Caribbean flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in the Lake Catherine Nature Reserve on West Caicos Flamingos in Lake Catherine.
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Lake Catherine Nature Reserve

West Caicos
The old railroad causeway in Lake Catherine
The railroad causeway across Lake Catherine.

Located in the center of West Caicos, Lake Catherine is a very shallow 430-acre (174-hectare) saline wetland nature reserve. This site is a highly-important nesting region for wading birds, as well as a prime habitat for flamingos.

As is the case with many of the interior ponds in the Turks and Caicos, Lake Catherine has a higher salinity content than the surrounding ocean due to natural evaporation.

Lake Catherine and the adjacent shallow and extensive ponds to the east are among the finest birdwatching regions in the Turks and Caicos.

Underwater Cave Systems

Blue hole underwater cave in Lake Catherine on West Caicos
The blue hole in Lake Catherine.

A little-known fact is that Lake Catherine has an extensive underwater cave system. Found on the western side of the nature reserve, this cave maintains the water level and tidal change of Lake Catherine, much like the Boiling Hole feature on South Caicos.

Initially explored by divers from the Caicos Cave Project in 2000, this system was found to have over 675 feet (200 m) of passage, with smaller fissures that continued. The depth of much of the cave system was around 50 feet (18 m), which is actually a bit shallower than similar systems in the country.

Tidal movements were said to be quite significant, which severely limited explorations and affects safety.

Due to the cave’s location at less than half a mile (0.8 km) from the edge of the Caicos plateau and deep ocean water, this system is probably the most likely cave in the Turks and Caicos to have a subterranean passage from an interior pond to the open ocean. Such a conduit, if it does exist, is unlikely to be a clear tunnel, and rather would probably be a network of fissures. Large turtles have been seen recently in the lake. The coastal cliffs and elevations surrounding Lake Catherine would make it quite difficult for marine turtles to transit via land, which raises the question of how the turtles were introduced to the body of water.

Although outside of the Lake Catherine Nature Reserve, the southern Greenlands region of West Caicos also supports many submerged caves, albeit much less extensive features. The majority of these are collapsed water lens caves.

The Railroad Causeway

Aerial view of old railroad causeway on West Caicos
The railroad causeway and the cuts in the central ridge. Yankee Town is located on the upper right end of the causeway.

A man-made loose rock causeway, built during the sisal planting days at the end of the 1800s, dissects Lake Catherine and connects the abandoned and ruined Yankee Town to the east coast of West Caicos.

Constructed to support a small gauge donkey cart railroad that was used to transport the sisal leaf harvests, stamped steel sleepers and the occasional rail can still be seen.

A low rail cut was made through two low limestone hills in the center of the island, which makes for an interesting feature.


Lake Catherine is a protected nature reserve and as such is governed by certain guidelines and regulations.

  • It is illegal to harm, disturb, or interfere with any wildlife in the nature reserve.
  • It is illegal to take any natural item or historical artifact from the protected area.
  • Open fires and camping is prohibited without specific written approval from the appropriate government department.
  • As is the case throughout the Turks and Caicos, littering is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

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