The latest edition of St. John Off the Beaten Track includes a section called “Favorite Snorkels.” The Salt Pond Bay Snorkel, which I’ll discuss in today’s blog was not included, but it really should have been.
The reef that I snorkeled was around the big rocks that you see at the mouth of the bay. (See the Google Maps satellite image below)
This is an excellent snorkel experience involving a coral reef, surrounding several large boulders some of which extend past the surface and a healthy seagrass bed on the periphery.
Salt Pond Bay Snorkel
Video of squid swimming on the periphery of the reef
Atlantic Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus
These big silvery fish with what look like stainless steel scales and an overbite are generally five to eight feet long and weigh between 80 and 150 pounds. They are found throughout the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Atlantic coat of the United States south of Virginia and can survive in estuaries, lagoons and rivers as well as in the ocean.
Although their bony meat leaves them undesirable as a food fish, their renowned fighting spirit makes them a favorite of sport fishermen.
The Whistling Cay Snorkel, especially around the rocks and underwater canyons on the western tip of the island is one of the best snorkels in St. John waters. The proximity to open waters, and the flow of water through the Fungi Passage and the Narrows attracts fish of many shapes, color and sizes. The underwater boulders, rock formations, canyons, steep grooves, arches and walls, covered with spectacularly colored corals, sponges and tunicates are fascinating to explore. My friend, Dan Silber, who came along on this snorkel along with his girlfriend Maddy, described the area as an underwater garden, I like to borrow from the Beatles and describe it as an octopus’s garden.
Want an easy shallow benign snorkel, then Maho Bay is a safe bet. It’s easy to get to, shallow, calm and although I wouldn’t classify it as spectacular, it’s just about guaranteed to be interesting. Snorkel the reef on the east or just snorkel over the grass just off the beach. The following photos were taken during the course of a fifteen minute easy snorkel.
The beach at Leinster Bay can only be reached by hiking from Annaberg or by boat. Although most snorkelers make their way to the colorful reef surrounding Waterlemon Cay, there are things to see right off the beach. The sea floor is mainly seagrass and sand. The following photos show were taken just off the beach in the late afternoon yesterday.
Snorkeling the waters of St. John back in the days, these lobsters could be found in just about any hole or under any ledge on the reef. Now they’re a lot more scarce.
During the day, the lobsters hide out in the dark recesses of the coral reef and may be difficult to find. However, at night the lobsters come out of their hiding places and forage the reef, and if you snorkel at night, you’re very likely to see them out in the open.
Although Caribbean Spiny Lobsters look (and taste) very much like the clawed lobsters found in the waters of the northeastern United States, they are not closely related biologically.
Once upon a time, when I first came to St. John some 40 years ago, the reefs were extremely colorful. Much has changed since then and the abundant hard corals that provided so much of the color have been severely depleted and those that remain are often unhealthy. Now it seems that most of the vibrant colors of the reef come from sponges, which can be seen in a multitude of varying colors, shapes and sizes.
Sponges, in case you weren’t aware, are animals, as are most of the creatures that make up the coral reef such as all the hard corals, the so called soft corals or gorgonians like sea fans and sea rods, and the sponge-like tunicates that often encrust rocks dead coral. As a matter of fact, the only plants on the reef that come to mind are algae and sea grasses.
Sponges are the simplest of the multicellular animals. Lacking any real organs, they survive by taking in water through small pores, filtering out the nutrients and oxygen and expelling the rest through the more visible larger openings.
My friend, Paul, and I were snorkeling, looking for some conch over a turtle grass bed, when I noticed several schools of squid in the area. I was able to capture a fairly good photo, but I think that I approached them too aggressively and they would move away rapidly. Next time, I’ll try to be really slow and non threatening and see if I can get a good steady close up shot.
By the way, my squid research tells me that the Caribbean reef squid pictured above are the squid commonly encountered over Caribbean reefs.
All about St John in the beautiful US Virgin Islands (USVI) American Paradise