What Are the Climate Change Impacts on the Turks and Caicos Islands?

27th February 2018 9:58 am

The Turks and Caicos is an archipelago nation in the Caribbean and is especially susceptible to climate change and all that comes with it. This was especially noticeable in 2017, when Hurricane Irma—the first hurricane to make landfall on the TCIs in decades—devastated the Turks and Caicos and was quickly followed by Hurricanes Maria and Katia (when it was a tropical depression), both of which came uncomfortably close.

While category 5 hurricanes are attention-grabbing events, there are actually several more gradual or less obvious ways climate change is impacting the Turks and Caicos and your future trip to this Caribbean paradise.

Higher Sea Levels

Two main mechanisms contribute to observed sea level rise:

  1. Thermal expansion: Many things expand when warmed, and ocean water is no different. As the ocean heat content increases, sea level rises.
  2. Melting of major stores of land ice like ice sheets and glaciers: Ice melt flows off of mountains and land and into the ocean, adding to the ocean volume.

Based on a study published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 68% of recent sea level rise between 1993–2008 has been attributed by melting ice, and roughly one third has come from thermal expansion

Partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, could contribute 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) or more to sea level rise.

What Does Higher Sea Levels Mean for TCI?

Beaches are shrinking—and not just because the sea level is inching higher. Beaches are already shrinking due to beach erosion, which is a naturally occurring event as the lapping of the waves disrupt the coastline and pull sand deeper into the water. With the added rise of sea levels, more of the Turks and Caicos beaches are exposed to water movement.

Man-made techniques such as beach nourishment—whereby sand is dredged from off-shore sources and deposited along otherwise vanishing beaches—may slow the process, but nothing short of global cooling or some other major geomorphic change will stop beach erosion. If this does happen, you can expect the overall costs of visiting the Turks and Caicos to go up.

Warmer Waters

The ocean heat content is increasing. Unfortunately, warmer water is precisely what births the humongous and ferocious hurricanes that we are seeing with increasing frequency each year. In the Northern Atlantic Ocean, hurricane season is defined from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September.

Warmer water in the region means hurricanes can form sooner, with more frequency, and with greater intensity.

What Does Warmer Waters Mean for TCI?


Your first thought is that jumping into warmer waters if great! Unfortunately, you might not get the chance if poor weather disrupts your travel plans. Travellers were stranded all across the Caribbean islands after a hurricane swept through. Scores of flights were cancelled and delayed and cruise boats were diverted.

When the vast majority of Caribbean trips are planned and booked months in advance, hurricanes are a huge unknown. Hurricane season has several months that coincides with vacation season and a trip that you’ve been looking forward to can be easily disrupted.

In September 2017, the United States National Hurricane Center reported that the North Atlantic basin was highly active because four tropical storms formed and they all became hurricanes. They report a higher than average record on the number of tropical storms that developed into hurricanes this year. Two of these four hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hit the islands in the Caribbean.

Once at the Caribbean, both Irma and Maria became Category 5 hurricanes. NASA reported that the temperature of the sea surface in the Caribbean when Irma became a hurricane was 30 °C (86 °F). The required temperature for the development of a major storm is suggested to be higher than 27 °C (80 °F).

Coral bleaching

A defined hurricane season doesn’t mean the Turks and Caicos are off limits, so you’ll still be able to make it to the islands where you can enjoy spectacular diving and snorkeling—in places where coral still survive.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps expel algae that normally live inside their tissues. As the algae provide the coral with up to 90% of its energy, coral will starve after expelling the algae. Above-average sea water temperatures caused by global warming have been identified as a leading cause for coral bleaching worldwide.

In a 2005 study, a rise in the sea surface temperature is thought to have caused widespread coral bleaching in the Caribbean. In this study, researchers evaluate if this increase in sea surface temperature was due to natural climate variability or human activity. They concluded that it would be very unlikely that natural climate variability alone could account for this event.

Climate Change Impact on Turks and Caicos

The climate change impact on the Turks and Caicos will be severe. On September 8, Minister of Infrastructure Goldray Ewing confirmed that damage to Providenciales was extensive, with the northwestern neighborhood of Blue Hill being “gone”. The hospital in the capital, Cockburn Town, was damaged. On South Caicos, 75% of roofs were lost. Total damage is still being evaluated, but believed to exceed the $231 million toll of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

According to socio-economic experts, vanishing reefs can spark hunger, poverty and political instability to regions dependent on revenue generated from their coasts. Since countless sea life depend on the reefs for shelter and protection from predators, the extinction of the reefs would ultimately create a domino effect that would trickle down to the many human societies that depend on those fish for food, tourism, and livelihood.

The coral reefs along the Turks and Caicos’ coasts draw scuba divers, snorkelers and other tourists to seaside resorts and help maintain some of the world’s finest sandy beaches by absorbing energy from waves. Without the reefs, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists could suffer financially.

Many Caribbean countries, including nearby Turks and Caicos, get nearly half their gross national product from visitors seeking tropical underwater experiences.

What Can You Do to Help?

In the foreseeable future, the Turks and Caicos will continue to be a popular destination despite the ongoing changes brought on by climate change, and there are plenty of ways to be a positive influence on the environment, including supporting organizations focused on sustainability.

At Big Blue Unlimited, we are committed to providing you the best adventures with the least environmental impact possible. We keep our adventure groups small to ensure minimal impact while maximizing your experiences on the reef, in the mangroves, or in the ocean.

Year after year, we find new ways to discover the Turks and Caicos and better ways to do so. Our vision is constantly being refined and redefined to ensure a sustainable approach within a viable business framework.

Contact Big Blue Unlimited to learn more about what eco-friendly activities you can do while you’re in the Turks and Caicos or go ahead and book your adventures today.

When is Hurricane Season in Turks & Caicos?

15th January 2018 11:47 am

Due to the nature of archipelago islands and Turks and Caicos’ position within the tropical Atlantic, the islands are at risk of tropical cyclones during the hurricane season. Although they are relatively uncommon, hurricanes have been known to affect the island and are something that travelers should bear in mind when arranging their trip to the area.

Most recently, Turks and Caicos was hit by the two extremely powerful category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, within a number of days of each other in September 2017. In this month the whole Caribbean suffered devastating effects of one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. It is understandable that for this reason, travelers to the region are taking measures to learn more about the hurricane season and how it could affect them in the future.

It is important to note that despite 2017’s events, hurricanes are still relatively uncommon in Turks and Caicos. On average, the islands are directly hit by one hurricane every seven years, and one passes nearby around every two years. When the islands are affected by tropical storms, recovery is undertaken quickly and infrastructure repairs, where needed, progress rapidly to restore the islands to normal working order.

Something that visitors will notice when traveling to the region, is the level of pride and care that the residents have for their islands, how hard they work to preserve them and nurture them again following adverse weather. The team at Big Blue Unlimited are no different and we hold the beauty and nature of our islands in the utmost regard. That’s why we arrange eco-friendly trips and activities to help protect our beautiful environment.

When is hurricane season?

Hurricane season occurs in the summer months in Turks and Caicos. Between June and November is typically the rainy season on the islands, and this is also the season which is most at threat of hurricanes. According to historical data, the risk of experiencing a hurricane peaks in September, and three out of four of all hurricanes will occur between August and October.

Tropical storms and hurricanes can affect all countries in the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the most powerful hurricanes are known as Cabo Verde hurricanes, as they originate off the coast of Africa and pass westwards across the Atlantic Ocean. Although most eventually disappear over the sea, some reach the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

On average, there are generally around 12 tropical storms each year in the Atlantic region. Of these 12, 6 will evolve into hurricanes and of these, 3 will become major hurricanes. It is important to note that of all the hurricanes experienced during each season, most do not make landfall on the Turks and Caicos Islands.

What classifies as a hurricane?

The term ‘hurricane’ occurs when a tropical cyclone surpasses sustained wind speeds of 73mph. The severity of the hurricane is rated according to the Saffir-Simpson scale as follows:

  • Category One: 74 – 95 mph
  • Category Two: 96 – 110 mph
  • Category Three: 111 – 129 mph
  • Category Four: 130 – 156 mph
  • Category Five: ≤157 mph

Between 39 – 73 mph, cyclones are known as a tropical storm and may further progress into a hurricane. Likewise, hurricanes can downgrade into a tropical storm before they reach land. All tropical cyclones begin as tropical depression, where low pressure areas are accompanied by thunderstorms, and produce a circular wind flow which can turn into a cyclone.

What effect do hurricanes have on Turks and Caicos?

Despite what you may initially think, the most damaging effect of hurricanes on the islands is not the high wind speeds alone, but instead the storm surge which occurs as a result of the tropical weather. Almost half of Turks and Caicos land is low elevation, as the islands are made up of many wetlands and saline flats which are close to sea level. There are no mountainous or high-elevation regions on the islands and as a result, the effects of flooding on Turks and Caicos can be severe.

However, one of the natural forms of protection for Turks and Caicos is the level of the ocean floor surrounding the islands. Sitting on a plateau, they are protected from the occurrence of extreme storm surges, which are more common on other Caribbean islands. This natural barrier means that waves do not reach the huge heights that they may do in other regions and the effects of the weather are reduced.

Should you travel in hurricane season?

Even during hurricane season, the occurrence of this type of weather is still very uncommon and many people still travel to Turks and Caicos within the summer months. This season is also known as the rainy period on the islands; the annual rainfall is around 27 inches which, when compared to over 59 inches in Florida, does not seem that much. Most of this rainfall comes from passing tropical storms, as opposed to standard rainfall that inland territories experience.

During the summer season, temperatures peak at around 95⁰C and 35⁰C. Due to the hotter, damper weather and risk of hurricanes, many tour operators and hotel resorts offer largely discounted rates to tourists in the summer, with prices reduced by up to 40% compared to peak season. Thanks to the cost effective travel options, many travelers still choose this time to explore Turks and Caicos, to beat the crowds of tourists and to enjoy quieter beaches and resorts. At Big Blue Unlimited, we experience great visitor numbers all year round, and the summer is no exception. We have a number of activities available that can help you enjoy everything the islands have to offer in the summer.

When the islands are at risk of tropical storms, the American Red Cross app is one of the many resources that can be used for advice and it provides storm updates for travelers and residents. Generally, tourists will have at least one week’s advance warning of any storms that are due and air operators will put on additional flights out of the area to return visitors home before the weather affects the airports.

If you have travel insurance, it is worth checking for a ‘cancel for any reason’ (CFAR) clause in your agreement, which could mean that you can rearrange your trip for another time in the year. If you have not yet taken our travel insurance, you may want to consider including this option to be on the safe side.

What else should you know before travelling in hurricane season?

One of the most notable annoyances about travelling in hurricane season is, in fact, the increased level of mosquitos. Due to high level of rainfall and potential flooding, travelers in the summer months will be prone to bites from mosquitos and no-see-ums. It is therefore advisable to bring a strong bug repellent spray, and carry it on you to top up throughout the day.

Furthermore, due to the hotter temperatures experienced during the summer months, travelers should bring high protection sun block and ensure that they spend time in the shade to protect their skin and take a break from the sun’s harsh rays.

Overall, travelers that wish to visit Turks and Caicos during the summer months often have an enjoyable and relatively cheap vacation, away from the crowds and enjoying beautiful weather. It is important to remember that the risk of hurricanes is relatively low, but suitable precautions such as adequate travel insurance should be taken. To find out more about traveling to Turks and Caicos in the summer months and how to make the most of a vacation to these stunning islands, contact the team at Big Blue Unlimited today.

Filed under: Hurricane, Tourism, Travel

Hurricane Kate – Grateful

1st October 2017 8:54 am

All things considered we must be thankful and count ourselves blessed, lucky and fortunate. We, Big Blue that is, got off lightly as did most of our hurricane katie TCIislands.

The carnage and devastation suffered by our Southern neighbours is by no means beyond the realms of comprehension when looking around our own less fortunate neighborhoods. However, the sheer scale of hurricanes Irma and Maria’s swift, destructive and warlike forces are barely believable. We know it could so easily have been us. 🙏🏽

Here, at home there are many that have suffered similar fates, losing everything with those in Grand Turk and South Caicos especially, hardest hit.

This most active hurricane season is not yet over by any stretch but as the sun begins to shine again and as Maria heads off past the horizon perhaps now the #turksandcaicos can get back to the very real and serious business to continue clearing up while picking up the pieces together.

A winding road lies ahead but we do have excellent infrastructure, public services and supportive government here enabling us to bounce back quickly and to help communities get back on track with all the major service businesses are aiming to be ready come October and November.

As we knuckle down to be ready to share more adventures with our extended Big Blue family this season, it is important that we be grateful for the simple things in life while offering a prayer to those who have really suffered this September. They really have a long, long road ahead. #Barbuda #BVI #Dominica #Puertorico #Cuba #Stmartin #Guadeloupe #Martinique and #Mexico

#tcistrong #hurricaneirma #hurricanemaria #madeofocean #uwphotography #snorkeling #gnarbox #welivetoexplore #unityisstrength

Filed under: Hurricane

Hurricane Maria and the Turks and Caicos

20th September 2017 10:56 am

Historically, Turks and Caicos have been extremely lucky with hurricanes slipping by with minimal damage, but the Turks and Caicos just isn’t getting a break this hurricane season. Shortly after facing the full strength of Hurricane Irma, it looks like we need to prepare for Category 4 Hurricane Maria.

Turks and Caicos in Hurricane Maria’s Path?

As of September 19, the National Weather Service forecasts that Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 hurricane) “is expected to come close to the Turks and Caicos… which is under a hurricane watch.”

The Turks and Caicos Islands Airports Authority announced on its Facebook page today that there “will be temporary suspension of flight operations on Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 at 8:00 pm local time.”

The press release continued that “suspension of flight operations will affect all airports including; Providenciales, Grand Turk, North Caicos, South Caicos and Salt Cay airports.”

Paul Wilkerson, a meteorologist with more than 20 years of forecasting experience, noted on his Facebook page, that as of the most recent data (September 19), “the hurricane will track to the NE of the [TCI]. If it continues west for a long period of time, it will possibly be closer or over TCI.”

According to current forecasts, Grand Turk will see the closest approach of the hurricane while Providenciales and West Caicos experiencing the least affects which is where we are based. Luckily work can continue on re-building the office and getting ready for the season ahead. 


Estimated Timing for Hurricane Impacts:

  • Grand Turk and Salt Cay: Thursday evening after 8 pm
  • South and Middle Caicos: Thursday evening after 9 pm
  • North Caicos: Thursday after 9 pm
  • Providenciales: Thursday after 10 pm
  • West Caicos: Thursday after midnight

Storm Surge Warning:

Wilkerson believes that storm surges will most likely occur on all north facing shores. Grace Bay has already seen large amounts of erosion damage caused by Hurricane Irma’s surges and wave action but as seen with Irma the Wall helped protect the Islands from this surge, and this storm is passing farther north of us.

Estimated Rainfall:

  • Grand Turk: 8-12″
  • South, Middle, and North Caicos: 6-10″
  • Providenciales: 6-8″
  • West Caicos: 4-6″

Maria will in no way be as dramatic as Irma for the Islands, but again this show of power and dominance from nature makes us all feel more humble.

We’ll try to keep you updated on our blog and on our Facebook page, but feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments.

Filed under: Hurricane