A trip to St. Croix would not be complete without day tripping to Buck Island. Located just 1 1/2 miles off the northeast shore of Christiansted, St. Croix, Buck Island is easily accessible from Christiansted, Green Cay Marina and the St. Croix Yacht Club. As one of only three Underwater National Monuments in the United States, Buck Island’s unsurpassed natural beauty will calm and invigorate you. Accessible only by boat, there are several tour operators offering full and half day trips to the small island.
With even more enthusiasm than I had on my first journey there, I signed up for a full day trip with one of the tour operators located on the Christiansted Boardwalk. We left from the Christiansted boardwalk promptly at 9:30am after meeting the captain and crew. As we set sail for a full day at Buck Island we learned more about its history. First protected in 1948, the area was finally designated as a national monument in 1961. At that time, 176 acres of land, the surrounding water, and Buck Island’s contents were protected by law. Before President Clinton left office, he widened the protected area to 19,800 acres. As tempting as it is, no shells, sand, or animals, whether dead or alive, are allowed to be taken from the property.
From the boat, the bright green hillsides of St. Croix stand out against the deep blue sea. Breathtaking homes and the historic ruins of sugar mills lightly sprinkle the landscape. Our sail continued and as we get further east, I notice the distant hills becoming dark. And yet, above me and my boat-mates, there was nothing but glorious sunshine. I was mesmerized by the rain bathing the hills in a sequenced, step-like pattern. Luckily, the rain stayed at a closeness only to admire and not touch. A little after 10 am, we anchored at our first stop, Turtle Beach.
This white sandy beach is located on the northwest side of Buck Island and is usually quiet this time of morning. Turtle Beach is the nesting ground for many endangered species such as the brown pelican, the leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles. The beach is perfect for lounging, long walks and splashing in the clear crisp tropical waters.One lucky snorkeler had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Sammy, an outgoing stingray that has frequented Buck Island for several years. Visitors and locals who visit Buck Island have befriended Sammy and often feed her bits of squid. This has made her so tame that she will allow a petting, but will stick around with hopes of getting a treat. She has lost the barbs on her tail, so she poses no threat.
Back on the boat, we headed through a beautiful lagoon protected by the reef. On the way to the trail, I notice the rocky cliffs spilling over into the water. Buck Island possesses awesome terrain caused not by volcanic rock as one might think, but rather, an upheaval of Tectonic plates. Normally dry, the terrain allows mostly Cactus, Aloe and Casha to grow wildly. Around the island, Manchineel is also widely present. Once at the underwater trail, we grabbed our masks, fins and snorkels, and walked into the inviting ocean. We lined up, in pairs, for a guided tour of the trail, where brilliantly colored sea life fills the water in abundance. Sporadically placed markers briefly describe the types of fish and coral we see along the trail.
After a short guided tour, time is left to explore the garden in pairs. It was so peaceful to see, and be encompassed by, such intriguing beauty and stunning color. Around us, the coral stood tall and bright, with splashes of orange, yellow and bits of purple. The fish didn’t seem to be afraid of us in their territory, but rather inquisitive. I saw a huge Parrot Fish that was primarily blue. His tail was yellow in color, blending into a green, back to blue, then purple and back to green. Several curious Yellow Tang stayed at close range, inquisitively looking at us until running into a much larger snapper. I was so enveloped in the fish and coral below that I almost ran face to face with a three foot long Barracuda. But, I was in his territory and since he wasn’t moving, I did…and fast.
After working up an appetite, we got back on the boat, caught some more rays, and enjoyed our surroundings and mixed conversation with each other. We anticipated lunch at the beach a short sail from Buck Island. The tour I was on provides a beach barbecue with rum punch on their full day sails, and some others do as well. Anchored at the beach, we all admired the beauty of Buck and its glistening white sand. We volunteered to help unload coolers of rum punch, refreshments, and the makings of a great beach BBQ. While our captain cooked up hot dogs, hamburgers, and fresh tuna, most of the group sat around talking and getting to know each other, while others enjoyed the water until lunch was ready.
As the grill got started, a slight rustling in the bush caught my attention. When I searched for its origin, I found the culprit to be a hungry mongoose. Though these critters are somewhat like ferrets, they are wild and should not be confronted. We set out a few chips but they didn’t last too long. Mongoose are common on St. Croix, especially where there’s food. They were originally brought from England to heed the number of rats that were destroying the sugar cane fields. Because mongoose are active in daylight and rats are nocturnal, their purpose was misguided. But, as a result of their presence we can proudly say there are no snakes in the wild on St. Croix.
Once the food and rum punch was placed out, it was hard to leave the table. Some stood around the spread to be first in line for a second helping, while others adopted the island way of life and sat down to relax and savor the moment. With full bellies and salty skin, we packed up our things and headed back to Christiansted, leaving the beach and Buck Island behind us.
When I see the red roofs on buildings that dot Christiansted harbor, I know my day has come to an end. Tomorrow the boat and crew will set out to do it all over again, but I will have to hold onto this feeling until the next chance for a day trip to Buck.
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