Buck Island

Buck Island Reef National Monument

© Raymond Patrick

Buck Island is a small, uninhabited, 176 acre (712,000 m²) island about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the northeast coast of Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Buck Island was first established as a protected area by the U.S. Government in 1948, with the intention of preserving “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea.” Buck Island’s U.S. National Monument was created in 1961 by John F. Kennedy and greatly expanded in 2001 by Bill Clinton.

WATCH: Caribbean Gem: Buck Island Reef National Monument

WINNER OF THE 2014 TELLY AWARDS Film/Video Bronze Winner Produced By: North Shore Productions (Portland, OR) www.northshorepro.com

“Caribbean Gem: Buck Island Reef National Monument” premiered during NPS-STX lecture series on February 13, 2014, in Christiansted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

“The movie is being shown on our local PBS station and it is so cool to have folks mention the movie to us . . . residents who never thought about the park before are actually thinking about going for a visit . . . I believe we hit the mark on all our various and diverse goals. Many thanks go to you for your insight, patience, and quiet nerve. The story of Buck Island Reef will live on long after all of us and that was the point after all. The movie is a success thanks to you and your wonderfully talented team of experts.
— Zandy Hillis-Starr,  Chief of Resource Management, Buck Island Reef National Monument

What’s special about Buck Island?

Buck Island is a National Park that has one of only three U.S. underwater National Park trails.  In addition to the island itself, the surrounding water and coral reefs are also a protected part of the park.  On the eastern tip of the island, you can snorkel among hundreds of species of fish and other marine life that make their home among the protected coral.  While the reef has been significantly damaged by hurricanes,  this underwater ecosystem still teems with life and resembles a colorful playground. On Buck Island’s west end you can enjoy your brown bag lunch on the beach, a walk on powdery white sand or a leisurely swim through the crystal clear blue water.  The average temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Buck Island is a favored destination of visitors and residents alike.  The beach hosts a number of boats and quite a crowd on Sunday afternoons.  But during the week you’re likely to share the beach with only a couple of other boats, if any at all, depending on the time of year and the time of day. Not that you’ll be thinking about the clock when you’re at Buck Island.  The rest of the world will seem eons away.  Time will stand still as you slow down and tune in to the life of this unique sanctuary.

Buck Island Reef National Monument

Most of Buck Island’s Monument area, which is administered by the National Park Service, is underwater and attracts around 50,000 visitors a year. With its 4,554-acre (18.43 km2) long reef there is plenty to explore and experience in the water. Snorkelers can follow an underwater marked trail on the eastern tip of Buck Island. It is one of only three underwater trails in the United States. Along the trail at Buck Island are plaques denoting information about marine flora and fauna commonly found in the area. Two-thirds of Buck Island is surrounded by an elkhorn coral barrier reef, providing an ecosystem for over 250 fish species and a variety of other marine life including spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks and lemon sharks, and juvenile Blacktip reef sharks and Whitetip reef sharks. In the spring endangered Leatherback turtles come onto the beach to nest while Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles nest during the summer months. Turtle Beach on the western edge of Buck Island features a pristine white sand beach and has been voted one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by National Geographic.

The National Park Service has been monitoring Buck Island for over 20 years. Most of the research is focused on fish, sea turtles, brown pelicans and least tern nesting. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, along with man-made problems such as ship groundings and oil spills, have negatively affected the ecosystem. Hurricane Hugo destroyed over 80% of beach forest, almost 100% of the south barrier reef was ruined, and most of the nesting areas for Green and Hawksbill turtles was eroded.

There are actually two Buck Islands in the Virgin Islands. The one just north of St. Croix is the centerpiece of the National Monument. Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge occupies the one near St. Thomas