Smallest inhabited island in the Turks and Caicos threatened by vanishing harbour

Post hurricane: Seawall gone

By Thaleia Myōōz
Caribbean News Now contributor

SALT CAY, TCI — Most of the Caribbean is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria; but there is a tiny island in the archipelago chain of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) that has yet to receive assistance and is in desperate need of aid in multiple areas.

Salt Cay, which is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the TCI, is a triangular island measuring less than 2 square miles, and is covered largely by salinas dating back to the salt raking days. Salt Cay was pounded by category 5 Irma on 7 September 2017 and two weeks later category 3 Maria slammed it again.

The storms wreaked havoc on the north seawall, causing severe damage and compromising the harbour, which is the life support of the tiny island. The harbour is where the ferry from Grand Turk docks with food and supplies, and it is now filling with sand from the constant surge, making it difficult to get boats in and out safely.

With the recent sea surges continuing to bash the north side, the harbour will soon be gone. If the ferry cannot come into the harbour with supplies, the residents will be unable to receive food and materials to sustain everyday life.

Post hurricane: Seawall gone

A source said the government of the TCI wants to spend $700,000 to do a study to see what is needed instead of spending a fraction of that cost to repair the sea wall now. At a town hall meeting in December, Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson asked the residents what Salt Cay’s number one problem was. The response was unanimous: repairing the seawall was the first priority.

Nevertheless, at the time of writing, nothing has been done to help.

The harbour is also where the dive boats, whale watching boats, and local fishing boats are moored. If the harbour fills with sand, they will not be able to get in or out either.

Post hurricane: Coral gardens and seawall gone

The people of Salt Cay want and need the government to take action now and save their harbour. The residents are desperate and are reaching out to every source they know.

According to residents, the airport has no water, no working bathrooms, and the roof and walls are severely damaged. One resident said, “Tourists as well as employees are told to pee in the bushes.”

Tourists come from all over the world to visit this tiny jewel because of its remoteness, pristine white sand beaches, quaintness, unpaved roads, and undisturbed beauty. The North Atlantic humpback whales migrate past the island every year, bringing in tourists who want to experience these majestic creatures.

No harbour means no boats and no whale watching. With tourism being the only source of income, it is critical that something be done immediately to save this.

Pre-hurricane seawall

This tiny island and its people need other help as well. According to several residents, there is no working reverse osmosis system on the island and they have no way to obtain potable water other than collecting rain water. The government cisterns are still contaminated from the two storms and the island is out of water again. This is life threatening to the 40-plus full time residents who live there.

The surge is washing away the supports of one of the two cafes on the island, Coral Reef Café, which is a popular tourist spot, has lost two-thirds of its seating deck due to the loss of the seawall.

“The dump fences are down, which is causing trash to spread across the island,” said one resident.

Pre-hurricane seawall

The TCI’s brand is “Beautiful by Nature”, but the beauty is being lost to nature due to the lack of action by the government.

The unanimous voice of the people of Salt Cay is that they need help urgently and they don’t feel like any government body cares. Will they save Salt Cay?



  1. I’d say more than 40 people live there, in the late 90’s it was about 230. The Brits want to talk about it , forget any action.. For British civil servants the job assignment is a vacation. They give the local elected officials very little freedom to run the country and this is what you get…

    • The number count came from a resident on the island; 20 years ago I’m sure there were 230 residents. According to sources on the island, many residents have moved to Grand Turk or one of the other islands because of the lack of help from the government. The first priority needs to be to fix the harbour wall and then make steps to repair the many other issues that the residents, expats, and tourists have to overcome to be there. As a journalists, I hope the exposure puts pressure on the government to take action…soon!

    • More than twenty years ago there probably were 230 or more residents living on Salt Cay. But according to residents on the island, many have moved to Grand Turk or one of the other islands due to the harsh conditions and lack of assistance from the government. As a journalist I can highlight the issues and make them public and hope that the government will see that action is not only necessary, mandatory. When speaking to local residents, expats, and tourists, the consensus is the same; Salt Cay is special, but it needs help. The harbour wall first, the runway, the ROS plant for fresh water, and promoting tourism for the island. It seems like Providenciales and Grand Turk get the majority of the attention with North, Middle, and South getting the rest. I will reach out to someone much higher than the Premier next to see if some attention can be brought to the people who need it.

  2. There is no personal gain for TCI politicians to save Salt Cay.

    Here in the TCI our politician’s total focus is “how can I gain”. If there is “no personal gain” for the politicians, it won’t get done. CASH is what gets things done in the TCI and there is no CASH to gain on Salt Cay.

    OR: hire one of the Premier’s “close friends” as a “consultant”, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    • There actually is “gain” for the politicians. Salt Cay has so much history and can bring in tourism based on that history which in turn funds the TCI government. According to residents there and tourist, it is the unspoiled nature of the island which gives it its charm. If the government would take action and fix the wall, make necessary repairs to the runway so InterCaribbean could land there, and promote the islands uniqueness, tourism would improve. Someone sent me a live video clip of the Premier doing a press conference saying she hasn’t forgotten about Salt Cay…but it sure seems like it. Talk is cheap…actions will tell the truth of the government’s intentions.

  3. Problem solving 101!
    1. Define the problem; they have, the harbor is filling with sand.
    2. Take interim actions, fix the sea wall now.
    3. Identify potential causes.
    4. Determine root cause.
    5. Determine and verify solution.
    6. Implement permanent solution.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here