Buck Island Reef
Buck Island features the finest marine garden in the Caribbean, as well as having coral grottoes, sea fans, gorgonias, and tropical fishes. The island, which has an underwater nature trail and beaches, is a rookery for frigate birds and brown pelicans and is a nesting area for sea turtles. Visitors can take in the crystal clear water, extraordinary array of underwater life, and tropical vegetation through a variety of activities including swimming, snorkeling, and hiking.
A virtual view of the island shows its major features. A viewing platform near the 340' summit (1) can be reached by trails starting from West Beach (2) and Diedrichs Point (3) picnic areas. A pier (4) serves as a landing site for consessioner boat service to and from St. Croix; a favorite anchorage for private boaters lies off West Beach (5). The Marine Garden protected area occupies the eastern portion of Buck Island Reef where fishing and collecting activities are prohibited. Here you will find the Underwater Trail (6), a popular destination for snorkeling, and an area reserved for scuba diving (7).
Snorkeling Beginners easily snorkel Buck Island's coral grottoes with expert advice and a short lesson-from the boat's crew. A guide takes 6 visitors at a time through the underwater trail; signs tell what you see. Maximum water depth in the grottoes is 12 feet. Always snorkel with a buddy and keep well in front of boats moored at the underwater trail. Scuba diving is allowed in the national monument only in two designated areas. These 30-to 40-foot, shallow dives go through haystack formations of elkhorn coral.
Private Boating Taking your own boat to Buck Island? Contact the NPS visitor center in Christiansted for information. is a 5.5 mile (8.8 km) sail from Christiansted on St. Croix. Concession boats are available at Christiansted Wharf. Boats should be maneuvered slowly through Monument waters. Vessels over 42 feet should anchor at West Beach and visit the underwater trail by dinghy.
Picnic Areas West Beach and Diedrich's Point provide picnic tables, charcoal grills, and pit toilets, with some shade at West Beach. Diedrich's has a 20 x 20-toot shelter. Please take all trash off the island with you including bottle caps, which hurt bare feet. Dead and down wood may be gathered for use in grills but avoid poisonous manchineel wood. Do not empty grill ashes on the ground; grease attracts biting ants. Put only cool ashes in trash cans. It you must leave ashes that are not cool, extinguish them with sand and leave them in the grill.
Walking Trails A marked hiking trail from either Diedrich's or the West Beach picnic areas crosses the island. At a walking pace you can do it in 45 minutes. It you plan to hike, wear shoes and shirt and bring drinking water. From West Beach the trail goes through low-lying beach forest, giant tamarind trees, guinea grass hillsides, and tropical dry forest near the island's peak. A side trail goes out to an observation point with views of the coral reef below and darker, deeper water further out where the continental shelf falls off to the 5-mile-deep Puerto Rican Trench. On clear days you can see St. Thomas and St. John 45 miles to the north.
The main trail continues over the island's spine and descends the south side. It takes small switchbacks through frangipani trees, organpipe cactus, Ginger Thomas, and bromeliads. The trail ends at Diedrich's Point picnic area. It's an easy walk along the shoreline back to West Beach.
For the less energetic, the West Beach trail offers a hike to giant tamarind trees. Return along the water's edge until fallen trees prevent going further; then take the trail back to the picnic area.
On the island: The island closes to visitors at sunset. Pets, vehicles (except wheelchairs), artificial lighting, camping, generators, and loud music are prohibited. Build fires only in NPS-placed grills at picnic areas. Digging, tent poles, beach umbrellas, and stakes are prohibited on beaches.
Fishing is prohibited in the marine garden and tightly regulated elsewhere. Review boating and fishing regulations at the NPS visitor center in Christiansted before you set out.
Waterskiing and spear-fishing are prohibited. Anchoring and scuba diving are prohibited in the lagoon and at the underwater trail: boats must pick up a mooring.
Research & Monitoring For more than 20 years the NPS and scientists have studied Buck Island's coral reef system. Monitoring and research also focus on fish and fisheries; sea turtle, brown pelican, and least tern nesting; and visitor activities and their impacts. The effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes and human-caused disasters such as ship groundings and oil spills are also monitored as are the recoveries from them. Exotic plant management, reintroduction of native plant species, and control of rat and mongoose populations also are undertaken. Hurricane Hugo's effect on Buck Island in 1989 forced long-term, dramatic changes in both land and marine systems. Hugo brought 14 hours of sustained 150-mph winds with gusts to 204 mph. More than 80 percent of the beach forest was killed but left standing. Hawksbill turtle nesting areas were disrupted. Nearly 100 percent of the south barrier reef was destroyed by scouring and pounding from storm waves; most of the reef crest was relocated 90 feet landward, narrowing the south lagoon. Monitoring of the coral reef's recovery continues.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication