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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 12:37 GMT
Message in a bottle
Eastbeach, Turks and Caicos
A perfect beach on the Turks and Caicos
By Jackie Mulligan

My second day on Grand Turk, a seven by one mile island on the edge of the Atlantic made me feel like Robinson Crusoe.

As I strolled along a deserted beach, I saw a bottle dusted with sand.

As I wiped the beach debris away - I saw a message curled inside a bright green tequila bottle.

It was an exciting moment. I have no faith in the post - one letter took over four years to reach the islands. Perhaps my family had written? No.

Message in a tequila bottle
An alternative postal system?

The message had been dropped in the sea by a bunch of French tourists, enjoying a few too many tequila slammers and putting down their inebriated thoughts before casting them off to the elements.

NoNo, the name for my new bottle penpal, asked the finder to ring her in France if it was found. After reading the contents she may feel a little self-conscious if I do.

But messages in bottles are not a new phenomenon here.

Tracking tidal movements

I visited the Turks and Caicos National Museum and they were delighted with my find which now sits in a collection of nearly 100 bottles found predominantly on the same part of the beach that curves round the eastern tip of the island.

The museum is about to stage an exhibition and more ambitiously set to identify tidal movements in the Atlantic.

Not by science or satellite systems, but by throwing hundreds of bottles back into the sea!

The kitchen is becoming more like a bottle bank every day

Nigel Sadler, museum director

It is strange that litter, in the form of bottles discarded on a beach are now about to form an environmental initiative. It is something that could only happen here.

The museum director, Nigel Sadler is busy preparing and, until the rest of the population are sparked into action, has become a one-man recycling band.

Yet another eccentric Brit abroad, he collects clear glass bottles from local beaches and tells me his kitchen is becoming more like a bottle bank every day.

News from afar

The earliest message found in Grand Turk dates back to 1860 when ships used the method to keep the British Navy informed of their progress.

Not the most reliable way to get help when your ship is sinking.

In 1894 a dedicated brother wrote to his sister to tell her he and his friend were all well and just north of Cape Verde, West Africa. In 1895, a Belonger (the name for locals who live here), found the letter and posted it on.

Miss Rogers from Scotland was delighted to hear the news that her brother was safe, though not entirely surprised as her brother was sitting by her side at the time.

Message from a bottle
Messages are not always easy to read

In spite of the fact that messages in bottles are not the most reliable mechanism to inform anyone of anything, this project will see them used to promote the islands and encourage tourism.

One of the project's aims is to promote the whereabouts of the islands.

Frustrated at puzzled looks at the mention of Turks and Caicos, residents are being invited to include maps and information about the islands.

The tourist board is behind the initiative as it thinks it could well encourage tourism.

John Skippings, tourism director and a man with a strong belief in safeguarding the marketing budget, believes this eccentric "UK'er" stuff, as he says, could be the cheapest marketing campaign on record and has publicly urged people to get involved.

A homesick sailor

Walter and Cecile, a mature American couple who run a small hotel claim some of the credit for the idea. They found a bottle from a Spanish sailor, who was bored by his task of counting sardines and homesick.

From that small beginning emerged something much more ambitious than a mere exhibition.

Garcia on fishing boat
Garcia, the Spanish sailor

They sent the sailor information about the Turks and Caicos Islands and in return he sent them information about his hometown in Spain. It was an exchange that involved airmail, email and indeed seamail.

Islanders are now receiving instructions on how to write a message in a bottle.

The bottles to be used will all have been collected from local beaches and are, though not in the traditional sense, being recycled.

The hope is that people will reply to the messages and that their replies will make it through the more traditional postal system and as well as gaining pen pals and new visitors, the final whereabouts of the bottles will also help coastal teams track the paths of the bottles to improve their understanding of the Atlantic currents.

It's a unique project on this unique group of 40 islands that make up the Turks and Caicos.

So next time you walk on a beach, look out for those bottles and please don't forget to write back soon.

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