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Leave Paradise in its Place


Residents and visitors appreciate the Virgin Islands for a number of reasons, but the gorgeous beaches and stunning underwater ecosystems definitely rank at the top of our list of favorite things about St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. That’s why it’s important that we all keep our marine life healthy and safe. The Virgin Islands Network of Environmental Educators (VINE) has launched a new awareness campaign called ‘Leave Paradise in its Place’ to tackle the problems we face in protecting our delicate ecosystems.


All native plants and animals of the USVI are protected under the Indigenous Species Act. It is illegal to take, catch, possess, injure, harass, or kill any native animal, or plant. All fish (unless harvested for food), coral, shells, and other marine life are protected. This means no one is allowed to leave the territory with shells, corals or any other marine life in their possession, or to mail them off-island.


Pieces of coral that wash up on the shore today will break down and help form the sandy white beaches of tomorrow. Please, do not remove anything other than trash from the beach.

Sand Castle Beach


Did you know that in the past two years alone, more than 1 ton of sand, coral and shells removed from St. Croix beaches have been confiscated by customs agents at Henry E. Rohlsen airport from visitors wanting to bring a piece of paradise home with them? Our famed white sand beaches are beautiful places to relax and hang out, but they are also living organisms that play an important part in the balance of our ecosystem as a whole. Sandy beaches are made of coral and shelled organisms whose remains erode into sand particles. Shells also serve as homes for hermit crabs and other sea creatures. By leaving the treasures of the beach in their place, you will be helping to keep our beaches beautiful so they can be enjoyed for years to come.


Many animals use the beaches for nesting and hatching. Green, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles come ashore throughout the year to lay their nests, and the baby turtles then make the harrowing journey from sand to sea upon hatching. These turtles are all on the Endangered Species list, though their numbers have started to climb in recent years due to positive intervention and awareness. Please be careful where you walk, drive or place your belongings when hanging out at the beach!

The Virgin Islands is well known for having some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world, and we need to keep it that way! When enjoying an underwater adventure, please respect the corals and sea life– they are integral to the underwater ecosystems and animals that use reefs for shelter and food. Because they are so delicate, reef organisms are affected by the slightest touch by a hand or snorkel fin. Please look but don’t touch when exploring underwater. If you’re operating a boat, please be careful where you toss your anchor! You can protect our vital reefs by making sure you anchor in the sand only. Grab an underwater camera and take a few snaps of your snorkeling trip, but leave everything where it is so that other travelers and residents can enjoy the beauty of the reef!


VINE is putting a lot of effort into making the ‘Leave Paradise in it’s Place’ initiative a fun, educational group effort, and it’s our responsibility as residents and lovers of the Virgin Islands to do our part as well. Hotels should be putting up educational information and as residents we should be sure to share our knowledge and respect for the environment with visitors and friends as well. There are fun ways for us to all support this program:

There are several ways you can help or get involved:

  • Take advantage of free snorkeling lessons or clinics.
  • If you are a parent, make sure you encourage your kids NOT to take that shell or piece of coral off the beach, but instead gently give it back to the environment by leaving it where you found it.
  • If you are a teacher or educator yourself, you may want to take some posters back to the mainland with you to share with your students. The next time they go to the beach (wherever that is) we hope they remember to ‘Leave Paradise in its Place’.

With the power of our community, we can come together to protect our most precious natural resources and the delicate ecosystems of our island home. Won’t you join us? Please contact the Virgin Islands Network of Environmental Educators (VINE) for more information at (340) 998-4820, or visit their Facebook page for more.