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Buck Island


Buck Island Reef National Monument was established by presidential proclamation in 1961 and expanded in 2001 in order to preserve “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea.”

Buck Island aerial

The park is now one of only a few fully protected marine ecosystems in the National Park System. The 176-acre island and surrounding coral reef support a large variety of native flora and fauna, including several endangered and threatened species such as hawksbill turtles and brown pelicans.

The elkhorn coral barrier reef that surrounds two-thirds of the island has extraordinary formations, deep grottoes, abundant reef fishes, sea fans and gorgonians. At the eastern most point is the famous underwater trail; both novice and expert snorkelers will enjoy the passages through the reef.

Buck Island is a popular snorkeling site for day-sailing trips from Christiansted with some 15 to 20 tour boats arriving every day. The “head boats” leave Christiansted or Green Cay at 10am and arrive at the trail at about 11am. After a couple of hours of snorkeling, the boats sail downwind to the beach for lunch and to log some sand time before returning to Christiansted by 4pm.


The park is now one of only a few fully protected marine ecosystems in the National Park System. The 176-acre island and surrounding coral reef support a large variety of native flora and fauna, including several endangered and threatened species such as hawksbill turtles and brown pelicans.


Inside the reef, the channel to the east end underwater trail carries five feet, and a passage through the reef is marked by red and green buoys on the south side of the island. Motor up the reef to the National Park moorings. Anchoring and overnighting at the underwater trail is prohibited.

The National Park Service created the marked, snorkel trail to describe the marine flora and fauna as you paddle by. It is sometimes uncanny to swim past a sign with a picture and the words “Queen Angelfish” and have a school of queen angels waft by on cue. Of course, most reef fish are territorial, so it isn’t inexplicable, just eerie. The trails also consist of wonderful underwater grottoes with electric blue tangs, French angels and turquoise parrot fish munching on the coral.

Buck Island

On the west end, take the dinghy ashore or tie up at the small pier on the south end of the beach. There is a picnic pavilion with tables and barbeques which can be crowded with visiting tourists during the day. Several species of sea turtles use the southwest beach (Turtle Beach) as a breeding ground. Hawksbill, and green and leatherback turtles return each year to dig nests, resulting in an annual scramble to the sea by hundreds of tiny, flippered babies. For you sun worshippers, Turtle Beach was named one of the “Top 10 Caribbean Beaches” by National Geographic.

A trail up to the Buck Island light, 300 feet above sea level, starts on Turtle Beach. It’s a nice hike with good photo opportunities as you wind your way to the top. There is a poisonous Manchioneel tree on the beach, so it’s always good to identify it before using it for protection from a tropical squall.

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