Snorkeling is a popular vacation activity in the Virgin Islands. Acres of coral reef form an ecosystem that supports a large variety of marine life and plants around the islands. Both novice and experienced snorkelers can enjoy snorkeling in the US Virgin Islands. You can go snorkeling on your own from a beach or go out with a guide on a boat excursion, kayak trip or snorkeling tour. These options are available on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. Here are some tips to insure you have an enjoyable time snorkeling in the USVI, that you stay safe, and that you keep the marine environment healthy.
1. Get a mask and fins that fit you well
A mask that fits well on your face is the key to having a successful and enjoyable snorkeling experience in the Virgin Islands. Many a snorkeling trip fails because of a leaky mask or one that keeps fogging up. When buying or renting a mask, test it on your face. Hold the mask against your face with your hands. Do not place the strap behind your head. Holding the mask in place, inhale slightly through your nose. You should feel a vacuum form, let go of the mask slightly, keeping your hands near in case the mask falls. If the mask stays in place, this indicates a good seal. If it falls, try another mask. Snorkels are one size fits all but there are a variety of snorkel types including dry snorkels which help keep water out. Fins should be comfortable and fit snuggly.
2. Snorkel safely, for your safety
There are basic skills required for snorkeling including knowing how to swim, being comfortable in the ocean and knowing your abilities and endurance. Snorkel with a buddy and stick together. Do not go out further than you are comfortable – take into consideration the water depth, visibility, and distance traveled. You will have to swim back to your starting point, whether that is the beach or a boat. Take a floatation device if you know you will need to rest. Also be aware of boat traffic, some beaches have areas for boats to pull in close to shore and moorings for boats.
3. Snorkel respectfully, for the safety of the marine environment
You plan to go snorkeling in the Virgin Islands because you know there are beautiful things to see. The survival of the underwater world depends on you protecting it, from your curiosity and your potential landlubber awkwardness in the water. Do not overturn rocks, do not pick up animals, try not to kick up sand, and do not touch or stand on coral. Be content with floating above and observing the marine world. If you are not a strong swimmer and expect you will want to put your feet down on a solid surface, then take a floatation device with you so that you can comfortably remain horizontal, swimming above the coral reef environment.
4. Do not feed the fish
Cereal, cake, bread, dog biscuits, leftover hotdogs from lunch, potato chips, human food – none of this is part of what fish eat naturally. It is all considered by marine scientists to be unhealthy for fish, and the practice of feeding fish does harm to the natural balance of the reef eco-system. At a couple beaches in the Virgin Islands there are beach vendors, trying to make a buck, that sell small bags of dog biscuits with the sales pitch that having food will draw the fish closer to you. It is a bad practice, avoid supporting it and just enjoy the fish in their natural environment minus the dog and human food.
5. Do wear sun protection & check the ingredients in your sunscreen
You can easily spend 30 minutes to an hour floating along admiring fish while snorkeling in the Virgin Islands. Without proper sun protection you will get a sunburn on your arms, the tops of your hands, your forehead, ears, neck, shoulders, your back and legs while snorkeling. Basically, everything that is facing up toward the sun is cooking while you are snorkeling. Wear a sun shirt and use reef safe sunscreen to protect all the exposed parts of your body.
Virgin Islands Sunscreen Ban
Be sure to check the ingredients in your sunscreen. The US Virgin Islands has a ban on sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate, three UV-blocking chemicals found in most commercial sunscreen products. Studies have indicated that these three chemicals harm coral and marine ecosystems. Stores in the Virgin Islands, by law, can only carry reef safe sunscreens – those that do not contain the three offending chemicals. The US Virgin Islands historic “Toxic 3 Os” Sunscreen Ban went into effect on March 30, 2020.
6. Get to know the reef environment
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish! Wouldn’t it be great if you knew what just swam by below you while snorkeling in the Virgin Islands? If you want to identify the different coral and fish species that you see while snorkeling in the Virgin Islands be sure to purchase a Fish ID Card
or Waterproof snorkeling guidebook
. Was that a puffer fish or a cowfish? Was that a male or female parrotfish? Did your kids really see Dory swim by? Get a guidebook, it will make the snorkeling experience fun and educational.