Snorkeling St. Croix, USVI January 16 through 31, 2014
by Tom & Jan Turner
Steeler Fish (Rock Beauty)
We wanted to share our experience with snorkeling St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. On January 16, we made our escape from the frozen regions of western Pennsylvania, to go to a "new to us" snorkeling spot. We spent the next two weeks snorkeling, or trying to snorkel, almost every day. We found that wind and currents can be very difficult at St. Croix in January.
Our first day, we went to Cane Bay. Cane Bay is interesting because it is a rather short swim out to "the wall", where the bottom drops out of sight, I am told thousands of feet. Not much to see for a snorkeler, but the deep, deep blue of endless water is very interesting. Other than this, the snorkeling was mediocre. We swam the entire bay, which does have a decent amount of hard and soft coral, some big fan coral and some really big sea rods. We saw all the regular reef fish (Blue Tang, butterflyfish, surgeonfish, Sergeant Majors, grunts, Yellowtail Snapper, Brown and Blue Chromis, Graysby, Coney, Parrotfish, Bluehead Wrasses, trunkfish, squirrelfish), along with some really big barracuda, Porcupinefish, and the first school of Ballyhoo we have seen that were not on a hook. There was a big sandy area that had all these worm looking things coming up from the sand. We identified them as Brown Garden Eels. Interesting. In the afternoon, we saw two Green Sea Turtles, one let us swim along with him for quite a while. Saw a really tall stand of Pillar Coral, a Banded Jawfish and a school of Saucereye Porgy.
Had dinner across the street at Eat @ Cane Bay. One of the better places to eat on the island, that we found.
During our two weeks, we snorkeled at:
-Salt River Bay, wavy and rough and could not get out to the reef. Saw a really big barracuda, five feet or so.
-Butler Bay, kind of rough and murky. Some decent coral, good swim with a sea turtle, first school of Caribbean Reef Squid since getting to the island, burrfish, Steeler Fish (Rock Beauties) and a post larval juvinile trunkfish.
-Isaacs Bay, which was very rough and choppy with a very strong current. Went in at the east end and let the current take us to the west end. Lots and lots of dead Elkhorn Coral, decent amount of hard and soft corals, some regular reef fish, not a lot, and several lobsters.
-Great Pond, which was basically nothing. I don't know if we went to the wrong spot or what, but it was shallow, very little wildlife and lots of turtle grass.
-Dave's Pool in Frederiksted and did not see a whole lot. We did find a basket star here, some burrfish, typical reef fish, some Palometa, and the first Lionfish that we saw.
-The cruise ship pier in Frederiksted. This was very interesting because of all of the growth (corals and sponges) on the piers, both the new pier and the old pier. Lots of regular reef fish, along with a Scorpionfish and a 6" Highhat.
-Tried several times to go in at the Palms. We were staying just down the beach from it, but it was always too rough to really see anything. The one time we went in, we spent so much time trying to keep off the rocks, that we never really got to look at anything.
-We went to the south end of Veterans Shore Rd., south of Frederiksted. Nothing really there to see. A nice beach, but no structure or anything in the water.
-Laura suggested snorkeling at the Tamarind. We also heard that the swim from the Tamarind to the Buccaneer was a good swim. We tried to do this a couple of times, but it was always too rough to get in the water. Unfortunately, we were never able to see this part of the island.
-We went in at Cheney Bay and swam out to Green Cay. Cheney Bay was pretty bland, and the swim out to Green Cay was void of any wildlife, except for an occaisional conch. Green Cay was probably the best reef and coral that we saw the whole time we were there. The waves and currents were there, but there was no sand, so the water was very clear. There is great coral, at least on the east side of the Cay, and lots of fish and wildlife. We saw a huge Southern Stingray, a Spotted Eagle Ray, all of the regular reef fish, many big barracudas, more Porcupinefish than we had ever seen in one place, one really big trunkfish, and a really big filefish, maybe about two feet long.
-We found a spot that we called No Name Bay. If you drive to the east end of the island, just before you go up the hill to Point Udall, there is a pull off on the left side of the road, with a small bay at the bottom of a short walk. We found this to be a very nice snorkel spot. Whereas there was a lot of big, dead Elkhorn Coral (I started calling St. Croix "The island of dead elkhorn"), there were some good, healthy stands of Elkhorn, a lot of hard and soft coral, big colonies of Pencil Coral, saw two turtles and some big barracuda, and lots of regular reef species. We went in on the east end of the bay, and let the current take us to the west end. It was one of the nicer spots that we found while there.
We spent one day going through the rain forest, which is of particular interest to me, since I am a forester by trade. We also took a day and walked down to the tidal pools. No snorkeling to be had there, but a very nice spot to enjoy the surf and the pool and the scenery.
One of the activities that was really pushed was a snorkel boat out to Buck Island. We thought that we would do it, but after talking with several snorkel junkies who had gone, we decided to skip it. We were told that there was lots and lots of dead Elkhorn, and hardly any fish. We decided that we had seen enough dead Elkhorn around the island.
In closing, I think that the snorkeling is better at St. Croix than what we were able to experience. The weather was a major factor in messing up the snorkeling for us. If is was calmer, I expect that we would have had much better snorkeling than what we were able to do. From what we saw, though, I think there are much better islands in the Caribbean to go to if you want a specific snorkeling vacation.