The US Virgin Islands are located in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, to the east of Porto Rico. They comprise approximately 50 islands but the three main islands are St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John, around which the most accessible snorkeling can be found. In particular, much of the coast of St. Johns comprises the Virgin Islands National Park, which supports a variety of tropical habitats including some of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean.
St. Croix is 60km south from most of the other islands but has its own airport. Two good beach locations include Canes Bay and Shoys beach, with the former having a coral wall near to shore. Other interesting snorkeling spots include the Old Frederiksted Pier on the west coast and Buck Island. Only accessible by boat, Buck Island has a marked snorkel trail and is a good location to spot green sea turtles and occasionally eagle rays.
The islands of St. Thomas and St. John are to the north and are linked by frequent ferries between Red Hook and Cruz Bay. A good family beach for snorkeling exists at Coki Point Beach on St. Thomas, while a more demanding site, requiring a 45min boat trip, can be located off the Cow and Calf Rocks.
St. John is the most natural of the islands and has numerous easy access snorkeling spots. A group of spots is located around what was the Caneel Bay Resort, destroyed in the 2017 hurricanes. These beaches can only be accessed by boat at present as the resort is no longer open.
The beaches include Honeymoon Bay to the south, the main Caneel Bay beach, and both Scott Bay and Turtle Bay to the north, separated from Hawksnest beach by Hawksnest point. Hawksnest Beach has landward access and parking is available but the beach can be a little exposed and subject to surf. All areas support a range of corals, including some significant stands of elkhorn coral.
Other areas on St. John include Leinster Bay (also known as Watermelon Cay), which is 25mins in a taxi from Cruz Bay. Also, the wide flat beaches of Great Lameshur Bay, where bigger marine fauna may be found, including eagle rays, nurse sharks, and green sea turtles.
Clearly, some of the more interesting habitats in the area are based around the coral patches, which most notably include, elkhorn coral, varieties of staghorn corals, pillar coral and brain coral, as well as the brilliantly colored orange cup coral (only truly visible at night).
The extensive areas of healthy coral, in turn, support a wide variety of reef-associated fish species including angelfish, butterflyfish, puffers, hinds, parrots, tangs and grunts in abundance.
The open bays include extensive areas of seagrass beds that are favored by a wide variety of fish including southern stingrays and gently grazing green sea turtles. In the more exposed areas, larger species may be found including barracuda, nurse sharks and lemon sharks.
If you are planning a snorkeling trip to the USVI, we recommend the excellent Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas (also available in ebook), the reference guide to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling the island’s coastlines.
Seawater temperatures are uniformly warm with the coolest period (78.8°F/26°C) occurring January to April, and the warmest water in September/October (84.2°F/29°C). The water temperatures mirror the atmospheric temperatures with the hottest periods between May to November (89.6°F/32°C) but tempered by the cooling breezes, which tend to be almost uniformly easterly in direction.
Rainfall also increases to a peak in September-November with maximum precipitation of 155mm in October. There is always the danger of tropical storms and hurricanes, with the greatest probability from August to October.
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Common in seagrass meadows, for example in Hawksnest Beach (Caneel Bay) and Buck Island
Occasional sightings in sandy/grassy areas
One of the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean. Occasional on reef spots
Common on reef spots
On all reef spots
At reef, but pretty uncommon
Bays with coral reefs and seagrass meadows with sea turtles
Level: Resort nearby
Protected bay with reefs, fish and occasional sea turtles
Level: Free shore access
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