Salt Cay, Turks Islands

Salt Cay, Turks Islands

Salt Cay is the second largest of the Turks Islands, one of the two island groups forming of the British territory Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. Its size is 6.7442 km². The size of the district, which also includes some unpopulated islands like Cotton Cay (1.1252 km²) nearby, is 9.1 km². The population is 186 (est. 2006), all in the district capital Balfour Town on the west coast.

Salt Cay is a tiny, flat, triangular island measuring about 3.2 km (two miles) on a side and given over mostly to salinas. It was once home to several hundred people, all supported by the salt industry.


When the Spanish conquistador-explorer Juan Ponce de León came to the Islands in 1512, they were still inhabited by Arawak Indians. The Spanish took away the Arawaks to use for slave labour and left the islands uninhabited. Bermudians came to the islands in the 17th century and established what was to become the principal industry for the next 300 years - the production of salt from brine. The islands came under British colonial rule in 1766. It was Turks and Caicos salt that George Washington needed to preserve the food for his army during the American Revolutionary War and that the Canadian and American fishing fleets used to salt down their catches.

As late as the 1920s and 1930s, before a combination of competition, costs, mismanagement and the lack of a deepwater harbor brought the salt industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands to an end, as many as half a dozen sailing ships at a time would be anchored off Salt Cay awaiting cargo. The salt had to be ferried out to them over shallow water.

Ruins from the salt operations remain on Salt Cay. The island is now popular with tourists looking for uncrowded beaches and activities like whale-watching. Scuba diving and other water sports also attract visitors.

Humpback Whales of Salt Cay

The humpback whales of Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands and Silver Bank are North Atlantic Humpback Whales, and are some of the same individuals one might encounter on a whale watching cruise off of Massachusetts' Stellwagan Bank, the coast of Maine, and further north into the waters of Iceland and Greenland, Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands is in the middle of the humpback whale’s annual migratory route to the Silver Banks, a humpback mating and nursery area, north of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Sea. It is a 75 square mile shallow coral reef area, an underwater plateau of limestone. It is believed that the whales choose this area for birthing and nursing because of the numerous coral heads which break the surface providing protection from ocean swells. Some estimates show 3,000-5,000 humpback whales passing through the waters of the Silver Banks between December and mid-April each year, making it the largest breeding and calving grounds, often called a nursery, in the world.

Great Sand Cay, about 9 miles south of Salt Cay, has been the “emergency room” to many expecting humpback whales through the years. Humpback whales born in the waters around Great Sand Cay and their mothers as well as other humpback whales are often spotted both by passengers on boats and from the shores of Salt Cay.


* [ Humpback Whales Migration]
* [ Turks and Caicos history]

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