About 1.5 miles north of the northeast coast of St. Croix lies a small, uninhabited 176-acre island that is rivaled to be St. Croix’s most cherished attraction. Buck Island Reef National Monument includes over 19,000 acres of both sea and land and was established as a protected area by the U.S. Government in 1948. In December 1961, Buck Island was declared a National Monument as a part of the National Park System by President John F. Kennedy. Accessible only by boat, this National Park site is uninhabited except for the daily visitors that stop by to take in its extraordinary beauty.

A distinctive feature that sets Buck Island apart from other islands in the Caribbean Sea is its magnificent elkhorn coral barrier reef that surrounds two-thirds of the island. Visitors can snorkel or SCUBA dive through the reef by booking a half- or full-day trip to Buck Island with one of the many charter companies offering daily trips. They offer guided tours of the reef, which is home to the only underwater trail in the United States. You’re sure to see a colorful array of marine life such as schools of blue tangs, trumpet fish, butterfly fish and parrot fish. With a bit of luck, you might even spot larger fish like barracuda or reef sharks and glimpse a sting ray or two.

From there, head over to the powdery sands of Turtle Beach to sunbathe on the shore or relax in the postcard perfect waters. Voted as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by National Geographic, you may encounter the endangered brown pelicans and least terns that call Buck Island home. Watch for turtle nests and hatchlings in nesting season; Buck Island is one of many turtle nesting beaches on St. Croix.

One Buck Island activity that many people tend to miss out on is the walking trail. Follow the path over the island to the observation platform to get a bird’s eye view of the reef and the neighboring Virgin Islands. While the trail is demanding, the stunning overview of the coral reefs and darker, deeper waters farther out is worth the effort. Be sure to wear close-toed shoes and a shirt and bring plenty of drinking water.

There are no facilities or restaurants on the island with little to no shade available on Turtle Beach. As a marine protected area, visitors are not allowed to remove anything from the monument, including rocks, shells, plants and artifacts or set up tents or umbrellas on the beach. Additionally, fishing and collecting activities are prohibited throughout the entire monument.

Article written by Anquanette Gaspard (agaspard@cruzanfoodie.com) for Coldwell Banker, St. Croix Realty

#StCroix #USVI buckisland #monument #beaches #tourism #trails