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DECR Update on Half Moon Bay Wildfire

On Sunday, June 4th , the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources was notified about a wildfire on Half Moon Bay sandbar, adjacent to Little Water Cay.

The DECR responded to the scene and coordinated with the Turks and Caicos National Trust (TCNT) and the TCI Fire Department to execute a firebreak to contain the fire. Members of the public were instrumental in efforts to control the situation. The Fire Department gave the 'all-clear' for the teams and volunteers to vacate the area once the fire had been deemed contained within the firebreak.

On the morning of the 5th the DECR returned to the sandbar to monitor the situation and ascertained that the few smoldering embers were contained within the firebreak and posed no further concern. However, due to shifting wind directions, it is believed that a few embers breached the break, causing the inferno that dominated the afternoon.

Again, the DECR coordinated a response plan calling for assistance from volunteers, the TCNT, Public Works Department, and the TCI Fire Department. Efforts continued throughout the afternoon, into the late evening, until the situation was under control.

Upon assessment, the DECR has estimated that the burned affected area to be 9396.4 m2

Fire has threatened the sandbar since the invasion by Casuarina Pine, further to this recent habitat restoration efforts have resulted in dry wood on the ground which exacerbated the fire.

The area has not been ideal rock iguana habitat for several years, but some iguanas were living there as the control of non-native mammals has allowed numbers to increase and their occupancy to spread. The fire itself was not problematic to the ecosystem: Although habitat recovery will have to involve control of Casuarina seedlings (which are encouraged by fire and other disturbances), the fire has consumed the fuel that has been a risk for years.

When the sandy ground opens, iguanas will be able to carry out their natural role as seed dispersers, dropping seeds of over 100 native plant species they consume, and planting them through their digging.

Habitat and species recovery is a long-term process, and it's often challenging. As the non-native species are carefully controlled, the indigenous wildlife will recover over time, and the functional ecosystem (which hasn't been intact since the introduction of the invasive pine species, cats and rats) will return.

The DECR and the TCNT will continue to be monitored for native species recovery and invasive species control will continue to take place.

Little Water Cay and Half-moon Bay is a popular site for tour guides and watersports operators to make campfires near the Casuarina forest, for beach cookouts. This activity is believed to have been the cause of the fire on the sandbar this last weekend. It is extremely dangerous to set fires near Casuarina duff as it isn't always apparent when it's on fire and it can smolder deeply for days before conditions allow it to generate obvious flame and smoke.

It is a violation of the National Parks Ordinance to set fires within Protected Areas without a permit from the DECR, and DECR does not grant permits for lighting fires in Half Moon Bay or Little Water Cay, due to the high fire risk and sensitive iguana habitat of the cay.



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