islands. You’ll be able to see flamingos, antillean nighthawks, gnatcatchers, and more.
Marine Animals of the Turks and Caicos Islands
It’s no surprise that marine animals are one of the highlights of the Turks and Caicos islands. There are countless snorkel and dive sites that practically opens a whole new world for you to explore. While there are too many species to list, some notable marine life you may encounter include sharks, barracudas, lionfishes, sea turtles, and coral.
The barrier reef is absolutely teeming with fish, rays, coral, sponges, and more. Obviously, snorkeling and diving are the best ways to get close, but you can also see marine life above the water line. Sea kayaking and stand up paddleboarding or alternatives if you don’t want to get your hair wet. They’ll also make it less intimidating when you encounter sharks.
While a bad reputation still hovers around sharks, sharks are absolutely necessary for a healthy Caribbean environment. You’ll find grey reef sharks around the barrier reef and nurse sharks and lemon sharks in the wetlands.
Turks and Caicos has an amazingly low shark attack rate despite the number of sharks in the area. There have been only three recorded shark attacks on humans in the Turks and Caicos, and none of those cases resulted in loss of limbs or fatalities.
Whales of the Turks and Caicos Islands
If you’re lucky enough to have a Turks and Caicos vacation between the months of November and April, you’ll have a chance to encounter dolphins and the migrating humpback whales!
These are superb times for whale watching. Many boats are on the lookout for whales during this time and will happily take their divers to a nearby sighting, giving them the rare chance to swim and dive with the whales.
During this time, humpback whales are migrating to their feeding grounds near the poles from their nursery grounds in the tropics. So not only does this mean you might be able to see a humpback whale, you might a mother with a calf!
Best Ways to Spot Wildlife on Turks and Caicos
Exploring the natural reserves and spotting land and marine life are excellent eco-friendly things to do in Turks and Caicos, and there are several ways to do it.
We’ve mentioned kayaks, stand up paddleboards, kayaks, charter boats, diving, and snorkeling. They each have their strengths in spotting wildlife, but it really depends on what kind of habitats you want to explore.