|North West Point Pond Reserve|
|Written by Kathleen Wood and Marsha Pardee|
|Thursday, 23 September 2010 11:10|
TCI Protected Areas
A walk along the isolated coastline where the northern shores meet the western shores of Providenciales is a tonic for the world-weary soul.
Approaching from the northeast, undeveloped windswept beaches are a beachcomber’s paradise of flotsam and jetsam tossed out of the sea and up onto the earth by seasonal storms. Busy birds like sanderlings, Wilson’s plovers, and ruddy turnstones scurry ahead of the swelling surf in search of tasty morsels delivered on seaweed rafts along the shorelines. A resident osprey pair also partakes of the treasures from the sea and has constructed an impressive nest of bits of rope, sticks and plastic debris, which they add to each breeding season.
As one nears the point, ocean currents from east and west come together in a violent collision that changes the gentle beaches of the northern shoreline into surf-pounded rock. The constant hammering of surf is punctuated by the “wheet, wheet” of American oystercatchers as they scurry along the rocky shores, searching for mollusks to crack with their impressive beaks. Here massive boulders heaved up from the blue depths line the high water line along the shores signaling the impressive power of the ocean. Corals of all kinds remain beautifully preserved forever as fossils in the rocks.
Around the corner, the intense crashing of waves on the point gives way to a sheltered bay along the western shoreline. With the quieting of the ocean, a cacophony of birds can now be heard emanating from a hidden pond at Northwest Point’s interior.
Hundreds of years ago, the pond was an ancient bay that opened up into the deep blue depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Daily tides flushed the bay and brought in nutrients that fed an unadulterated marine food web alive with lobsters, crabs, octopus and fishes of all persuasions. Lucayan people traveled to the bay to partake of the natural bounty. Then the climate changed.
As the ambient temperature fell ever so slightly, a barely perceptible drop in sea level caused drifting sediments to deposit, closing off the bay to form a salty inland pond. The bay, once a cornucopia of seafood, became landlocked. Isolated from its marine heritage, the new pond became instead a boon to creatures of the feathered kind.
Natural salt ponds are scattered throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands and are formed as the coastlines of these ephemeral islands shift with the rise and fall of sea levels on a geological time scale. Isolated from the regular seawater flushing of daily tides, the water in salt ponds bakes in the island sun until salt concentrates to hypersaline levels to form new, unique habitats.
The hypersaline water is home to a range of organisms known as “extremeophiles.” As the name implies, these extraordinary life forms include bacteria and algae that tolerate a wide range of environmental variables. An extremeophile Cyanobacteria is believed to have been the first living organism on planet Earth. Just as Cyanobacteria once created the base of a food web that eventually populated the planet with trillions of species, the extremeophiles in natural salt ponds create the foundation upon which a diverse and rich web of life is formed.
Brine flies, brine shrimp, mollusks and crustaceans feast on the bacterial and algal productivity in salt ponds and in turn become a bounty to shoreline, wading and seabird populations. The characteristic rotten egg smell that emanates from salt ponds is caused by intense biological activities on a microbial level. While the aroma is considered by some humans to be an olfactory assault, it is a welcome beacon to our feathered, flying cousins.
At the North West Point Pond Nature Reserve, the briny pond and deep sediments translate to prime foraging and nesting areas for birds. The vegetation surrounding the pond provides a natural blind, and birdwatchers armed with binoculars will almost always be treated to rare sightings of West Indian flamingos, reddish egret, great white egret and tricolor heron.
Winter and summer breeding resident shoreline and seabirds construct simple mud nests on the ground around the pond, so human visitors should avoid walking near the pond during breeding seasons. The thick mud that lines the pond provides further incentive to avoid a leisurely stroll along the squishy banks.
The proximity of the North West Point Pond Nature Reserve to the deep ocean water off Northwest Point has not gone unnoticed by ambitious entrepreneurs and statesmen intent on the profit margins associated with the construction of a deep water port on Providenciales. Indeed, such an enterprise would be a very profitable venture for a small number of select individuals.
But how does one quantify the value of pristine landscapes and habitats in an increasingly polluted and congested world? For non-human organisms, these habitats are invaluable. All the dollars in the world will not do the birds any good. Some values extend beyond the monetary, short-term gains of a lucky few.
Expansive landscapes untarnished by human hands, the smell of sun-baked salty air and the sounds of pounding surf and flocks of happy feathered folks cannot be counted on a ledger but represent a real wealth that enriches the lives of all living things.Click HERE to read other articles in the TCI Protected Areas series.
For more information on Protected Areas, visit www.environment.tc/Protected-Areas-Division.html
Terrestrial ecologist and Master Gardener Kathleen Wood, B.Sc., is a Permanent Resident of the TCI, dividing her time between the Turks and Caicos and North Carolina. She is the author of many publications including the book, “Flowers of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands.” She has worked for the public and private sectors on many environmental projects in the Bahamas, TCI and U.S. Anyone interested in discussion on a broad range of environmental issues can follow Kathleen on her blog at www.killingmother.blogspot.com.
Marine ecologist Marsha Pardee, M.Sc., is a Permanent Resident of the TCI, living here for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the government’s Scientific Authority Committee and a consultant for environmental management and aquaculture projects, working for both public and private sectors. She has taught many of the country’s children in local schools and in the DECR’s Junior Park Warden Program on Providenciales.
|Last Updated on Monday, 27 September 2010 13:45|
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TCI Protected Areas Series
The fp is publishing a series of articles on the Turks and Caicos Islands Protected Area System to increase public awareness and respect for the beauty and value of this "beautiful by nature" country.
The authors, marine ecologist Marsha Pardee and terrestrial ecologist Kathleen Wood, are long-time TCI residents and respected scientists in their fields.
Below are links to their articles, plus related news articles, documents and laws.
- 29/7/10: Chalk Sound National Park: Beauty and ecology
- 22/7/10: Protected Areas designations and differences
- 15/7/10: Long-term prosperity vs. short-term gain
- 8/7/10: Protected Areas save environment, generate revenue
- 5/8/10: Frenchman’s Creek: Prime real estate of TCI wetlands
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Links to environmental documents and laws