Turks Caicos Information

‘Is It Safe to Touch Coral?’ and Other Questions About the Caribbean

Smith's Reef Turks and Caicos
Smith’s Reef Turks and Caicos. Photo by Flickr user Tim Sackton. Image license: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

One of the questions we frequently get from our gets here at the Sands Resort: “Is it safe to touch coral?”

Our typical answer: “Although it’s generally not safe for you to touch coral here in the waters of Turks and Caicos, it’s definitely not safe for the coral. With that in mind, we’d like to provide a brief summary of coral etiquette: how to enjoy and protect coral reefs in Turks and Caicos and the rest of the Caribbean.

Smith's Reef, Turks and Caicos Islands
Smith’s Reef Turks and Caicos. Photo by Flickr user Tim Sackton. Image license: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Coral Species of the Caribbean

There are about 65 species of hard corals in the Caribbean. Corals provide protection and shelter for many species and protect the coast from erosion and flooding caused by strong currents and waves. The Caribbean is home to its own unique coral reef biota, a direct result of the closing of the Isthmus of Panama 3-4 million years ago. After that, the Caribbean was isolated from the Pacific Ocean.

The Basics of Coral Biology

Corals themselves are in fact colonies of very small animals. The corals live in colonies that may taken hundreds of years to form. The visible part of the coral is its skeleton, while the animals themselves live inside as part of an interconnected colony. The corals feed on plankton that drifts by, and also often form a symbiotic relationship with algae.

In exchange for a safe place to live, the algae use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide from seawater into energy for the corals.

Hard corals

Corals can be divided into two main types: hard corals (also known as stony corals, or scleractinians) and soft corals (gorgonians or octocorals). Stony corals are the most important reef builders, but organpipe corals, precious red corals, and blue corals also have stony skeletons.

Soft corals

Soft corals differ from hard corals in that they don’t produce a calcium carbonate skeleton, so they’re not as rigid as other corals. In addition, these corals usually have a unique bumpy or feathery appearance, due to the particular way they grow.

Coral in Turks and Caicos

At least 60 species of coral live in the waters off the Turks and Caicos. Hard coral varieties include staghorn, elkhorn, pillar, star, and brain. Sea fans, sea whips, and sea plumes number among the soft varieties.

Coral Reefs in Turks and Caicos

The Turks and Caicos Islands are home to one of the longest barrier reefs in the world – it’s over 125 miles long, and protects the north shore of the island of Providenciales. The barrier reef is and an ideal spot to observe humpback whales, and with underwater visibility exceeding 100 feet in most locations, the coral reefs, sea mounts and sea walls that surround the islands are perfect for encountering schools of tropical fish, sea turtles, eagle rays and even sharks.

There are also reefs closer to our resort on Grace Bay Beach.

Coral Gardens

Also known as Bight Reef, the Coral Gardens snorkeling area is just a short walk down the beach from the Sands at Grace Bay resort and is one of the most popular snorkeling areas in Providenciales. The shallow and calm waters that can be accessed right from the beach, the diversity of fish, the clearly marked boundaries, and the safely roped off area make this a great spot for families and beginners to snorkel.

Smith’s Reef

Smith’s Reef is actually a number of reefs located close to Turtle Cove, a resort area to the west of the international airport.

Smith’s Reef is a bit isolated and can be a little harder to find than other popular areas, so be sure to ask our concierge for directions.

Other conditions to be aware of at Smith’s Reef include tides and currents. Snorkelers should also watch out for Lionfish. Lionfish are an invasive species that have become common in some parts of the Turks and Caicos. While Lionfish are not aggressive, their spines are poisonous.

Fire Coral in Turks and Caicos

There are several species of coral-like “fire corals” (hydrocorals) that can give stings if touched. It might hurt instantly, or there may be delayed pain or itching, kind of like a jellyfish sting. These stinging corals are typically marked and identified, but it’s one more reason to never touch corals when you are snorkeling.

How to Protect Coral Reefs

The number-one thing to remember about touching corals is that you, as a human, pose the most danger.

Simply touching corals to see what they feel like can cause the death of an entire colony. Oils from your skin can disturb the delicate mucous membranes which protect the animals from

Needless to say, walking or standing on coral will kill the living coral polyps that are the builders of the reef structure. So, as a rule, never stand on coral to adjust mask. Swim well and clear of the reef and kick to keep head out without the possibility of kicking the reef, or search for a sandy or coral free shallow place to stand. Don’t touch, pickup or hold reef life.

5 Ways to Protect Coral Reefs Anywhere in the World

You can also protect coral reefs from just about anywhere in the world. Here are five ways to help:

1. Help reduce pollution

Walk, bike or ride the bus. Fossil fuel emissions from cars and industry raise lead to ocean warming which causes mass-bleaching of corals and can lead to widespread destruction of reefs.

2. Research what you put on your lawn

Although you may live thousands of miles from a coral reef ecosystem, these products flow into the water system, pollute the ocean, and can harm coral reefs and marine life.

3. Don’t litter

Don’t leave fishing lines or nets behind in the water or on the beach. Any kind of litter will harm the reef and the fish.

4. Support reef-friendly businesses

When you travel, ask your dive or snorkeling operators how they protect the reef. Be sure they promote reef-friendly activities, and ask if the organization responsible is part of a coral reef ecosystem management effort.

5. Practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling

Remember, do not touch the reef. Contact with the coral will damage the delicate coral animals.

Turks Caicos Information

The Food and Cuisine of Turks and Caicos

The Turks and Caicos Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean to the east of the Bahamas, and about forty minutes by plane from Miami and the North American mainland.

The climate is warm and dry for most of the year, and this climate has influenced the kinds of foods people enjoy in the Turks and Caicos.

Being surrounded by ocean, the main focus of Turks and Caicos Islands food culture is seafood. The country’s status as a crossroads between the Caribbean and Europe far to the northeast has also contributed to the national cuisine.

More recently the Turks and Caicos’ relatively prosperous economy has attracted people from all over the Caribbean who have also brought their food culture with them.

The History of the Turks and Caicos


The Turks and Caicos Islands have been inhabited for almost a thousand years.

The first inhabitants were the Lucayan, the original inhabitants of the Bahamas, and related other indigenous people who inhabited other parts of the Caribbean.

While the Lucayan are longer present in the islands, a glimpse of their way of life be found in the famous caves found on Middle Caicos.

Maize, Sweet Potato and Salt

Besides fishing, the Lucayan people of Turks and Caicos subsisted on many foods traditionally associated with the New World including beans and sweet potato, as well as manioc and cassava.

The Lucayan’s presence can still be seen by the presence of salt pans around the islands. Salt has always been an important commodity since ancient times. It is used not only for seasoning, but also for preserving food such as fish for long periods of time.

The Lucayan, like of the Caribbean’s other original inhabitants preserved salt, and some of the locations of these salt pans still exist today.

The Europeans Arrive

Columbus first reached the Caribbean in 1492, reaching what is now San Salvador in the Bahamas, to the northwest of the Turks and Caicos.

Following Columbus began five hundred years of change in the Caribbean. Europeans arrived to grow sugar and other crops, and to establish outputs in competition with other European nations.

They also brought the practice of slavery with them, including thousands of people from Africa whose ancestors still live in the Caribbean today.

In the Turks and Caicos various European occupiers such as the French and later the British focused on producing salt.

Salt production was so closely associated with it was once featured on the flag of the territory:



While the Turks and Caicos is known for Bambarra Rum today, distilling rum, the tipple that is characteristic of the Caribbean has never really been practiced on the islands.

Rum Punch

This is because the islands are generally too dry to grow sugar cane, the chief ingredient when making rum.

Cuisine of Turks and Caicos Today

If you travel to the Turks and Caicos today you’ll be able to choose from almost every cuisine on earth.

This is because, as the islands have become more popular as a tourist destination people have been attracted from all over the world to live and work here.

The island of Providenciales in particular offers everything from sushi and high-end fusion cuisine to Indian and Chinese food.

Of course, everyone who travels to the Turks and Caicos will want to eat seafood, which includes local delicacies such as mahi mahi, tuna, rock lobster and the ever-present conch.

Drought-resistant maize (a kind of corn) does well in the semi-arid conditions of the Turks and Caicos. As a result, hominy grits are a popular part of traditional local cuisine.

The Unique Food Culture of Turks and Caicos

Photo courtesy of the
Photo courtesy of the

While the Turks and Caicos is a modern international crossroads of cultures, the islands are also a melting pot of Caribbean culture.

For example, many people travel back and forth between the Turks and Caicos and the neighbouring country of Bahamas for work or to visit family.

Other people from countries around the Caribbean will also travel to the Turks and Caicos for work, and all bring their food culture with them.

Traditional Foods… Brought From Somewhere Else

Since the arrival of Europeans and people from Africa, local food has been based on the sea and on maize.

Two traditional dishes, grits and johnnycake, are distinctive Turks and Caicos specialties. As the travel blog Caribya notes:

Islanders love “boil fish and grits” for breakfast, and “boil fish and johnnycake” for lunch. For supper, fresh seafood alongside peas and hominy is a staple. In fact, once upon a time, when an island wife was asked what she was serving for dinner, her typical response would be “peas and hominy and penn on.” “Penn on,” was slang for “Depends on,” meaning that dinner would be peas and hominy, and the meat would depend upon whatever fish or game her husband had caught that day.

These days such traditional foods are harder to find in Providenciales, the tourist hub of the Turks and Caicos.

However, should you venture to Middle Caicos you’ll have the chance to encounter an older way of life, and this included food.

Other traditional dishes include conch and hominy, cod fish cakes and corn bread. Steamed conch, stewed conch, and stewed fish and grits.

Crab and rice, which features the blue crab common to the islands, is also a local comfort food.

These foods are a real taste of the Caribbean, so it is worth seeking them out.

If you want to get an in-depth look at the cuisine of Turks of Caicos, be sure to check out the @TCIFoodandCulture Instagram feed. The photos are mouth-watering and verge on “food porn.”

Conch Fritters and Deep Fried Fish

While conch fritters are said to be the characteristic food of the Turks and Caicos, this dish is said to be a relatively new arrival to the islands.

The Caribbean Queen conch is the native mollusk and number one export for the Turks & Caicos Islands. It’s said that each of the islands in Turks and Caicos produces its own unique flavour of conch meat.

Conch Fritters

Conch can be served in a variety of ways, including fresh conch salad and conch fritters.

conch fritters

Fritters are a relatively new addition to the cuisine of the Turks and Caicos because in the past in the past, cooking oil was very hard to come by.

So pan frying, poaching, stewing or roasting was typically how people prepared this delicious Turks and Caicos treat.

Festivals and Events: the Best Way to Experience the Cuisine of Turks and Caicos

The best way to encounter the traditional cooking styles of Turks and Caicos is to visit one of the many festivals that are held throughout the year. It’s a way to meet new friends and create long-lasting memories.

Thursday Night Fish Fry

Fried fish is also a new addition to the cuisine of Turks and Caicos, but it has grown to become a cornerstone of community life in Providenciales.

Every week Provo hosts the Thursday Night Fish Fry near the Bight Park.

It’s a great way to taste local cuisine and also meet the local residents of Providenciales. Conch Festival The Conch Festival is held on the last weekend of November every year in Turks and Caicos.

A photo posted by Conch Festival (@conchfestival) on

This event kicks off the Christmas season on Providenciales. It’s a lot of great food and fun for the whole family.

Traditional Caribbean Restaurants on Providenciales

Da Conch Shack

Da Conch Shack is local legend in Turks and Caicos.

da conch shack
Image courtesy da Conch Shack Facebook page

This traditional Caribbean beach bar serves up delicious local foods, including curried conch, cracked conch, fried conch, conch fritters and conch creole. That’s a lot of conch!

The restaurant is also located across the road from a beautiful beach.


Bugaloos is another local favorite on the island of Providenciales.

Located south of Five Cays Settlement, about twenty minutes by car from Grace Bay Beach, Bugaloos serves comfort food, with a beautiful view of the ocean added for free.

Bugaloos is also located next to a wholesale fish market, so the seafood will always be fresh.

Experience Turks and Caicos Cuisines at Hemingway’s

For more restaurants, the Ottawa Citizen has a “restaurant critic’s guide” to fine dining in Turks and Caicos.

However if you’re a guest at the Sands and you want to experience authentic local cuisine, you just have to head over to Hemingway’s, right on beautiful Grace Bay Beach.

The local Caribbean Queen conch is served in many Turks & Caicos restaurants including our very own Hemingway’s beachside restaurant at The Sands at Grace Bay.

The “Conch Served The Way You Like It” menu option offered at Hemingway’s is a great way to experience the taste of our Caicos conch in a variety of ways, as you can choose amongst conch fritters, conch fingers or a fresh conch salad.

These are all delicious and refreshing after a full day of fun under the sun. Another restaurant specialty is the chef’s conch chowder, which is a traditional spicy island recipe that is also made with fresh local conch.

What’s Your Favorite Food When You Visit Us?

Do you have a favorite food or place to eat when you visit Turks and Caicos? If you do, let us know in the comments!



Things To Do In The Caribbean

Turks and Caicos things to do for Christmas and New Years

things to do turks and caicos christmas
Courtesy TCI Tourism

There are many things to do on Turks and Caicos during the Christmas holiday season. Here are a few activities:

2nd Annual Maskanoo Celebrations
Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association (TCHTA) and the Cultural & Arts Commission (CAC) are pleased to announce the 2nd annual Maskanoo Celebrations. Maskanoo will be held in the tourist capital of Providenciales, following a route along Grace Bay Road between the Regent Village and Salt Mills Plaza. Persons attending the event will enjoy the street parade, local music, island food, arts, & entertainment.

Post-Christmas Beach Party
On December 28, come out to enjoy local band, native foods, model sailboat racing, kayak racing, handcrafts and more. Ferry/bus combo tickets from Provo and local bus for North & Middle Caicos available. Church groups cook & raise funds for their projects-call 231-4884 for details.

Old Year’s Night
Old tradition for bringing good luck in the new year. All night service in churches, everyone rings out old year and rings in New Year with bells, church gatherings and community greeting.

New Years Eve Parties
Ports of Call, Providenciales – Live Music – No Cover
Check with the local restaurants for special events

Jump Up Junkanoo
Junkanoo street music takes place from midnight to sunrise, New Year’s morning on most islands.

If you have any ideas for more things to do on the Turks and Caicos during Christmas, please let us know!