On Providenciales, many of the wetlands have suffered severe environmental degradation, as a result of rapid development for real estate and tourism, although areas of value remain through the protected area and National Parks system. An even greater threat to the natural environment is posed by the proposals for large-scale developments on the uninhabited islands, currently prime habitats for endemic species such as rock iguana and the remaining breeding sites for turtles.

Bahama woodstar hummingbird (endemic to TCI and the Bahamas), feeding on nectar from the flower of a cactus. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Bahama woodstar hummingbird (endemic to TCI and the Bahamas), feeding on nectar from the flower of a cactus. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Threats to TCI’s natural environment include: rapid and poorly regulated built development, invasive species, deforestation and habitat loss and sea-level rise due to climate change.

It is commonplace for physical developments to fail to take account their potential impact on biodiversity. This has resulted in significant damage to fragile habitats. Although not mandatory, environment impact assessments are binding commitments in the Environment Charters; if done by qualified persons and conducted in a transparent way can be helpful to developers and actually save them money.

Cuban crow, endemic to Cuba and the Turks & Caicos Islands, eating lizard. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Cuban crow, endemic to Cuba and the Turks & Caicos Islands, eating lizard. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Proposals for large-scale developments on the uninhabited islands are a persistent threat, for example on East Caicos, part of the Ramsar Site and prime habitats for endemic species such as all 9 species of endemic plants, breeding sites for seabirds and turtles. So are developments which are unlikely to have real economic benefits and which would be detrimental to the environment and TCI’s reputation, e.g. a proposed dolphinarium on Grand Turk.

Invasive species are a major threat to the native fauna and flora of the island. TCRF is tackling the invasion of lionfish with sponsored tournaments. Other threats on land include the Casuarina or Australian pine, which sadly has spread over much of the islands where the ground has been disturbed, often on sites where the developments have not been finished. This species shades out native plants and poisons them by secretions from its roots.

Other introduced pests, such as the scale Toumeyella parvicornis, probably introduced by importation of Christmas trees from the US, have had a devastating impact on native flora.

Caicos pine house on North Caicos

Caicos pine nursery on North Caicos. Copyright: UKOTCF

In particular, the Caicos pine, Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis, endemic to TCI and the Bahamas, has been heavily impacted. This species, which is the National Tree, occurs naturally in specific zones in Middle Caicos, North Caicos and Pine Cay. It is the dominant species of the pine forest ecosystem that covers about 13 km² in the TCI. The Caicos Pine Recovery Project (CPRP), a joint initiative between DECR and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, aims to build capacity and awareness to save this national endemic and threatened tree.

Decline of fish stocks (particularly spiny lobster and conch), as a result of habitat loss in the marine environment and overharvesting, will impact the livelihoods of the coastal communities in TCI. Furthermore, traditional fishing practices on the island include a legal directed and opportunistic turtle fishery that takes approximately 700 green and hawksbill turtles per year. The Marine Conservation Society has been working with local fishermen on TCI for over a decade to engage stakeholders fully in developing a durable turtle fishery management plan that includes appropriate measures for the Islanders’ traditional use of turtles and which facilitates protection of the larger size-classes and breeding adult turtles in TCI waters. This has resulted in legislation developed with stakeholder views considered. The ‘Size Matters’ campaign aimed to ensure minimum catch size to ensure juvenile sea-turtles are not caught. 

Turtle Hatchlings- Katharine Hart

Sea turtle hatchling make their journey towards the sea.  Copyright: Katharine Hart

Deforestation of dry forests continues, mainly for charcoal production and building materials for extremely poor, but nevertheless illegal, immigrants from neighbouring Haiti.

The high percentage of land lower than 50 m above sea-level means that TCI’s largely coastal community, as well as much of its wildlife, is extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise cause by climate change.

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