Buck island turtle beach with sailboats
Buck Island’s Turtle Beach looking back at the main island of St Croix

Just a short boat ride from the shores of St. Croix lies an ecological treasure – Buck Island Reef National Monument. This 19,000-acre protected area offers some of the most pristine snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea. By booking a Buck Island snorkel tour, you’ll discover the incredible marine life and vibrant coral reefs that thrive in these sheltered waters.

When I first moved to St Croix in 2001, I spent my weekends working as a crew member on one of the snorkel tour charters that headed out to Buck Island each day. I pinched myself daily realizing that this incredible National gem was now right in my own backyard. Nowadays, I don’t get out there nearly enough but it’s still my absolute favorite place on St Croix and it makes my heart smile just knowing that it’s there.

Buck Island itself is 167 acres and as a National Park managed site is uninhabited except for the daily visitors. Though the island and marine conservation area are managed by the National Park System (NPS), the land and sea are still owned by the people of the US Virgin Islands.

A History of Conservation

Buck Island’s journey to becoming a U.S. national monument began in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy, who vacationed often with his family on St Croix, designated the island and surrounding underwater areas for environmental preservation. Its rich biodiversity and fragile ecology were deemed treasures worth protecting for future generations. Kennedy referred to it as “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea.”

Snorkelers and sailors enjoying the crystal clear waters at Buck Island's West Beach, 1960. NPS photo
Snorkelers and sailors enjoying the crystal clear waters at Buck Island’s West Beach, 1960. NPS photo

In 1962, “Buck Island Reef” became one of the first fully protected marine gardens and underwater trails in the US National Park Service system at 880 acres that included a 259-acre “no-take” area. In 2001, the area was renamed “Buck Island Reef National Monument” to recognize the importance of conserving the entire marine ecosystem, and the park was expanded to cover 19,015 acres, mostly underwater. Protecting these waters and preventing fishing in them has allowed many vulnerable species like green and hawksbill sea turtles, along with endangered elkhorn corals to recover from environmental threats.

Today, the National Park Service works closely with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and the Sea Turtle Conservancy to preserve Buck Island’s natural wonders. Conservation efforts focus on restoring threatened coral reefs, protecting nesting habitats for sea turtles and seabirds, and maintaining the ecological balance.

Green Sea Turtle Hatchlings leaving Turtle Beach. NPS photo
Corals and fish at Buck Island Reef National Monument. Susanna Pershern, NPS

Learn more about the history of conservation efforts at Buck Island Underwater National Monument in National Geographic’s 2017 article Why It’s Important to Save Our Seas’ Pristine Places

An Underwater Snorkeling Paradise

Buck Island Reef National Monument‘s shallow reef system provides the perfect snorkeling conditions for up-close encounters with diverse marine species. The crystal-clear waters offer superb visibility to observe this protected habitat up close.

On a guided Buck Island snorkel tour, you may spot:

  • Juvenile hawksbill and green sea turtles – learn more about St Croix’s Sea Turtles
  • Schools of blue tang, parrotfish, and doctorfish
  • Spotted eagle rays
  • Queen angelfish and butterflyfish
  • Spiny lobsters and conch
  • Branching coral and Gorgonian sea fans

The snorkeling trail features underwater signage to guide snorkelers along the shallow reef system and identify marine residents. When you reach the East Side snorkeling trail, tour guides will lead you through the trail for the first time, then you’ll have the opportunity to explore the coral reef system. Tour guides often provide additional insights into the behavior and ecology of the marine life that you’ll find. And if you’re super lucky, you may even encounter bottle-nosed dolphins!

The island’s beaches also serve as vital nesting grounds for hawksbill turtles and brown pelicans. And its inland trails reveal remnants of the island’s plantation era and indigenous Taino inhabitants.

Join National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry as he explores St. Croix’s Buck Island Reef National Monument

Pro-tip: When watching the video above, click on the screen to move the view around 360-degrees … it’s awe-inspiring!

Booking Buck Island Snorkel Tours

Buck Island is only accessible via tour operators licensed through the NPS via group and private charter boats. Most tour boats depart from the Christiansted Boardwalk on St. Croix with some leaving out of Green Cay Marina. Buck Island tour packages all include snorkeling gear, instruction, and some beach time on Buck Island’s West End, famed Turtle Beach.

Snorkelers at Buck Island Reef Underwater Monument
Snorkelers at the Buck Island Reef Underwater Monument marked trail

Local tour companies provide half and full-day Buck Island Snorkel Tours suitable for all ages and skill levels. Choose from motor boats to get you out there quicker and have a little more time at the island, or maybe sailing is more your speed. You’ll also find private charters available through Caribbean Sea Adventures available for smaller groups.

To protect the fragile coral reef system, only a limited number of boats and snorkelers are permitted each day. So it’s best to reserve your Buck Island snorkel tour well in advance!

Ready to submerge yourself in Buck Island’s vibrant underwater galleries and natural wonders? Book a snorkel tour and discover this true Caribbean ecological gem just off St. Croix’s shores.

Who Do We Love for Buck Island Snorkel Tours?

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Caribbean Sea Adventures

Caribbean Sea Adventures loves the sun, sand, and sea! We offer public and private charters, sunset sails, snorkeling, scuba diving, and wedding ceremonies at beautiful Buck Island Reef National Monument. Specializing in private and small group charters so you never need to worry about personal space. We limit our public excursions to 80% of each vessel’s U.S. Coast Guard capacity ensuring that our guests never miss out on the personal attention our crew has become famous for. Buck Island Reef National Monument Snorkeling Charters Buck Island Reef National Monument is a must for every visitor whether you snorkel the underwater trail or [...]
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