Green Pages

The Green Invader

New reporting hotline for green iguana sightings.

By B Naqqi Manco, Acting Assistant Director of Environmental Research & Development, DECR

Our very special endemic Turks & Caicos rock iguanas Cyclura carinata was recently down-listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) category from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This is due largely to decades of hard work by numerous institutions, including the San Diego Zoo, Caribbean Wildlife Foundation, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Turks & Caicos National Trust, Department of Environment & Coastal Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Health, Ports Authority and others.

Native Turks & Caicos rock iguanas have stouter, heavier bodies and a dark khaki-green or blue-grey colour.

While their numbers have increased in some areas, a new threat to the rock iguanas has come to the Turks & Caicos Islands in the form of a distant relative. The green iguana Iguana iguana has already become widespread on many other Caribbean islands where it is a serious threat to wildlife and infrastructure.

Green iguanas are invasive in the Turks & Caicos Islands and differ from our endemic Turks & Caicos rock iguanas by being overall larger with much longer bodies and tails, and usually a brighter green colour. Native to Central and South America, they pose a serious threat to our unique ecosystems and especially to the endemic rock iguanas. They carry a bacterial infection that is lethal to rock iguanas, they can cause genetic pollution to rock iguanas by hybridization, and they can also outcompete rock iguanas for food and resources. Unlike our rock iguanas which breed once a year and only lay 6–8 eggs, green iguanas breed year-round and can lay over 70 eggs in a clutch.

Green iguanas have been sighted on Providenciales in in Grace Bay, as well as near Venetian Road, Leeward and South Dock and on Grand Turk around the airport and South Base. For years the Cayman Islands have been battling green iguanas, which severely threaten their endemic blue rock iguana Cyclura lewisi and Little Cayman rock iguana Cyclura nubila caymanensis. Unfortunately, the speed at which green iguanas breed has been hard to overcome. In 2019, over one million green iguanas were culled in a massive conservation effort, but over 100,000 are believed to have remained, so they still outnumber the native iguana species by 1000 times.

The Invasive green iguanas have an overall longer and more slender shape and usually a bright green colour.

Green iguanas find their way into TCI mostly through imported materials—especially live plants—from south Florida and Hispaniola, where they are also problematically invasive. Their eggs, laid in the loose, moist potting mix around plant roots in nurseries in other countries, can hatch after the plants arrive in TCI.

Green iguanas don’t just threaten our natural heritage. Due to their climbing habits, they are also known to cause damaging power outages by climbing utility poles and severe vehicle damage by falling out of trees. They can also strip agricultural crops and garden flowers bare, and foul swimming pools with their waste, which they tend to release when swimming.

The TCI Department of Environment & Coastal Resources (DECR), the Department of Agriculture, and Turks & Caicos National Trust request assistance from the general public for reports of sightings of invasive green iguanas in the Turks & Caicos Islands, especially Providenciales and Grand Turk.

Invasive green iguanas can now be reported to the TCI Iguana Hotline by email at tciiguana@gmail.com or WhatsApp at +1649 344 8296. Photos and locations of sighted green iguanas help our response team find them more easily.



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On the Cover

Marta Morton, owner/operator of Harbour Club Villas (www.harbourclubvillas.com) took this photo of the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Bay Cay. This endemic animal is being threatened by the invasive green iguana. See article on page 36.

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