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Where When How May/June 2017 : Page 154

GO BEYOND PROVIDENCIALES... VISIT OUR OTHER ISLANDS FLAMINGO FEEDING IN THE SOUTH CAICOS SALT PANS PHOTO BY KIM MORTIMER BIRD WATCHING IN OUR SALT PONDS continued from page 176 • • SOUTH CAICOS • • The only settlement is called Cockburn Harbour after Sir Francis Cockburn, a Bahamian Governor officially visited the island in 1840. The town lies on the south west coast, on the largest natural harbour in the country. A small fleet of fishing boats return each day with lobster (in season), conch and scale fish. Three fish processing plants adjacent to the harbour prepare the daily catch for export to the other islands, Haiti, the DR and the United States. South Caicos is well known in the div-ing community for clear visibility, water depths from 20 feet dropping “off the wall” to 7000 feet, with a fantastic array of corals and fishes. Bird watching enthu-siasts will find the best variety of subjects at the Highlands Estate . East Harbour, is host to our Sailing Regatta each May. HOW TO GET TO SOUTH CAICOS By Air: From Providenciales and Grand Turk via interCaribbean. Several flights each day. Visit www.interCaribbean.com. Or travel with Caicos Express Airways. By TCI Ferry: twice a week, leaving from Walkin Marina, Heaving Down Rock. South Caicos is off the beaten path, even more so than North or Middle Caicos. Once the centre of shipping and com-merce in the Turks & Caicos, its’ nick-name, The Big South , was well deserved. Today it is a sleepy island populated by fishermen, their families, and a handful of hopeful and determined resident busi-nesses breathing a great new feeling in the Big South. The Government is finalising airport improvements, East Bay Resort has opened phase one, the island restaurants are busier, classes at the School for Field Studies are fully booked, the fish plants are processing and exporting, and the Big South is still the bonefish capital of TCI. The 8.5 square mile island is shaped roughly like a closed fist, palm upward, with the index finger jutting to the north. That finger is a peninsula of prime real estate where views encompass both the ocean to the east and the shallow, turquoise banks and Bell Sound to the west. The ball of the thumb is a fairly level plateau overlooking the ocean, where the remains of Highland House stand guard and donkeys wander at will. the Boiling Hole being recognised as an area of historical interest with important economical and cultural implications for the island. Besides monitoring closely what happens with the birds over the years to come, maybe we can also look at other salt ponds in the Caribbean for answers. The Caribbean flamingo might be considered one of the emblem birds of the TCI. It owes its pink colour, at least partially, to the carotene contained in the shellfish it feeds on. Indeed salt ponds and the Caribbean flamingo’s fate might be more closely connected than one might think. Bermudians arrived in Inagua in the southern Bahamas via the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1803 and started harvesting salt. The Morton Salt Company was formed in 1848 and is still in operation there today. The Morton Salt Company's main facility comprises of 300,000 acres on Great Inagua. Through careful management, the salt field has been able to stabilise the ecosystem by supporting and pro-tecting naturally occurring plants and animals, even assisting in bring-ing the population of protected Caribbean flamingos back from near extinction. The Caribbean flamingo population has risen from a low of 5,000 to current numbers of 50,000 nesting birds. Nine different Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been designated and recorded by the Bird Life International in the TCI. These areas are considered as critical habitats for bird conservation in the islands and the whole region. While two of the areas include former salt ponds and adjacent creek areas, the salt ponds on South Caicos are not included. Although it is believed that reinstatement of tidal flow at the Boiling Hole would undoubtedly lead to South’s extensive salt ponds needing to be included as an IBA for water birds. I 154 • • • • • MAY/JUNE 2017 “Where When How -Turks & Caicos Islands”

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