Rock Iguana Population Thrilling to Experience
Little Water Cay is something to everyone, and for me it’s something different each time I visit. It’s probably one of the more interesting visits for people going to resorts in the Turks and Caicos, and one that should not be missed.
My first visit there was in the late 90’s, when a new hotel (named via a competition of travel agent submissions) invited travel professionals to their opening. As is the case with these things, the date was set for a few months after the hotel opened, and we waited with anticipation, only to learn upon arrival that Sandals had bought the property and would reopen it as Beaches. Provo would now have another luxury resort in Turks and Caicos. That did not slow down our interest in learning about the TCI. One afternoon, we boarded a boat directly from Grace Bay Beach, powered across to a small 116-acre island (with two ponds), and disembarked down a ladder off the bow. We strolled along this deserted beautiful white sand beach with turquoise waters and were greeted by its inhabitants, so many rock iguanas (Cyclura carinata carinata) I could not count them all. I had a flash through my mind that I was on a set of Star Trek. Some were smaller, others were larger, some moved quickly and feared movement from people, while others interacted with us almost like they were pets. Our guide took us along the long raised board walk, and we learned about the variety of species there, their life span, what they eat (Sea Grape and Seven-year Apple), their mating season (early May), hatching period (90 days), natural predator (more on that later), etc. After returning to the boat, we moved off the shoreline and while the guides went diving for conch, the rest of us snorkeled. Our reward was a freshly made conch salad right on the boat.
Little did I know my career would take me from Director to Vice President, to eventually starting a consulting firm advising travel and hospitality clients on their sales and marketing strategies. I opened my doors on April 1, 2003 with three clients, one of them the Turks & Caicos Tourism Board. My first trip back to TCI, I was once again hosted, this time by the government, to Little Water Cay. I had arranged for 10 of the most prominent wholesalers to visit the islands, inspect the new hotels and developments, and experience key excursions the destination had to offer. In this role I was visitor/tourist, but also partially a host. The return visit was equally enthralling, but I felt something different. I did not get that, “here we come to get you” feeling once the boat washed up along Little Water Cay’s shores. In time I asked the guide, while I also inquired about beads I noticed on their crests (which I assumed had something to do to monitor their health). He explained to me that my instincts were partially correct, and that during my first visit there were 10,000 iguanas on Little Water Cay, but now there were 6,000. The “lost iguanas” were stolen, from people who came down from the Miami area, entered the island at night, stole the poor critters, and took them back to the states for sale, largely due to the fact there were several species that were indigenous only to LWC. Their beads had as much to do with security as it did with health, so that if a boat tried to take one now, the iguanas whereabouts would be recorded. Or, so I was told.
The last record I could find was for 2008, where the count was 2,000-3,000 rock iguanas. My most recent experience wasn’t even my own visit. Last summer, I had been on Pine Cay, where one of the few private island resorts in the Caribbean is located. During my few days working there in June, I met some residents doing an internship with the National Trust. Their job was to sit on a boat off shore of Little Water Cay, and record everyone who came onto the island, then turn in their records to be counted against paying tourists. They found a great disparity in the numbers, and their work solidified more funds from the government to ensure safety for the little critters.
I cannot wait to visit Little Water Cay again, especially from The Meridian Club on Pine Cay. Going from one small private resort island with a few people on it, to another small island entirely populated by rock iguanas must be a unique experience. I hope, really hope, to see the numbers of rock iguanas on the rise.
For guests at The Meridian Club, or residents of Pine Cay, simply go by the front desk and inquire about a tour. They usually try to group interested parties together, thus the days and times of the tours, and sometimes the price per person, can change.
Melanie Alexander has been to over 75 countries and looks forward to her visits to Pine Cay as a great chance to monitor the Iguana population at Little Water Cay.