Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park

A spotted eagle ray feeds along the bottom of the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park in the Turks and Caicos — Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Does it really matter that the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park is named for the wrong guy?

The short answer is no. Not considering the extraordinary beauty resulting from inspired marine conservation on this isolated corner of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Designated in 1992 and only 480 acres in size, the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park supports one of the world’s few remaining healthy barrier reef systems. It is also a wetlands site important in maintaining the wild conch, lobster, and fish populations on the Caicos Banks.

A no-take zone has been established here for conch and lobster, and it has been effective. Under the hull of Flying Fish anchored off South Caicos today, there are hundreds of queen conch in the grass beds, and spiny lobster antennae stick out from under nearly every rocky ledge. I saw a mature Nassau grouper today for the first time in decades. I swam with a spotted eagle ray that was more interested in eating crustaceans than it was fearful of my presence.

Just offshore of the small fishing village of Cockburn Harbour is a reef that shows new growth of live coral and masses of tropical fish, a rare sight these days in rapidly warming seas. This coral outcropping off Cockburn Harbour is known as the Admiral’s Aquarium. The only problem is that the Admiral had nothing to do with it.

Admiral George Cockburn, who commanded ships in the Napoleonic Wars, and was responsible for the burning of Washington in the Wars of 1812, appears to have had no connection to the Turks and Caicos. His younger brother Francis, however, a Lieutenant-General in the British Army, played an important role in developing these islands. Unfortunately, Francis never received the honorarium for his efforts. History apparently confused the two men. The reef should be called the Lieutenant-General’s Aquarium.

Regardless of who deserves the credit, South Caicos and its Land and Sea National Park is a treasure, and its health and vitality is a testament that marine conservation works.

Postscript: I cannot resist noting that Admiral George Cockburn and Lieutenant-General Francis Cockburn were distant cousins of the self-proclaimed anarchist Alexander Cockburn, a radical writer who also enjoyed talking about fishing and music. Alexander Cockburn was my next-door neighbor in Key West. He wrote about Admiral George Cockburn burning the White House in his collection of essays, Corruptions of Empire.

Admiral George Cockburn burned Washington but he didn’t have anything to do with the spectacular maritime national park in South Caicos that bears his name.

This week, Flying Fish will continue its passage around the world and toward Key West. Once I’m underway, check out the passage notes on this page. Click on the box labeled “Show Legends and Blogs” for daily musings and observations at sea.

Thanks for sailing along with Flying Fish.

As always, Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places, the flora, fauna, and people encountered along the way.

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2022

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   – Fr. John Baker

4 thoughts on “Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park

    • Thank you for your thoughts.
      I have a reoccurring nightmare wondering whether the next generations will be able to see any live coral. Yesterday I swam among acres of dead and dying coral in the Bahamian National Park of Concepcion Island. These travels have shown me that nothing can be taken for granted anymore. Every glimmer of beauty needs to be cherished.


    • Congratulations on your accomplishment, and thanks for following.
      These are unusual times to be doing what we are doing, but the current state of the world reinforces the notion that we must each live our best days.


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