Dive in and sight-sea – St. Croix reefs and wrecks
By Carol Bareuther on 31st July, 2023
Dive in when visiting St. Croix, or you’ll miss half the fun. This largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands offers some of its best sights beneath the sea. Submerged reefs and wrecks are alive with picture-postcard marine life ready to tour by snorkeling or scuba diving. It’s no wonder that St. Croix is frequently named one of the top dive destinations in the Caribbean.
“St. Croix is a very diverse island for diving and there is great snorkeling all over the island,” says Michelle Pugh, a four decade-plus St. Croix resident, dive operator, and spearhead of the placement of coral-protective dive moorings around St. Croix, who in 2004 was inducted into the international Women Divers Hall of Fame. “I really do not have a favorite. Each day of diving is always so different. But I’m always impressed by what critters I get to see.”
Here’s a sampling of where to go and what to know:
The Wall: Like its sibling Virgins, St. Croix offers many types of reefs including deep reefs—think walls and shelf edges. Yet only the big island is home to what’s called the “ultimate wall dive,” a vertical drop that starts at 40 feet and plunges to depths of more than two miles deep. “The wall extends from Salt River to Hamm’s bluff,” says Pugh. “It’s like swimming over the Grand Canyon.” Coral gardens along the wall teem with soft and hard corals, sea fans, and schools of triggerfish, flamingo tongues, octopus, and occasionally sea turtles and dolphins. The closest access to the wall is off Cane Bay Beach, a swim of about 200 yards from shore. Dive operators also offer boat dives to different locations along this wall. One-tank shore dives start at $75-$80 per person, while one-tank boat dives cost $100-$110 per person.
Buck Island: St. Croix boasts the Virgin Islands’ only well-developed barrier reefs. Two-thirds of Buck Island, a 176-acre island located less than two miles northeast of Christiansted, is surrounded by a coral barrier reef with stands of elkhorn nearly 40 feet tall. It’s part of the Buck Island Reef National Monument, replete with a self guided underwater snorkel trail. Cemented plaques on the seafloor tell about the local coral, fish life, and how coral transplants help with reef regeneration.
The trail takes about 10 minutes to snorkel. There’s much more reef to explore here, and plenty of time to do so on half- and full-day power and sailboat excursions from Christiansted. Trips start at $85 and $120, respectively.
Butler Bay Wrecks: Wreck fans will find a total of six sunken vessels to explore near-shore in Butler Bay on St. Croix’s West End. Four of the wrecks are shallow, at 40 to 65-foot depths, like the Northwind, a 75 foot-long steel hulled ocean tug of movie fame that today shelters barracuda, butterfly fish, and bassets. The Northwind starred in the TV movie Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story, and was sunk as an artificial reef after damage from a tropical storm in 1985. Two others sit at 60- to 100-feet-plus deep like the Rosaomaira, a 177-foot-long Venezuelan freighter that’s crusted in colorful pink and red sponges and fancifully shaped barrel and stovepipe sponges. Schools of jack, snapper, and grunt round out this wreck’s ecosystem. Spend a day diving or snorkeling or take a week to fully see St. Croix’s undersea world. Either way makes for a bucket list trip.