By David Newlands
Photographs courtesy of David Newlands and Turks and Caicos National Trust
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Visitors to the Turks and Caicos Islands have a rare opportunity to explore a unique national park that is untouched by civilization. Here, they can get a glimpse into what the country would look like if it was never developed and nature existed uninterrupted. While only a short distance from the bustle and development of Providenciales, Little Water Cay—also known as “Iguana Island”—allows visitors to explore the home of an endangered animal that can only be found in the local archipelago—the Turks and Caicos Rocky Iguana. This iguana is the largest native land animal in the country, and while there are various sub-species to be found across the Caribbean, these iguanas can only be found here. Little Water Cay is dedicated to protecting these creatures, allowing them to thrive in peace. This beautiful cay pulls visitors from the trappings of resorts, and grants them a rare opportunity to encounter these beautiful animals as well as many more local flora and fauna up-close.
Located off the northeastern coast of Providenciales, the cay is uninhabited, allowing nature to flourish. It is maintained as a heritage site by the Turks and Caicos National Trust, a local non-profit organization that seeks to safeguard the national, historical and cultural heritage of the islands. Accessible by a short boat ride, this park affords visitors the remarkable experience of walking in a unique biosphere where they can see the iguanas as well as various rare birds and plant life native to the country and which would otherwise be difficult to encounter.
Visitors arriving by boat will be greeted by a small National Trust Welcome Center next to the main dock, where they can purchase tickets for trails and tours, as well as learn about various ongoing projects and the local flora and fauna. The base tickets are only $10, which allows visitors to access the main boardwalk. This elevated wood platform spans the southern coast of the cay, and is often frequented by bolder iguanas. While these local “residents” are relatively shy, visitors can usually get within a few feet of them before they run away, as they are accustomed to human traffic on the boardwalk. Guests are told to stay on the boardwalk, as the soft sands beneath house nests of iguana eggs which are buried, hidden from the naked eye, to protect from predators.
For those who are interested in seeing more than the boardwalk, there is a guided tour on an extended trail which takes you up to the northern shore of the island for $15. This extended trail takes you deeper into the cay, allowing for further immersion into nature. Rather than an intrusive boardwalk, this trail is a packed earth path that weaves through the trees, allowing visitors to enter the seasonal marshlands and mangrove ponds to take a closer look at nature. It is on this trail where those with a keen eye may spot some of the other residents of Little Water Cay, such as ospreys hunting for fish or the various egrets and herons that inhabit the cay.
For an additional $5, guests can visit Half Moon Bay, an expansive beach formed by storms throughout the years and which connects Little Water Cay to Water Cay. Even here, visitors can spot iguanas hiding in the vegetation in the dunes. Visitors may also spot stingrays near the shore, as well as conch a bit farther out. Many tour companies choose to set up picnics here, however, given ongoing efforts to combat invasive species such as rats, who are attracted to trash, these acts are discouraged as they pose potential threats to the iguana population. Even without any food, Half Moon Bay is a beautiful part of the cays where visitors can relax and drink in the cay’s natural beauty.
While this beautiful cay is an ideal attraction for visitors, its primary purpose is actually a scientific one. Working with the Darwin Association since 2017, the National Trust seeks to preserve the critically endangered species of iguanas, and local boas, which have become threatened by the development of the islands. With the sudden development of the country, which has brought in invasive species and domesticated animals, these once dominant local species have come dangerously close to extinction. As such, the National Trust and Darwin Association have been working on preserving the species through various projects. There is also an educational campaign that informs citizens and tourists alike about these animals, and the importance of nature preservations. Ticket proceeds go directly to the National Trust, allowing the organization to operate and continue to preserve the heritage sites of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
If you wish to support the preservation efforts of the local heritage and wildlife, you can visit the National Trust website at www.tcnationaltrust.org. The trust also accepts donations in various sizes, by ways of a tiered membership system. The system is extremely flexible, allowing any and all to help preserve the small archipelago. Visitors that wish to explore Little Water Cay can purchase tickets through many of the local tour companies as well as some resorts. Please remember that these fees go directly towards the preservation efforts, so if someone mentions a free tour, please kindly notify them that the National Trust offers tickets in order to help maintain the cay. In doing so, you will help maintain the natural beauty and facilities of Little Water Cay