A beautiful partnership: Beaches Turks & Caicos (Sandals Foundation) + Turks & Caicos National Trust

A tree-planting trip to Little Water Cay a.k.a Iguana Island on October 19, 2019:

Sandals Foundation partners with the Turks & Caicos National Trust on efforts to stabilize the beach — and thus protect the iguanas — by planting mangrove trees, which are native to the area.

The Turks & Caicos National Trust and the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) on Saturday, October 12th, called for greater commitment to protecting wetlands, which serve as a critical source not only of biodiversity but also sustainability for local communities.

A wetlands clean-up was conducted at Wheeland Pond in Blue Hills in an effort to promote the wise use and conservation of this habitat which is a major concern among residents because these areas are not only home to many plants and animals but also to a lot of human communities. This vital activity was supported by members of the Tourism & Environmental Clubs of Clement Howell High School, Science Club members of Raymond Gardiner High School, DECR and National Trust staff, and other concerned citizens.

The clean-up also ties in with the current Heritage Month celebration as wetlands are an essential component of our natural heritage.

Additional activity for the day was a bird watching tour at Wheeland Pond to highlight another celebration, International Migratory Bird Day, which is a conservation initiative that brings awareness on conserving migratory birds and their habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere. 

Prior to the above-mentioned activities, on October 5th, the Turks & Caicos National Trust staff conducted house-to-house educational outreach to communities near Wheeland Pond. Wetlands restoration flyers were given to residents.

More community-based actions geared towards protecting and restoring wetlands will follow, including educational tours and lectures, courtesy of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the UK Government’s Darwin Plus initiative which is funding 17 conservation projects worth more than £3.5 million in the UK Overseas Territories to deliver commitments in a 25 Year Environment Plan.

Of these 17 projects, the Turks and Caicos Islands along with two other Caribbean UK Overseas Territories, Anguilla and Montserrat will benefit from one cross territory project to protect four wetland sites. The Turks and Caicos component of the project will focus on the Wheeland Pond in Providenciales. Local conservation partners have identified this wetlands area as a critical ecological site.

Wetlands provide ecological benefits such as providing fresh water and food supply, habitats for biodiversity, protection against floods, and carbon sequestration, which are all essential in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Yet, many people are still unaware of these benefits and have the misconception of wetlands being wastelands.

How you can help:

Volunteer: Participate at our mangroves planting activities, clean-ups, community meetings and other public engagements to sensitize and mobilize communities of neighbouring wetlands to become involved in wise management of such ecosystems.

Give: Your generous donation can help us implement action plans to restore our wetlands.

For more information, contact the Turks & Caicos National Trust at (649) 941-5710/ email info@tcnationaltrust.org or the DECR at (649) 338-4170/ email aavenant@gov.tc.

In keeping with the National Trust’s commitment to create a community throughout the Turks & Caicos Islands that is knowledgeable and engaged in heritage preservation, the organization hosted two camps to cap the summer season; one in Providenciales (from August 12th to 16th, 2019) and another in North Caicos (from August 19th to 22nd, 2019).

Leadership & Cultural Youth Camp

The Turks and Caicos National Trust partnered with the Edward C. Gartland Youth Centre and hosted a camp specifically geared towards the youth aged 13 to 20 years old.  The theme and focus of this camp were youth empowerment, trust, motivation, valued heritage and identities, collective and cultural meaning, among others.  Campers were presented with strategies and activities that were designed to make them think critically about what it means to be Turks and Caicos Islanders, and their role and responsibility to collective community.  Director of TCNT Winema Sanders-Penn taught and challenged the youngsters to become better stewards of history and culture in the TCI by becoming leaders in the community and by protecting the history, culture and environment.  Campers were also  treated to an interactive lecture by Mr. David Bowen, Culture Ambassador, who challenged campers to stay true to their cultural heritage and to the authenticity of TCI culture. He said, “With such a diverse make up of people flocking to our shores for work, and visitors wanting to enjoy the beauty of our country, it is important to identify and give meaning to authentic TCI culture, know what is your cultural identity and what makes you bonafide Turks & Caicos Islander”.  Mr. Bowen then challenged campers to define TCI culture, to which top answers mentioned by the campers included food, dialect and junkanoo.   

Youth participants also visited the Cheshire Hall Plantation and the Turks and Caicos National Museum, where they were immersed in the history, artifacts and daily life of the ancestors who came before them.  Equally important, campers also learned about environmental heritage. Mr. Roddy McLeod of the DECR took campers on a guided tour of the DECR’s museum and gave insightful information and lessons on protecting environment and marine life.   Campers then cleaned up Princess Alexandria National Park, where Rocky (Rock Iguana mascot) made an appearance and cleaned with campers, demonstrating the importance of keeping the environment clean, for generations to enjoy.

Children’s Cultural and Environmental Summer Camp

Children in North Caicos enjoyed a week of fun and informative activities as the Turks & Caicos National Trust, through its main sponsor, Fortis TCI, hosted a cultural and environmental camp.  This initiative was birthed out of TCNT’s efforts to reach the collective communities of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the need to teach our children about their unique cultural heritage, while at the same time having summer fun.

Held at Horse Stable Beach in Whitby, North Caicos, campers were taught interactive lessons and demonstration by local intellectuals, teachers, historians and volunteers.  At the camp, participants got to plant their very own plant, shuck corn and sampled the foods that the ancestors harvested before them. Cultural Ambassador KacyDee Higgs brought samples of corn, peas, grits, cornmeal and other food stuff that are grown locally. On the last day, campers were treated with an old fashion grill pit, where children roasted corn, burgers and smores.

This camp is usually held on Providenciales each year. But next year, the National Trust is planning to extend the camp to Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos children.

Iguana conservation and sustainable management in the Turks & Caicos Islands are making significant strides through valuable partnerships as demonstrated at the Turks & Caicos Iguana Conservation Workshop held from July 16th to 18th, 2019 at Ocean Club in Providenciales.  

Over the three days, a wide range of challenges facing TCI’s iguanas were discussed, as well as communicating and celebrating the successes made since the previous plan. Three key themes were discussed: (1) the overarching Species Action Plan, (2) Biosecurity and invasive species and (3) Ecotourism and Education.

On the last day of the workshop, participants went to Little Water Cay and Half Moon Bay for an informative field trip where they saw some of the challenges first hand.

The next steps will be to pull together all of the key information gathered into a working Species Action Plan, which will be endorsed by the IUCN’s Iguana Specialist Group. This will be used to direct and prioritise future conservation action.

The workshop steered lots of interesting and informative conversations among the different partners and stakeholders in TCI about the future direction for the conservation of TCI’s unique iguanas. Facilitators highlighted the power of working together to achieve more, as it is essential for achieving this conservation ambition.

Staff from the Ministry of Tourism including the Hon. Minister Ralph Higgs and Permanent Secretary Cheryl Ann Jones, were present. The delegation commented, “We were thrilled to be present to witness the work that is undergoing regarding the preservation of the Iguana. The Ministry is supportive of the initiative and consider it highly important that a strategy is in place and also that there is wider awareness and participation. We look forward to receiving further updates and being a part of the process going forward”

This workshop was part of the Saving the Iguana Islands of the Turks and Caicos project, a partnership between Turks & Caicos National Trust, the Department for Environment and Coastal Resources, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Health Department, Ambergris Cay Facilities Ltd, RSPB, San Diego Zoo, Pine Cay Homeowners Associaion and Wildlife Management International Ltd and was funded by the Darwin Initiative.

The Turks & Caicos Islands harbour two remaining strongholds for an endemic, Critically Endangered rock iguana, under threat from invasive mammals and development. Now a partnership of NGOs is working hard to ensure the ‘Iguana Island’ remains worthy of its name.

To gain access to one of the last remaining strongholds of the Turks & Caicos Rock Iguana Cyclura carinata, you’re going to have to get your sea legs. Only accessible by boat, you meander across a turquoise blue channel before stepping off onto a shore that time forgot and where reptiles rule: white sand beaches, wave-worn coralline coast, silver-topped palms swaying in the wind, and mosquito-filled mangrove swamps with floating upside-down jellyfish. Welcome to Little Water Cay, otherwise known as ‘Iguana Island’.

Iguana Island is in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a UK Overseas Territory situated south of the Bahamas in the Caribbean. Managed by the Turks & Caicos National Trust, it is the most accessible place in the world to see these unique rock iguanas in their natural habitat, and therefore has become a significant ecotourism destination, with dedicated boardwalks. The Turks & Caicos Rock Iguana is the smallest of the 14 Cyclura iguana species which have radiated across the Caribbean region, uniquely evolving to the islands they belong to. They are mostly herbivorous, eating vegetation, fruit and flowers, and acts as a seed disperser for native plants.

At 30 cm long, this iguana is the island’s largest (extant) indigenous land animal, but it is in decline. Once abundant throughout these beautiful islands and considered a delicacy by islanders, it is now rarely seen around people and no longer hunted for food. Habitat loss through development, and the spread of invasive species such as rodents and feral cats and dogs, has resulted in the local extinction of iguanas from many islands and continues to cause declines.

Just two strongholds remain: Iguana Island and Big Ambergris Cay, the latter supporting the largest sub-population left in the world. Unfortunately, Big Ambergris Cay is being developed for tourism and although Iguana Island is protected, it has been invaded by rats and feral cats.

There is hope, however. A three-year partnership project between Turks and Caicos National Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK), San Diego Zoo, TCI Department for Environment and Coastal Resources and TCI Department of Agriculture began in April 2017. Funded by the Darwin Initiative, this project is aiming to establish effective controls and biosecurity on Iguana Island and Big Ambergris Cay to provide safe havens for the rock iguana as well as surveying to better understand them.Surveys are being undertaken of other islands for native reptiles and invasive species which will be used to inform where iguanas can be translocated to in the future. Also, a privately funded project will begin in April 2019, aiming to remove all rodents and feral cats from Iguana Island and the adjoining Water Cay and Pine Cay, creating more suitable invasive-predator-free habitat for the iguanas.

One of the most important activities to make this work a success is to improve the understanding of the importance of the project to the country and the role everyone plays in safeguarding these unique creatures for future generations. Turks & Caicos National Trust is leading a public awareness campaign, funded by the EU BEST program, which focuses on raising awareness and pride in Turks and Caicos Islanders of the amazing wildlife only found on these beautiful islands. The Turks & Caicos National Trust, along with ‘Rocky’ the iguana, have been attending events and schools across the islands to discuss the amazing wildlife of the Turks and Caicos and the work that is being done to reduce the impact of non-native predators.

As we move about the islands cultivating an awareness of the plight and an appreciation for the rock iguana, we hope to create a pride in the incredible wildlife of Turks & Caicos and create a culture that will protect the islands’ unique wildlife for future generations to come.

By : Sarah Havery

The Chairman and Board of Directors of the Turks and Caicos National Trust are pleased to welcome Mrs. Winema Sanders-Penn as the new Executive Director of the Turks & Caicos National Trust, effective 3rd June 2019.

Mrs. Sanders-Penn, who is native – born on the island of Grand Turk, was an intern at the National Trust in 2011 where she displayed a keen interest and passion for historical research and heritage preservation.

In 2014 she joined the Turks and Caicos National Trust as the Public Awareness and Education Officer; working alongside with senior officers of the organization in monitoring the heritage sites as well as engaging with schools and youth to spread awareness about the rich heritage of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In addition, Mrs. Sanders-Penn held the post as Director for the Turks and Caicos Islands Red Cross, contributing her skills and experience during and after the 2017 hurricanes. Along with her team, she aided in the Response/Recovery throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Furthermore, Mrs. Sanders-Penn is a proud Turks Islander, devoted and dedicated wife and mother of two.

Commenting on her appointment Mrs. Sanders-Penn stated, “I feel honoured and privileged to have been appointed to the position of Executive Director of the Turks and Caicos National Trust. I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve as a steward, safeguarding the historical, cultural and environmental treasures of our ‘Beautiful by Nature’ Turks and Caicos Islands.”

Inclusive of her passion for the National Trust, Ms. Sanders’ academic background includes a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History, Latin American & Caribbean Studies with a minor in African Studies from the College of Charleston. This background is an asset which will assist the National Trust in attaining its mandate, and develop key initiatives that will bring more awareness to the public, by establishing stronger relationships with stakeholders and the community at large.

The Turks and Caicos National Trust through its “Power of Partnership” initiative launched since 2014, highlighted the concept as one of its key programme strategies for the immediate past institutional year, and has seen fit to continue with the concept in achieving goals in the current year.

Building on achievements accomplished last year, and focusing on the objectives of its Youth Empowerment Programme, the National Trust will be hosting two interns from the Community College on a six week stint commencing May 20th, 2019. The interns are pursuing a course in Hospitality and Tourism Management and represent both the Grand Turk and Providenciales campuses.

The interns will engage in an opportunity to learn policies and procedures deployed by the Trust in managing heritage tourism sites, learn the significance of operational statistics in relation to the work of the organisation and the importance of reaching for excellence in customer service.

The Trust is no stranger to accommodating interns, having hosted interns from the British West Indies Collegiate and US Colleges, but is looking forward to this new experience with the TCI Community College and strengthening of the partnership through other initiatives.

For almost a decade, the Turks and Caicos National Trust has methodically developed a brand that would show case eco- tourism through the programmes of the Trust, whilst simultaneously protecting, preserving and promoting the cultural, historical and natural heritage of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

To learn more about our Youth Empowerment Programme and internship opportunities, contact the Turks & Caicos National Trust at (649) 941-5710 or send an e-mail at info@tcnationaltrust.org.

The Turks and Caicos National Trust is celebrating World Biodiversity Day 2019, and will showcase Turks and Caicos Biodiversity through Art.

The art exhibition will be held at the Salt Mills Plaza on May 22nd, 2019 which is International Biodiversity Day.

‘Preserving Traditional Skills with a Flair of Modernization’ was the theme of a local craft workshop hosted by the Turks and Caicos National Trust March 29th, continued on April 1st, 2019.

Artisans of the twin Isles Middle and North Caicos were presented with an opportunity to showcase their skills in utilizing bits of fabric (scraps) to produce the traditional mats and doilies, but with new creations.

The workshop was held at the Flamingo Pond Visitor Information Centre and Local Craft Outlet facility, in Whitby, North Caicos.

New ideas introduced by the facilitator and attempted by the participants were coasters, dashboard protectors, color coordinated doilies and wall ornaments. The participants were encouraged to produce marketable items which could be displayed at the Flamingo Pond Local Craft Outlet for retail, as well at other National Trust gift shops at the Conch Bar Cave, Little Water Cay, Heaving Down Rock and Cheshire Hall Plantation Ruins Historic Site.

Through its cultural heritage preservation programme, the National Trust encourages the public to buy local, support our artisans and support the preservation of traditional skills.

For more information about this craft workshop and the other related projects, please contact the Turks & Caicos National Trust at (649) 941-5710 or e-mail info@tcnationaltrust.org.

TCNT welcomed students from schools from North and Middle Caicos to Little Water Cay (Iguana Island) for a day of fun, and educational activities.  These students ranging from age 8-18 engaged in activities purposed at teaching them about our endemic ‘Rock Iguana’ as part of our ongoing Darwin+ funded ‘Saving the Iguana Islands of the Turks and Caicos’ project.  These students, teachers and volunteers were toured around the Iguana sanctuary by our highly trained wardens who informed them about bio-security works ongoing on Iguana Island, their role in monitoring baiting stations and recording data.  They also learned about the iguanas’ habitat, got to visit the boroughs, iguana etiquette, and other animal life that call Iguana Island their home.  They also learned about the measures being taken by scientists from around the world to monitor the health, population numbers, movements and how to protect our iguanas. 

The project focused on students from North and Middle Caicos who were surveyed last year to gauge their knowledge of our endangered Rock Iguanas.  These students serve as ambassadors for public awareness campaign and will take part in ongoing surveys and activities.