Maho Bay Snorkel

One of my favorite snorkeling spots on St. John is the shallow grassy areas just off the beach at Maho Bay. Although not as colorful and lively as the coral reef environment, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on here. With a little patience I can just about guarantee that you’ll come across a sea turtle or two and stingrays. Other sea creatures that abound here are stingrays, conch and squid.

Maho Bay Snorkel

St. John Sea Creatures: Turtle
Turtle and Remoras

Baby Conch at Maho Bay
Baby Conch

Turtle
Green Sea Turtle

Crab
Crab

baby porcupine fish
Baby Porcupine Fish

St. John Marine Life: Squid
Squid


Southern Stingray, Dasyatis americana

Squid

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Night Blooming Cerius (Hylocereus undatus)

St. John Flora: Night Blooming CeriusThe night blooming cerius flowers growing on the perimeter of my yard opened last night. You can literally watch them open; the whole process lasting less than an hour.

There’s also some that are staring to put out fruit that I’m watching, hoping t defeat the thrushies (evil birds) in the quest for the prized pitaya fruit, locally called chickenettes.

The night blooming cerius, once quite common on the drier parts of St. John are disappearing rapidly with the development of new homes and where landscaping decisions usually favor the introduction of plants from Miami nurseries over the native vegetation, a big mistake, in my opinion. However, I still know where to find some and if I get up earlier than the early birds, can still harvest some fruit.

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The queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) Ol’ Wife

St. John Sea Creatures: Ol' Wife
Ol’ Wife

Queen Triggerfish

Back in my fishing days, we used to bring in a considerable amount of Queen Triggerfish, locally called Ol’ Wife. It was a species that some people wanted to buy and some didn’t. The difference, I believe, was the nature of the Ol’ Wife’s extremely tough skin. To prepare it it needed to be skinned, not scaled. It was one of those things that some people could do easily and others found difficult.

There was also the controversy as to whether or not it was permitted by Old Testament law, observed by Seventh Day Adventists, Jews and Muslims which prohibit eating fish that lack fins and scales. Although the Queen Triggerfish appears to have skin and not scales, in actuality, they do have tiny scales over their tough skin. There weren’t too many Jews and Muslims in St. John in those days and I suspect that the few that were here weren’t that observant to dietary law, but there was a certain controversy as to the fish’s acceptability as an appropriate food as outlined in the Bible, among the Seventh Day Adventists, who did make up a sizable minority.

In those days, fish were sold strapped to a tyre palm leaf and the strap was mixed. Because of the Ol’Wife skin or scales controversy I never added them to a strap.

Scales or no scales, the fish needed to be skinned, because their skin is too tough to eat; so tough that Ol’ Wife skin was used by many in those backtime days for scrubbing pots and pans.

Nonetheless, once you removed the skin, the Ol’ Wife made a tasty soup and one of the tastiest Ol’ Wife soups could be found at Eric Christian’s restaurant, Eric’s Hilltop, located where the legislative building is now. So, in less I had a specific request, all my Ol’ Wife went to Eric and O’l Wife soup was on the menu just about every day at lunchtime.

The Queen Triggerfish was plentiful in those days, but not so much anymore and is currently listed as “Vulnerable” with the World Conservation Union (IUCN)

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Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Maho Bay, St. John

St. John Sea Creatures: Green Sea TurtleUnlike other members of its family, such as the hawksbill sea turtle, C. mydas is mostly herbivorous. The adults usually inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses.

Like other sea turtles, green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Many islands worldwide are known as Turtle Island due to green sea turtles nesting on their beaches. Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to eighty years in the wild.

C. mydas is listed as endangered by the IUCN and CITES and is protected from exploitation in most countries.[7] It is illegal to collect, harm or kill them. In addition, many countries have laws and ordinances to protect nesting areas. However, turtles are still in danger because of several human practices. In some countries, turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. Pollution indirectly harms turtles at both population and individual scales. Many turtles die caught in fishing nets. Also, real estate development often causes habitat loss by eliminating nesting beaches…. read entire Wikipedia Article

St. John News

Stay in a Virgin Island castle to benefit Haiti
By Susan S. Lang

There is a castle in the Virgin Island sky that “Jack” built. Over the years, Jonathan Back has donated more than a dozen free weeks at Castle St. John (www.castlestjohn.com/) to benefit local nonprofits, including the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, Learning Web, Love Knows No Bounds, Light on the Hill, E.A.C. Montessori School of Ithaca, Tikkun V’Or, WSKG radio and more.

But last year, Back discovered a nonprofit on the impoverished island of Haiti that made him “believe in angels on earth.” Sonje Ayiti (“remember Haiti’ in Creole) was doing such fine community work in health care, education, and economic development that Back wanted to help (www.sonjeayiti.com).

“I know it’s different from helping our local community,” said Back, “but I think of Haiti as our neighbor, too.” Haiti is the poorest of neighbors, and a far cry from the affluence in the island of St John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, east of St. Thomas. A large portion of St. John is a national park.

So Back created a contest in which the grand prizewinner will win a free week at Castle St. John, including airfare. The project is his way of turning a personal and valuable asset into a way to benefit Haiti. Back is part of a growing group of “boomers” who want to use their assets for social justice. He not only hopes to use the raffle to inspire donations to a terrific nonprofit, but also as a model for others to turn their personal assets (wealth, skills, property, influence) into mini-social entrepreneurships.

“There are 600 vacation rentals on St. John alone that have vacancies all the time. If their affluent owners would donate a week or two a year to a nonprofit, think of all the money that could be raised,” said Back. “And that’s just one tiny island, and one useful idea out of thousands.”

Make a donation, get a raffle ticket at Guitar Works, Karma Salon, Toko Imports, Hairy Canary, Sundries (in Trumansburg), and The Vintage Industry (next to State Theatre).

You can also make a donation online at raffle4castle.com, or directly to Sonje Ayiti Organization, www.sonjeayiti.com/donate. If you let Jonathan know how much you donated at jhb27@cornell.edu , he will give you your raffle ticket numbers.

Prizes: The first prize is a week at the Castle (could be for two couples) airfare with two round-trips from a USAir hub. You can also add a wedding or vow renewal ceremony at the Castle or on the beach with Rev Ann Marie Porter (“the Barefoot Reverend”) officiating. There are over a dozen other prizes.

Back founded the local store 3-D Light and the café in the New Alexandrian Bookstore. He is a director of gratefulness.org, a board member of CRESP (now Cornell’s Center for Transformative Action), and a builder in New Orleans and Owego for Love Knows No Bounds.

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Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus)

St. John Sea Creatures: Tarpon and Fry
A tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) swims through a school of fry on St. John’s south shore

“Tarpons are large fish of the genus Megalops; one species is native to the Atlantic, and the other to the Indo-Pacific Oceans. They are the only members of the family Megalopidae…

“… Tarpons grow to about four to eight feet long and weigh 60–280 lbs. They have dorsal and anal soft rays and have bluish or greenish backs. Tarpons possess distinctive lateral lines and have shiny, silvery scales that cover most of their bodies, excluding the head. They have large eyes with adipose eyelids and broad mouths with prominent lower jaws that jut out farther than the rest of the face.

“… Megalops is considered one of the great saltwater game fishes. They are prized not only because of their great size, but also because of the fight they put up and their spectacular leaping ability. They are bony fish and their meat is not desirable, so most are released after they are caught. Numerous tournaments around the year are focused on catching tarpon… read more from Wikipedia

Harvest Moon Tonight
The Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, will rise over St. John at 6:24 AST tonight

St. John News & Happenings

Undercurrents: Researchers Plumb Depths to Improve Fisheries
By Bernetia Akin — September 16, 2013

… David Olsen doesn’t know what happened to more than 4,000 yellowtail snappers fisherman tagged and released in the waters around St. Thomas and St. John as part of a study begun two years ago. Not one has shown up again – dead or alive.

And all the educated guesses one might make don’t make sense either. The species might be highly migratory, for instance, but past studies don’t suggest that. The tagging might weaken the fish and make them more vulnerable, but the few tagged yellowtail that were sent to Coral World Marine Park had no such problems. Nor have other subjects.

In a 30-plus year career, Olsen, who holds a doctorate in fishery management, hasn’t seen another study that ended in more mystery than the yellowtail research. Funded with a federal grant, the study was conducted by the St. Thomas Fishermen’s Association. Olsen is the association’s chief scientist.…

… In an effort largely paralleling the yellowtail study, fishermen tagged some 4,000 spiny lobsters caught and released in St. Thomas waters. But they had much better luck with the lobsters.

About 350 of them were re-caught, Olsen said. By comparing their size, weight and location between the two captures, researchers were able to learn some new things about their habits, and to document information that was only suspected before.

The peak reproduction period is from March through July, he said. That’s when fishermen found the most lobsters bearing eggs. Further, they caught the most juveniles in September, October and November. It takes about a year and a half for a spiny lobster to grow to adulthood, Olsen said.

The study suggests that lobsters don’t travel much. Although “we’ve had recaptures up to 15 miles” away from the first capture, he said most of the animals were found within a mile of their first encounter with STFA.

Olsen theorizes that the lobsters are drawn not so much by the bait the traps contain – typically old cow skins – as by the shelter they provide. Lobsters don’t like to be exposed, and the traps, set between reefs, offer attractive cover.

The study also led STFA to make a population estimate of 410,000 spiny lobsters in St. Thomas/St. John waters. Olsen said fisherman sell about 50,000 to 60,000 of them each year.

The annual quota for lobsters, set by the Fisheries Council, is not by number but by weight. Currently, the quota for St. Thomas is a total of 105,000 pounds. Olsen believes the study supports raising that quota by up to 15,000 pounds.

He sees things differently for St. Croix. Preliminary findings indicated that the average size of lobsters caught in St. Croix waters has dropped by a centimeter, suggesting that the volume of lobster fishing in that area “is putting a lot of pressure on the resource.”

Fish traps represent the most popular type of fishing in St. Thomas waters, accounting for 450,000 pounds of fish a year. In contrast, hard lines bring in about 110,000 pounds, and seine nets, about 100,000 pounds….

Coastweeks clean-up program begins Saturday
Daily News Staff)
Published: September 16, 2013

The Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority is partnering with the University of the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service Division and the Friends of the National Park by being a part of the 28th Annual Ocean Conservancy Coastweeks International Coastal Clean Up. Coastweeks clean-up activities begin Saturday and run thruough Oct. 31….

…Drunk Bay on St. John, 9 a.m. Volunteers: Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, UVI and Friends of the Community.is Virgin Islands Day at Yankee Stadium

To plan or participate in a clean-up, contact Kayla Tennant on St. Thomas at 998-5787 or ktennent@alumni.flager.edu; Marcia Taylor on St. Croix at 692-4046 or mtaylor@uvi.edu; or Karen Jarvis on St. John at 779-4940 or kjarvis@friendsvinp.org. … read more

Virgin Islands Day at Yankee Stadium
By Source Staff — September 17, 2013

In an effort to support increased air service and engage thousands of potential travelers in the territory’s top market, New York, the Tourism Department launched a marketing partnership with the New York Yankees to boost travel to the territory this fall and winter. The three-week promotion began Aug. 30 and will lead up to Sunday’s special USVI Day at Yankee Stadium….

 

 

 

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Caribbean Lobsters and Gorgonians

Lobster Hole on St. John’s East End

St. John Sea Creatures: Lobsters
Panulirus argus, the Caribbean spiny lobster

Gorgonians

Why are some corals flourishing in a time of global warming?
A new study investigates why gorgonian corals, which can form a ‘canopy’ over reefs, appear to be proliferating in certain places

By Charlotte Hsu
Release Date: September 10, 2013
BUFFALO, N.Y. — As Earth’s temperature climbs, the stony corals that form the backbone of ocean reefs are in decline.

It’s a well-documented story: Violent storms and coral bleaching have all contributed to dwindling populations, and increasing acidity of seawater threatens to take an additional toll.

Less discussed, however, is the plight of gorgonian corals — softer, flexible, tree-like species that can rise up like an underwater forest, providing a canopy beneath which small fish and aquatic life of all kinds can thrive.

Divers have noted in recent years that gorgonian corals seem to be proliferating in certain areas of the Caribbean, even as their stony counterparts struggle…. read more

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Trumpetfish

St. John Marine Life Trumpet fish
Trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus

The trumpetfish is a master of camouflage. In this photo you can barely see it hiding amidst the coral. It’s lying in wait for a small fish to come close at which time it will suck it up into its mouth.  (He might be hiding from me also)

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Stingrays

Southern Stingray
Common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca)

This common stingray is a sea creature we often get to see on St. John, swimming about close to the bottom in shallow waters. Although it possesses a stinging barb on it’s tail it is generally not a threat to human beings given the clear nature of the seawater  off of  St. John allowing the ray and the person to be aware of each other each one desiring to avoid contact. In less clear waters or in the case of mounds of sand with look suspiciously like a ray may be burrowed beneath, it’s recommended that waders use a shuffling motion when wading through the water, thus alerting the ray to the presence of a creature that might inadvertently step on them. Read more about stingrays

St. John News

Caneel Bay Says Goodbye to Management Company
By Lynda Lohr — September 3, 2013

Caneel Bay Resort will no longer have Rosewood Hotels and Resorts as its management company effective Oct. 13, managing director Nikolay Hotze said Tuesday. He said Caneel’s owners, CBI Acquisitions, decided not to renew the Rosewood contract. CBI will manage the resort itself.

“We feel confident with our marketing team,” Hotze said.

He said Caneel always had its own marketing team and partnered with other companies like American Express to get the Caneel name out to the public.

Chantal Figueroa, deputy commissioner at the territory’s Tourism Department, said that the Rosewood name was not linked in a major way to Caneel. The Rosewood name was never listed before Caneel’s as other hotel management companies often do and was marketed as Caneel Bay, a Rosewood Resort.

“Caneel stands on its own,” she said.

Caneel, which sits within V.I. National Park, opened at the same time as the park in 1956.

The management of Cinnamon Bay Campground and the concession at Trunk Bay Beach, both within the park, will remain with Caneel Bay, Hotze said.

Hotze said the Little Dix Bay property on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands will continue to be known as Rosewood Little Dix Bay because Rosewood owns that property.

Rosewood has been Caneel’s management company since 1993.

Hotze will remain in his current position. He said there will be no changes with the staff.

Caneel closed Aug. 26 for its annual fall maintenance. Hotze said soft goods are being refurbished and the gift shop is getting a complete facelift.

When the hotel reopens on Nov. 1, it will have a coffee and gelato shop called Cannella.

Zozo’s Restaurant, which was located at Gallows Point Resort in Cruz Bay, will relocate to Caneel’s sugar mill restaurant location. It will open Nov. 1.

 

 

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