Investigating the Coastal Cultural Values of the Turks and Caicos Islands

Funding bodies: Darwin Initiative

PhD affiliations: SAERI, University of Kent,
Department of Environmental Coastal
Sources (DECR) – Turks & Caicos Islands

Project overview

The Turks and Caicos Islands have a rich culture that revolves around the ocean and coastal landmasses from salt raking in the late 1600s to the explosion of a tourism industry that markets sun, sand, and sea and welcomes over a million tourists annually. Currently, there are knowledge gaps in literature and marine spatial planning frameworks on the importance of these landscapes to the local population as well as the cultural values that they invoke. The aims of this project were to determine the coastal area that have cultural value to the people of the TCI and explore the range of values that are present. 33 semi structured interviews were conducted through a stratified purposeful sampling process.

Coastal Cultural values such as lifestyle, heritage, identity, attachment (to place), well being, and aesthetics were explored, and findings showed that interviewees’ idea of self and their heritage are deeply rooted in the coast and the memories that they created in those landscapes. It was also seen that persons are attached to the landscape due to it being aesthetically pleasing and genealogy and generational changes have an impact on the type of values that are expressed as well as areas that are valued. Overall, coastal cultural values have profound meaning to the people of TCI and understanding their role can enhance landscape management for the current and future generations.

Project Objectives

  • Determine the coastal areas that have cultural value to the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Explore the range cultural values that are present. E.g. lifestyle, heritage, identity, aesthetic, well being, etc.

Project Highlights

  • Much of 2021 revolved around data collection and collation for the research project. A highlight for me was travelling to the island of Salt Cay to speak with the residents there. I have lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands for most of my life but have not visited Salt Cay prior. It is one of those places that you only hear about in folk songs or stories about the salt trade or pirates.
  • Salt Cay is the smallest of the Turks Islands and boasts roughly 50 permanent residents, 55 on a good day. Its current population size is inconceivable as it was once one of the most populated islands, with a thriving salt industry.
  • Many of the residents are elderly and remember the salt trade vividly-a time and its hardships foreign to most young Turks Islanders. It was interesting to witness hundreds of years later that the island still had its idyllic charm, and its residents were eager to show me their home and speak about their experiences growing up in such a raw and untouched landscape. The donkeys-that have been on the island for as long as the people have-were equally friendly and approachable. While Salt Cay might be the island that time has forgotten, its history and beauty are most certainly not.
  • Another great highlight was seeing the evolution of the coastal landscape of Providenciales, specifically, the Grace Bay beach area. I gathered photographs of the landscape from the 1980s and listened to interviewees speak about their experiences. Through doing so, I acknowledged that I was experiencing shifting baseline syndrome (SBS). My understanding and memory of that landscape varied significantly from the generation before me. It highlighted how crucial it is to record landscape changes, usage, and the values associated with landscapes.

Oshin Whtye

Supervisors: Robert Fish (lead), Mark Hampton (co supervisor)

Dates: Sept 2020 - February 2022
Ms. Whyte is an Environmental Scientist and Divemaster who has recently joined the Turks and Caicos Islands Governor’s Office as the Environment Policy Lead after undertaking a South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) funded Master’s by Research on the Coastal Cultural Values (CCV) of the Turks and Caicos Islands at the University of Kent. She is well versed in environmental sustainability, environmental impact assessments, and marine conservation and has worked on several projects in the Turks and Caicos including a European Union BEST 2.0 project: Understanding East Caicos KBA’s Corals and Coasts – A Key to Safeguarding TCI’s Future. Ms. Whyte strongly believes that every person has the power to change the world for the better
Left:  Grace Bay 1987
Above:  Grace Bay 2021
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