Saint John, US Virgin Islands has arguably the best shallow water snorkeling in the Caribbean. With most patch reefs and sea grass beds within a short swim from the island’s top beaches – access couldn’t be easier. And since much of the island’s corals and sea life are under the protect of the Virgin Islands National Park – the reefs are some of the healthiest in the region.
The best way to protect our coral reefs is to learn how to snorkel, use equipment with the proper fit and never exceed your physical abilities.
That said, one of the top threats to this amazing underwater world is you ( …and me and everyone that comes to snorkel and enjoy St John’s beaches )! The sheer number of people ( over 2 million visit the USVIs each year ) means we’ll have some impact. So what can we each do to help protect this amazing place? First and foremost respect the coral and sea life. How do you show respect? Don’t touch. Don’t injure. And only take home pictures and memories!
#1 – Safety first! Always snorkel with a buddy.
#2 – Choose snorkeling gear that fits you properly! Ill-fitting gear is probably the #1 reason snorkelers stand on coral heads! Your mask should be comfortable yet tight enough to keep water from entering the mask. Snorkel should be clean and adjusted so that it passes along the left or right side – just in front of your ear with a mouth piece appropriate to your age, gender and size. Fins should be the proper size – comfortable without being too loose or to tight; and either enter the water walking backwards or put on your fins once you’ve entered the water ( recommended).
Snorkeling Tip: baby shampoo is a great mask defogger!
#3 – Make any adjustments to gear BEFORE you start your snorkeling. And test in shallow water with a sandy bottom.
#4 – If you are inexperienced – consider a snorkeling charter or water sports instruction! These guys know their stuff and will give you the basics for successfully enjoying these activities.
#5 – Know your physical abilities and limitations. Many prefer to snorkel with some floatation – providing greater comfort and control.
Snorkeling Tip: Put fins on in the water; or carefully walk backwards for fins-on entry.
#6 – DO NOT TOUCH corals or marine life. Most have toxic forms of protection and/or bacteria counts that should make you think twice about contact!
#7 – Maintain control of your position around corals and rocks. Waves and currents can be strong – pushing you into shallow areas, corals and rocks. If you get into trouble – instinct will kick in and you’ll likely forget about the fragile eco system around you! That’s when corals can get damaged.
#8 – Remember that your fins extend beyond your feet by 12″ to 24″. Lots of damage to coral is done when a snorkeler inadvertently breaks off coral with an errant fin!
Snorkeling Tip: Buddy up! Always snorkel with a partner and maintain visual contact.
#9 – Do not stir up sand or sediment – this can clog and suffocate fragile life forms like sponges, tunicates and sea fans as well as larger hard and soft corals.
#10 – Always be aware of your surroundings. Wind, weather and currents can change dramatically. And if you do encounter strong currents – do not swim against them. Stay calm and swim at an angle to the current and toward the beach.
If each one of us takes these 10 steps we can lessen our impact on these amazing underwater places – leaving them healthier and more beautiful for the next visitor!