Turks and Caicos Islands

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The Turks and Caicos Islands is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. It is at the southeastern end of the Bahamas archipelago and north of the nation of Haiti.


The territory includes about 40 islands, including East Caicos, Grand Caicos, North Caicos, Providenciales, South Caicos and West Caicos on the Caicos Bank, and Grand Turks and Salt Cay in the Turks Islands. The two groups of islands are separated by the Turks Island Passage. The territory has a land area of 948 square miles.

Like the rest of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands are low lying. The highest point of land in the territory, on Providenciales Island, is only 49 meters above sea level.[1] The low-lying parts of land are marine limestone, high parts of the vast submerged marine limestone platforms that have (geologically) recently been raised above sea level. The limestone is at least 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) thick, all of which has accumulated in the past 200 million years. The higher elevations on some islands were produced as sand dunes, the older of which have cemented into a type of limestone locally called 'plate rock' or 'flint rock'.[2]

The Turks and Caicos Islands have a marine tropical climate. All of the territory is affected by trade winds, blowing primarily out of the northeast to southeast, with few calm days. The islands are also affected by hurricanes, although less frequently than the rest of the Bahamas. Annual average rainfall is less than 800 mm.[3]

The aboriginal vegetation on the Turks and Caicos Islands was very dry tropical forest. Most of the tropical hardwood trees of the aboriginal forest have been logged off for the lumber and dyewood trades. The remaining forests have low canopies (two to three meters) and fewer species at any given location. Introduced coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) and Australian pines (Casuarina litorea) are common.[4]


The estimated population of the Turks and Caicos Islands was 22,942 as of July, 2009. Ninety percent of the population is classified Black.[5]


The first inhabitants of the Turks and Caicos Islands were the Lucayans, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Tainos of the Greater Antilles. Around 800, or possibly a century earlier, Tainos began crossing in dugout canoes from Hispaniola and/or Cuba to the Bahamas. The Tainos may have reached Great Inagua or other other islands to the northwest before arriving in the Turks and Caicos Islands.[6]

Following the depopulation of the Bahama Islands in the early 16th century due to Spanish slave raiding, the Turks and Caicos Islands remained uninhabited until 1668, when people from Bermuda started harvesting salt there. Bermuda regarded the Turks and Caicos Islands as theirs, with the salt from there vital to the economy of Bermuda. Bahamian attempts to tax the salt trade between Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands brought the two British colonies close to war at the beginning of the 18th century. The French also showed interest in the Turks and Caicos Islands during the 18th century. At the end of the Seven Year's War in 1764 the French fleet was supposed to be withdrawn from the West Indies, but the French admiral, Comte d'Estaing, briefly occupied Grand Turk. In 1770, when the British government and the Royal governor in The Bahamas ordered the Bahamian Assembly to tax the salt trade in the Turks and Caicos Islands even though those islands were not represented in the Assembly, it refused to do so. A new Assembly did pass the taxes the next year, but enforcement remained uneven and smuggling flourished.[7][8]

The French returned in 1783, seizing the Turks Islands and holding out against an attack by Admiral Hood's West India Squadron, but the islands were returned to Britain later that year by the treaty ending the American Revolution. The Turks and Caicos Islands were given seats in the Bahamian Assembly in 1799, and the British government finally ruled in 1803 that the Turks and Caicos Islands belonged to The Bahamas. Bahamian rule remained unpopular in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The salt tax produced a quarter of the Bahamian government's income, but the Turks and Caicos received little back in services. The price of salt fell by by more than three-quarters during the first half of the 19th century, but the tax per bushel remained the same. The mail boat from Nassau arrived only four times a year; the Turks and Caicos were in more frequent contact with Great Britain and Jamaica. After several petitions from the islands, Great Britain separated the Turks and Caicos Islands from the Bahamas in 1848, placing the territory under the Governor of Jamaica.[9][10]

The Turks and Caicos Islands became a separate crown colony of the United Kingdom in 1962 when Jamaica received its independence. The colony was placed under the oversight of the Governor of the Bahamas in 1965, and resumed status as a colony directly under the United Kingdom when the Bahamas became independent in 1973. Great Britain promised independence for the Turks and Caicos, but has not carried through the plans. In 2009 the British government suspended the Turks and Caicos government, imposing direct rule.[11]


  1. CIA World Factbook
  2. Albury. pp. 6-7
    Craton. p.11
    Keegan. p. 20
  3. Keegan. p. 27
  4. Keegan. pp. 28-32
  5. CIA World Factbook - Turks and Caicos Islands
  6. Keegan. pp. 48-62
  7. Albury. pp. 194, 196
  8. Craton. pp. 130, 134, 136-138
  9. Albury. p. 196
  10. Craton. pp. 138, 144, 146, 209-10
  11. CIA World Factbook - Turks and Caicos Islands