Tag Archives: coral reef

Buck Island Reef National Monument

Overview

Located 1.5 miles north of the large Caribbean island of St. Croix is Buck Island, which covers only 176 acres of the 19,015 acres designated as Buck Island Reef National Monument.  Arguably the best coral reef in the entire National Park Service (NPS) system is the barrier reef around the island’s northern and eastern shore, which includes large examples of elkhorn coral with its beautiful yellow branches.  Private boats can get a permit to visit the island, but most tourists reserve trips with an NPS-authorized concessionaire that provides the gear for guided snorkeling and scuba diving experiences.

Highlights

Snorkeling, Underwater Trail, West Beach, Observation Point

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling on the eastern end of the island is the highlight of a day trip to Buck Island.  The water offshore from St. Croix is cooler, even though your boat will moor in a lagoon, so consider wearing a wet suit.  There is an Underwater Trail with interpretive signs at one location along the coral reef.  Watch for a variety of parrotfish, angelfish, filefish, and sharks (lemon and nurse).  Sea turtles (green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback) are more common the west side of the island.

Best Trail

A steep, sandy trail climbs from Diedrichs Point and forms a loop when you walk West Beach, the designated anchorage area.  The 45-minute trek has a must-do spur to Observation Point for the best views, otherwise you will not be able to see through the thick vegetation of thorny trees interspersed with organ pipe cactus.  Stay on the trail and be careful not to touch poisonous manchineel trees or Christmas bush (related to poison-ivy).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bring an underwater camera for great photo opportunities.  We followed a spotted eagle ray and a large school of blue tangs around the reef.  We also saw a nurse shark, lemon shark, and dozens of barracudas.

Peak Season

Anytime except hurricane season

Hours

Buck Island is only open during daylight hours

https://www.nps.gov/buis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for concessionaire boat trip

Road Conditions

There are no roads on the island, so a boat tour through an NPS-authorized concessionaire is necessary to access it.  There is a large parking lot (fee) near the Christiansted marina and floatplane airport.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

Buck Island is closed between sunset and sunrise, with no overnight mooring allowed.  On St. Croix, there is no official NPS campground at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, but people camp along the coast there and at many beachside locations around the entire island.

Related Sites

Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Explore More – What type of domesticated animals were let loose on Buck Island in the 1700s (permanently altering the vegetation)?

Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

Overview

Established in 2001, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument covers 12,708 acres of ocean around Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.  The National Monument consists of four separate areas in the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Caribbean Sea.  Its primary access point is in Coral Bay where it touches the island’s shoreline and kayaks can be launched from the road at Borck Creek, Princess Bay, and Haulover Bay.  

Highlights

Borck Creek, Princess Bay, Haulover Bay

Must-Do Activity

We rented a tandem kayak from Crabby’s in Coral Harbor and paddled east into Hurricane Hole to access the monument.  We found the snorkeling to be best around Borck Creek.  Guided kayaking and snorkeling trips can be arranged with concessionaires on the island.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria killed a large portion of the red mangroves surrounding the bays within the monument.  However, even the dead roots provide structure for coral and fish.  The best way to see this is to snorkel in the shallow water, but be careful not to touch a mangrove jellyfish which can trigger a group response when the first one stings.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

These are the hours for the Virgin Islands National Park visitor center on St. John:

https://www.nps.gov/viis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

No roads in this completely underwater monument, but watch for potholes and oncoming truck traffic if you drive to Princess Bay on Centerline Road from the ferry terminal in Cruz Bay.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

There are overnight moorings (no anchors allowed) for boats in Water Creek and other bays around St. John.  There are currently no campgrounds open on the island.

Explore More – Why do barracudas often follow snorkelers and divers?