US Virgin Islands

Environment:

The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) is part of an archipelago east of Puerto Rico, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The terrain is mostly hilly to rugged and mountainous with little level land. The highest point is Crown Mountain at 474 meters (1,552 feet). The the main islands are Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas. There are a number of privately owned islands. Both Hans Lollik Island and Thatch Cay are up for sale. Little Saint James is the private island playground of multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, dubbed the “Palm Beach pervert”.

The major environmental issue is lack of natural freshwater resources. There are two Superfund sites, a former chemical plant on St Croix and chemically contaminated groundwater on St Thomas. In 2010, the federal government sued the Virgin Islands in order to bring their landfills, managed by the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, up to national EPA standards. Following a 2011 $5.3 million penalty for Clean Air Act violations, the Hovensa petroleum refinery on St. Croix announced that it would close in 2012. In general, the Department Of Planning And Natural Resources (DPNR) is responsible for natural and cultural resources. DPNR has a Division of Fish and Wildlife, as well as a Coastal Zone Management division, with a focus on the marine environment.

The St Croix based West Indies Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service is dedicated to Caribbean seaturtle convervation. The Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS) serves as the coordinator of Blue Flag USVI, an international clean beach ecolabel, in cooperation with the the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association. Affiliated with VICS, the grassroots Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John has been in operation since 1989. St. Croix Environmental Association helped establish the Southgate Coastal Reserve as a bird sanctuary. Greener VI is a grassroots organization concerned with the dumping of raw sewage into coastal waters, as well as the issue of captive dolphins at Coral World Ocean Park on St Thomas. The Recycling Association of the Virgin Islands is a diverse community group helping to establish and promote recycling. There is also an active USVI Green Party. Environmental Support Services is a locally based company specializing in environmental consulting and planning services throughout the Caribbean.

The Virgin Islands National Park covering about 60 percent of St John, plus nearly all of Hassel Island, was designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1976. The NGO Friends of Virgin Islands National Park is the official private sector partner promoting responsible enjoyment of this national treasure. Cinnamon Bay Campground, a National Park Service concession, is directly on the beach, and offers a tent, cottage, or bare site. Maho Bay Camps is a luxury eco-resort, with its own beaches, located in the US Virgin Islands National Park. Developed by Stanley Selengut, Maho Bay Camps and Concordia Eco-Resort on St John have become the most famous examples of what eco-resorts can really be. Caneel Bay is a Rosewood Resort, nestled within Virgin Islands National Park, on property once owned by Laurance Rockefeller. Bob Garrison’s Trail Bandit hosts one of the best online maps for St John hiking trails. Hikers need to be aware of two plants which can be dangerous, Christmas Bush (aka Poison Ash), a relative of poison ivy, and the manchineel tree or “death apple”. In 2013, the US Virgin Islands banned smoking at all beaches inside its national park system.

The reefs surrounding St John are protected as the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. Buck Island Reef National Monument protects another reef surrounding the uninhabited Buck Island, off St Croix. Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge is actually located on another “Buck Island”, in the Capella Islands off St Thomas. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is a leatherback seaturtle reserve on St Croix. Just off St Croix, Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge provides protection for the critically endangered Saint Croix ground lizard, decimated by non-native Indian mongooses. The Nature Conservancy helps protects three places on St Croix, Estate Little Princess, Jack and Isaac Bays, East End Marine Park, and Magens Bay on St Thomas. St. George Village Botanical Garden is a 16 acre botanical garden with arboretum on St Croix.

Mount Victory Camp is a St Croix ecolodge built by a shipwright from local hardwoods, more craft than carpentry. Discovery Grove is an experiential learning camp and eco-retreat on St Croix. Ridge to Reef Farm is a community supported agriculture farm, offering farmstays on St Croix. Northside Valley offers sustainable eco-villas in a historical St Croix estate. The Eco Serendib Villa and Spa on St John has gone to great lengths to bill itself as an eco-friendly resort.

The St. John Beach Guide is a 2006 book and online guide to the beaches of St John. Horseback riding is available on St John from Carolina Corral, and on St Croix from Paul & Jill’s Equestrian Stables. Zipline Adventure Tours offers “tree limin extreme” at its zipline park on St. Thomas. On St Thomas, Virgin Islands Ecotours has been offering kayak, snorkeling, and hiking tours since 1996. Also on St Thomas, Island Sol is a watersports center at the Ritz-Carlton resort. Virgin Kayak Tours operates Cane Bay Campground on St Croix. Also on St Croix, Sea Thru Kayaks VI offers novel night tours with transparent kayaks in bioluminescent bays. Caribbean Adventure Tours also offers St Croix kayak tours. Kite St. Croix is a school for kiteboarding there.

St John Snorkeling is a general site about snorkeling around St John; whereas, Snorkel St. John is a novel marine life identification aid for underwater adventurers. On St Thomas, Coki Dive Center has been in operation since 1989. St. Thomas Diving Club is located at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. On St Croix, Ultimate Bluewater Adventures has been named one of the best dive shops in the Virgin Islands.

Biosphere Reserves:

  • Virgin Islands (1976)

Culture:

During the 17th century, the Virgin Islands archipelago was divided into two territorial units, one English and the other Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slaves, drove the islands’ economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the United States purchased the Danish portion, which had been in economic decline since abolition in 1848.

The National Register of Historic Places in the United States Virgin Islands is administered by the National Park Service. On St John, there is the Reef Bay Trail petroglyphs site. On St Croix, Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve commemorates the Columbus landeding site. On St Thomas, there is the Danish Skytsborg Tower, known today as Blackbeard’s Castle. The state DPNR Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums primarily administers the islands’ public libraries. The St. Croix Landmarks Society works to preserve and protect the historical and cultural legacy of the island. Water Island, the fourth largest island in USVI, was home to WWII era Fort Segarra, subsequently used as a chemical warfare research facility.

In terms of living culture, the Virgin Islands are known for their music, such as the tropical folk songs known as Quelbe. The Virgin Islands Carnival Committee is in charge of activities surrounding the annual Carnival. St. Croix Unified for Community, Culture, Environment, and Economic Development is spearheading the effort to establish St. Croix as an international geo-tourism destination through the creation of a “National Heritage Area“. As of 2013, a feasibility study has been initiated by the USVI Department of Tourism for the development of an “Adventure Park” on St Croix.

On St Croix, the Virgin Island Sustainable Farming Institute organizes volunteer opportunities and farmstays on organic farms. Also on St Croix, there is the Kalima Center, for health and holistic living, featuring the Lalita juice bar and health food restaurant. The Magic Ice ice bar has become a novel attraction on St Thomas.

Ferry Services:

  • St. Thomas – St. John Passenger Ferry
  • St. Thomas – St. John Car Barges
  • St. Thomas – Water Island
  • St. Thomas – St. Croix
  • Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort – Charlotte Amalie
  • St. Thomas – Puerto Rico
  • St. Thomas – Tortola Ferries, BVI
  • St. John – Tortola Ferry, BVI
  • St. Thomas & St. John – Virgin Gorda, BVI
  • St. Thomas & St. John – Jost Van Dyke, BVI
  • St. Thomas & St. John – Anegada, BVI

References:

  • History in Tourism Communication in the Age of Web 2.0. The Case of the Salt River Bay National Park in St. Croix of the U.S. Virgin Islands by NC Nielsen & JJ Liburd, 2008
  • Green Travel/Camp Caribbean: Back in the 1970s the U.S. Virgin Islands was the scene of a visionary experiment in ecotourism by JB Little & F Lagnese, 2007
  • Ecotourism And Sustainable Building At Harmony, Concordia And Maho Bay, US Virgin Islands by B Dunbar & S Selengut, 2004
  • Heritage Tourism Development in St. Croix of the US Virgin Islands An unconventional anthropological approach by JJ Liburd, 2000
  • The economics of tourism in an American territory: The United States Virgin Islands, ‘America’s Paradise’ by GR Providence, 1999
  • Effects of SCUBA diving on coral reef invertebrates in the US Virgin Islands: implications for the management of diving tourism by NE Chadwick-Furman, 1997
  • Selling paradise: spatial impacts of tourism on St. John, USVI by MA Cunningham, 1992
  • Balancing adverse effects of marine-based tourism with marine resource protection in Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, US. Virgin Islands by CS Rogers, 1991
  • The political ecology of development: changing resource relations and the impacts of tourism in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands by BR Johnston, 1988
  • US Virgin Islands’ international tourism: an industry at the crossroads by M Fish & JD Gibbons, 1987
  • World Tourism Forecasts And The Outlook For The US Virgin Islands by M Fish & JD Gibbons, 1987
  • Impact of Customs Duties and Excise Taxes on the Competitive Position and Economic Viability of the US Virgin Islands Tourism Retail Industry by JM Pobicki & RW Moore, 1982
  • Tourism and crime in the Caribbean: Some lessons from the United States Virgin Islands by K De Albuquerque, 1981
  • US Virgin Islanders’ perceptions of tourism by RJ Settina & BO Richmond, 1978
  • The Economic Impact of Tourism on the American Virgin Islands by B Krizan, 1971
  • Tourism in the US Virgin Islands: Its Growth and Economic Impact in the Post-war Period by JB Ryan, 1969
  • The Islands: Selected Resources of the United States Virgin Islands and Their Relationship to Recreation, Tourism and Open Space by J Kijak, R Nadelson & C F Gunter, 1968