Snorkel the Buck Island Reef Underwater Trail
Buck Island Reef National Monument offers some of the best snorkeling on St. Croix, as well as a postcard-worthy white sand beach surrounded by magnificently clear blue waters. This natural landscape allows visitors to see unspoiled Caribbean beauty while enjoying some of St. Croix’s marine life in its natural habitat. Named #2 on the Coastal Living Magazine ‘Top 10 Spots to Snorkel’, Buck Island Reef National Monument (or Buck Island as it is known locally) attracts around 50,000 visitors a year – many coming to snorkel the picturesque underwater trail.
For those of you who like facts and history, Buck Island Reef National Monument is a 176 acre, uninhabited island about 1.5 miles north of the northeast coast of St. Croix. First established as a protected area by the U.S. Government in 1948, Buck Island was made a U.S. National Monument in 1961 by John F. Kennedy with the intention of preserving what he called: ‘…one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea.’ The Buck Island Reef National Monument was greatly expanded in 2001 by Bill Clinton, but most of the monument area is underwater and includes one of only three underwater trails in the United States.
Now for the fun part…snorkelers can expect a mind-blowing underwater world that is teeming with an abundance of coral, marine fauna fish, and marine life in an array of colors, patterns, shapes and textures. The barrier reef is comprised of giant, branching elkhorn coral that create fortress-like walls that form a lagoon between Buck Island and the surrounding seas. Within the lagoon lies the snorkel trail, where plaques depict and describe the fish and marine flora commonly found in the area. With its 4,554 acre long reef, the Buck Island reef is home to over 250 fish species and a variety of other marine life including green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, lemon sharks, and juvenile reef sharks.
As you meander along the snorkel trail through the large coral formations, you will swim alongside schools of blue tangs, trumpet fish, butterfly fish, parrot fish, and maybe even see some of the larger fish like barracuda or reef sharks. If you have never been snorkeling, or it has been awhile, take one of the many tours and let the guides help you find your way around the trail and get comfortable. Take your time along the trail to appreciate the rainbow of colors and the symphony of sounds the ocean provides in this spot, and try to recognize the magnitude of ecosystem that surrounds you.
In addition to the world-class snorkeling, complete your day at Buck Island with a stop on the west end of the island at Turtle Beach, voted one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by National Geographic. The soft white sands and aquamarine waters are a relaxing way to round out your trip. While you enjoy the sun and sand, keep an eye out for the endangered brown pelicans and lest terns that call this island home, and watch for turtle nests and hatchlings in nesting season as this is one of many turtle nesting beaches on St. Croix.
If you want to head out to Buck Island, I recommend taking one of the guided snorkeling tours. The tour operators are permitted by the National Park Service, and are very knowledgeable and professional. The tour operators will give you snorkel lessons if you need them, and they will provide your gear as part of your trip. Plus, I can say from my personal experience of several of the different tour boats, they will make sure you have a great time! Put on your swimsuit, grab some sun protection, water, and maybe a snack, and hop aboard a Buck Island tour for a fun day of underwater exploration.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
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