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Marine Resource Studies

Turks and Caicos Islands

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Conserving Marine Biodiversity and the Impacts of Development

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) lie at the southeastern end of the Bahama Archipelago where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. With most local residents dependent upon marine resources for their livelihoods, and increasing resource demand by tourists, finding viable options for managing fisheries and conserving marine biodiversity is crucial.

  • Semester Programs

    Marine Resource Studies

    Turks and Caicos Islands

    Through field observation, exercises, and research, students learn the concepts and skills needed to understand marine ecosystems and island community dynamics. Snorkeling and scuba diving in waters surrounding South Caicos, students learn field research techniques to identify a wide range of marine organisms and habitats, and learn about marine ecology, island communities, and marine resource management.

  • Summer Programs

    Session I: Tropical Marine Ecosystems: Monitoring and Management

    Turks and Caicos Islands

    Students learn about key aspects of environmental assessment and management of tropical marine ecosystems and explore sustainable development strategies for the Turks & Caicos Islands at a local and global scale. Students support the work of our clients and stakeholders, who range from local fishers to members of key government agencies.

  • Session II: Applied Marine Research Techniques

    Turks and Caicos Islands

    Students learn about developing scientific approaches to identify key problems affecting the health of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests that surround the island, and implement the scientific research process while contributing to a growing body of research that informs local marine conservation and resource management decisions.

How can SFS support the government and South Caicos community to best manage the marine environment and resources to balance biodiversity conservation and economic sustainability?

The charismatic fauna of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) include more than 300 species of fish, many elasmobranchs such as the spotted eagle ray and lemon shark, as well as sea turtles and humpback whales. Colorful and cryptic biota is abundant in the warm waters just steps from our Center. Nearby seagrass beds, mangroves, sandy shoals, and reefs lend a patchwork appearance to the miles of shallow blue waters that surround the Islands. But beneath the turquoise waters, a delicate ecosystem is threatened.

The diverse marine environment supports the Turks and Caicos Islands economy through fisheries and tourism. The beauty and ecosystem functions of island, coastal, and ocean habitats are critical for maintaining the value of these industries. The country has an extensive network of 34 established protected areas to promote the sustainability of natural and historic resources, with four marine protected areas in close proximity to our field station on the island of South Caicos. However, insufficient environmental stewardship and underutilized local ecological knowledge hinder management of marine resources and therefore the effectiveness of these protected areas. Increasing demand for fisheries resources, coastal development, and the meteorological and biophysical impacts of climate change put enormous pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems and on island-based livelihoods.

Without quantitative and qualitative scientific assessments, better facilitated community management, and collaborative environmental education, the existence of many of these ecosystems and resources is threatened. SFS plays a critical role in supporting the TCI fishers, island residents, and environmental authorities through collaborative research and knowledge exchange. Together we are working to implement positive change in the social, cultural, and economic spheres, as well as to support and mitigate impacts on the coastal and marine ecosystems.


The dissemination of research findings through local media, meetings and technical reports will facilitate raising environmental awareness among residents and developers on South Caicos, and enable local policy makers to make scientifically-based decisions to ensure sustainable management.        


Presently the South Caicos economy is primarily based on tourism and fisheries, primarily conch and lobster. Unsustainable and destructive fishing practices in combination with increased anthropogenic pressures threaten coastal habitats and the organisms and industries that they support. While tourism is an important source of income for many small island nations, increased tourism and the creation of the infrastructure that supports this industry often have deleterious effects on the environment. Coastal development and influx of tourists and labor will continue to increase demand for marine resources (specifically lobster, conch and reef fish), drive the degradation and destruction of terrestrial and coastal habitats, and generate increasing volumes of wastes. In addition, climate impacts on the local ecosystems will ultimately impact the value to both tourists and the fishing industry.


Addressing existing and potential problems requires concerted efforts among scientists, practitioners, and policy makers to ensure the long term sustainability of natural resources and life on South Caicos. To this end, SFS-CMRS will work in collaboration with local, national and international partners to generate the scientific knowledge of South Caicos environments and natural resources needed to monitor change, and to identify and promote sustainable fishing practices and species and habitat management strategies.

Through the dissemination of research findings and environmental education, CMRS hopes to develop an increase in the level of environmental awareness among residents that will contribute towards greater self-regulation and ownership, and subsequently greater environment stewardship and long-term sustainability. The aim of this third five-year research plan (5YRP) is to continue establishing baselines, develop factually supported ideas, and provide educated advice to the local community and the government of the TCI, as South Caicos undergoes diversification of the fishing industry and eventually the expansion of the tourism industry. In particular, we plan to produce information and knowledge that will help the people of South Caicos manage the impacts of diversification on their marine resources, their terrestrial environment, and on their civil society.

Research will stem from three thematic components:

1. Assessment of marine environments and species;
2. Drivers of changes to the marine ecosystems; and
3. Monitoring and management of marine resources


The expected outcomes of implementing the 2013-2017 5YRP are to document the current status of local marine resources, social and economic conditions of South Caicos, and to quantify any changes that may occur. CMRS will share these data and findings with local partners, clients and stakeholders to enable local managers to make informed decisions. These data will advance the knowledge of key marine environments and species in the scientific literature. The dissemination of research findings through local media, meetings and technical reports will facilitate raising environmental awareness among residents and developers on South Caicos, and enable local policy makers to make scientifically-based decisions to ensure the sustainable management of local resources.


For more information on the research conducted by the faculty and staff of this Center, please visit The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies page and click on individual biographies.

For a complete list of peer-reviewed publications by SFS faculty, staff and students, click here.

The community of South Caicos has hosted SFS students for more than 20 years. During that time, staff and students have integrated into the small community on multiple levels. We are dedicated to helping the community conserve its natural resources and develop sustainably.

Students become involved with the community, learning about Caribbean culture and island society. Community activities may include:

  • Providing swimming and snorkeling lessons for local children
  • Interacting with local families to better understand new cultures through the Friendship Family Program
  • Hosting “Sea Day” at the Center to introduce local students to the marine environment
  • Reading, tutoring, and other volunteer projects at the local library and grade school
  • Collaborating with local youths and NGOs to conduct beach cleanups to increase environmental awareness
  • Presentation of student research to disseminate findings to the local community