The environmental splendour and rich wealth of flora and fauna in the Turks and Caicos never fail to thrill our visitors. That’s part of the reason that the Big Blue Collective make ethical, non-destructive tourism such a keen focus of our ethos and beliefs. You may not realise how much of the ecological beauty of the area is tied to our gorgeous, but infinitely delicate, barrier reef- but that’s what we’re here to share with you today. Read on to learn a little more about this fascinating feature of our crystal-clear seas- you’ll be left amazed and humbled just as we are, we’re sure!
What is the Turks and Caicos barrier reef?
It’s no secret by now that the unique geography of the TCI plays a huge part in creating the remarkably still, warm waters and beautiful beaches we love so much (and bringing us the dazzling whale season too). That same calm water, coupled with our vigorous, cooling trade winds, is what makes the TCI such a great place for kiteboarding and other water-and-wind adventures.
A key player in this unique ecological magnificence is the offshore barrier reef lying just inside Grace Bay. Barrier reefs are simply submerged banks of coral lying close to the land without ever actually touching the shore, and they help shape the way the sea caresses the beaches and bays of the island. These awe-inspiring structures are made by the actions of millions of tiny little creatures called coral polyps. Each minute organism will measure mere centimetres across, but collectively the limestone-calcium skeletons they leave behind combine to form miles and miles of the reef for you to explore. If the reef were weighed, it would be in tons- no mean feat for such a small creature!
Our barrier reef really is an exceptional creation- it’s the third largest in the world, and sometimes called the ‘junior Great Barrier Reef’! The reef continues to expand by slow centimetres each year, which goes to show the immense age of what meets the eye today. Exploring here is, quite literally, a trip back into the Turks and Caicos’ prehistory.
Why is the TCI barrier reef so very special?
You may be asking why the Turks and Caicos barrier reef is so unusual, though? Around 60 distinct coral ‘species’ can be found on the reef, with evocative names like ‘staghorn’, ‘brain’ and ‘sea plume’. These collectively play home to a magnificently broad range of marine animals, from the flamboyant flamingo tongue snail to the yellowtail snapper and lobster (beloved of fisherman) and even barracuda and endangered sea turtles.
The Turks and Caicos National park system includes large stretches of our offshore waters, making the ‘parks’ very unusual indeed, and this careful curation and oversight has ensured the reef remains safe and pristine, free from the threats approaching the Australian Great Barrier Reef itself and many other reefs worldwide. You won’t find as beautiful, as safe and as unharmed a reef anywhere else.
How can I enjoy the barrier reef for myself?
This important environmental management doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the reef for yourself, however! The barrier reef is one of the world’s ultimate diving and snorkelling destinations, all a mere step or two from the beauties of Grace Bay Beach and the other islands. Advanced divers love exploring the dramatic drop of the underwater shelf surrounding the islands, known as the Caicos Bank, but there are dive sites aplenty here no matter your skill level. Stay in the Bay, head out to Northwest Point Marine National Park or Grand Turk’s Columbus Landfall National Park to chance seeing whales at play (in season). Looking for something a little different? Step off the beaten track at Pine Cay in West Caicos for stunning displays of gaudy topical fish and even the occasional eagle ray or nurse shark for added thrills.
Nowhere else in the world offers the diversity and wealth of snorkelling sites that the TCI boasts. The famous Smith’s Reef site, part of Providenciales’ Princess Alexandra National Park, even has underwater placards in place to guide you through the site- it’s like the world’s most interesting botanical garden! Bight Reef also has a coral trail laid for you to follow.
While there aren’t any parts of the TCI’s barrier reef that lay above the water, you can also consider taking one of our tailored private charter boat tours out to the far side of the reef. If you’re in the mood to simply relax and unwind on the deck, the crystal clarity of the water will give you a remarkable view of the sea life flashing busily beneath you, and all our boats come fully equipped with top-end dive and snorkelling equipment for the more adventurous members of the party.
Even if you’re not keen to head out into the water for some fun, you can still experience the calm, still water that laps the beaches and have your own slice of the barrier reef experience. It’s the reef itself that helps maintain those turquoise warm waters with the clarity and beauty they are famed for, filtering and cradling the inland water.
We hope we’ve piqued your interest in the fascinating world of the Turks and Caicos barrier reef. Whether it’s a drive to learn more about the gorgeous marine life it supports, your love of diving and snorkelling or just for fun and play, it’s a can’t-miss part of the TCI experience. Let the Big Blue Collective help you discover the very best of the TCI’s hidden secrets. With local knowledge and decades of experience to call on, we’re here to craft you the holiday of a lifetime.