Green Pages

Building on the Past

DECR debuts two exciting new projects.

By B Naqqi Manco,  Assistant Director of Research and Development, DECR

When you love something, there’s always a fear. Parents fret about their children, homeowners worry about their fortresses, and collectors obsess over the security of their hoards. For those of us who love our work, that concern translates into anxiety regarding legacy. Will the hard work we have done to protect something be in vain? Will we be able to release our hold on our beloved toil confidently to those who come next? Within the Department of Environment & Coastal Resources (DECR), many of us ask these questions—especially those of us who have been at it for some time. 

Flamingos flying over Flamingo Pond, North Caicos, part of the Ramsar site.

Over two decades ago I returned to Turks & Caicos Islands from university to begin work on a UK-funded project focusing on the North, Middle, and East Caicos Nature Reserve, a site listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance as a Ramsar site. I trudged through mangrove swamps, salt marshes, flooded forests, and one particularly bizarre and treacherous habitat that comprised seemingly endless sinkholes choked with tangled red mangrove and sawgrass, each ringed by rain-eroded razor rock bedecked with poisonwood and skin-ripping spiny box briar.

My physique at the time allowed me to sink less far into the sulphurously putrid mud, and my end-of-day exhaustion was markedly less than it would be now. But for these costs, I was supplied with rare glimpses of endangered West Indian whistling ducks, gentle slaps in the face by dangling rubbery leaves of mahogany mistletoe, close encounters with surprisingly curious flamingos, and numerous scenes that astounded sight and other senses.

We were assessing habitats based on satellite imagery that threw coarse 30 x 30-meter pixels of colour across habitats, using GPS units that may or may not have been off by as much as 50 meters, and I was having to learn species of plants by immediate sight on a logarithmic learning curve. My special interests in reptiles and orchids were rarely disappointed. My appreciation for all things green and all things creepy was both enthralled and tested—sometimes simultaneously. (Having a dragonfly attracted to a headlamp at night is an experience something akin to getting hit in the face by a metallic fairy carrying a baby rattle.)

Through the next two decades, I worked on various field-based projects focused on plants, seeds, bats, iguanas, snakes, spiders, butterflies, beetles, birds, mysterious cave invertebrates, historic human populations, bush medicine, and of course the National Tree, Caicos pine. I noted gaps in knowledge, such as whether or not hutias still live in TCI, how extensive ranges are of our rarest endemic plants, and what on earth is going on with two strange populations of Encyclia orchids that key out to a species of which they don’t fit the description. 

Two years ago, my role in DECR changed, and I was lifted from the bush to a somewhat higher position—and while I have had more opportunity to steer the directions projects take, the resettlement to a more desk-based job has been both challenging and worrying. What would become of my past work?

I needn’t have worried. This year, DECR has pushed full-throttle into two exciting new projects that largely build on work going back those 20 years. Both supported by UK Government’s Darwin Plus funding scheme, these projects seek to fill some of those knowledge gaps identified over past courses of work. 

The Darwin Plus 129 project, “Understanding Ramsar Wetland Dynamics for Marine Conservation and Environmental Resilience,” is using far superior tools and technology to revisit, refine, and expand upon our understanding of the Ramsar site. It uses both remote sensing and ground-truthing work to identify current habitats, understand changes over time, and extrapolate potential impacts of climate change on the Ramsar site and the ecosystem services it provides for us. 

This rare patch of Encyclia orchids on Middle Caicos may be a new variety, subspecies, or even species.

The Darwin Plus 114 project, “Tropical Important Plant Areas and Important Plant Species in TCI,” aims to identify areas that qualify as Tropical Important Plant Areas, to assess the conservation status of our endemic and near-endemic plant species, and to better understand the taxonomic relations of two important groups of plants—including those confounding Encyclia orchid populations about which I’ve been obsessing for 15 years. 

I don’t get into the field as much as I would like to anymore, but I still join as often as I can. The relieving part of being frequently desk-bound is the capacity of our terrestrial ecology team to carry out the work. Junel “Flash” Blaise has been with DECR for 12 years and has the sharpest eyes I’ve ever known for spotting and identifying tiny plants and distant birds. (When he identifies a backlit seabird half a mile away as a sooty tern, I insist it isn’t even a bird, but just a lowercase m.) His understanding of TCI’s wildlife and habitats has been instrumental in training new staff for the challenging field roles. 

DECR team preparing an herbarium specimen at Bird Rock Point, Providenciales.

In March 2022, Dodly Prosper joined the Research and Development team as Terrestrial Ecologist, stepping into the role of major contact point for the Darwin Plus 114 Tropical Important Plant Areas project. A month later, Christopher May joined the team as Wetlands Ecologist for the Darwin Plus 129 Ramsar mapping project. Both have learnt their roles quickly and efficiently and use the commonalities of their projects to carry out collaborative fieldwork as much as possible.

In this issue’s Green Pages, Mr. Prosper and Mr. May introduce the projects on which they are currently focusing, ensuring that the foundation of work upon which so many others have contributed will continue to support conservation efforts into the future.


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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography ( created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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