Virgin Islands National Park and Biosphere Reserve, renowned throughout the world for its breathtaking beauty, includes steep hillsides, rocky shores, coral sand beaches, numerous bays, coral reefs, canyons of coral ledges, turtle grass beds, mangrove swamps and natural salt ponds.
Virgin Islands National Park, renowned throughout the world for its breathtaking beauty, covers approximately 3/5 of St. John, United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and nearly all of Hassel Island in the Charlotte Amalie harbor on Saint Thomas, USVI.
Within its borders lie protected bays of crystal blue-green waters teeming with coral reef life, white sandy beaches shaded by seagrape trees, coconut palms, and tropical forests providing habitat for over 800 species of plants.
In addition to this amazing natural beauty, a wealth of cultural resources is protected by the park. Relics from the pre-Columbian Amerindian civilization, remains of the Danish colonial sugar plantations, and reminders of African slavery and the post-Emancipation subsistence culture are all part of the rich cultural history of the park and its island home.
Virgin Islands Biosphere Reserve occupies about two-thirds of the volcanic island Saint John, USVI and its surrounding waters. The area includes steep hillsides, rocky shores, coral and sand beaches, numerous bays, fringing coral reefs, canyons of coral ledges, coral gardens, turtle grass beds, mangrove swamps and natural salt ponds.
About 900,000 visitors per year visit the area for diving and snorkeling, boating, fishing and hiking. The Cruz Bay Visitor Center provides orientation talks, guided snorkel trips and cultural demonstrations.
The island now faces serious environmental problems from increasing tourism and residential development, including destruction of wildlife habitats, reef destruction, commercial fishing activities, water as well as land erosion and related sedimentation on coral reefs. The main aim of the biosphere reserve is to protect natural systems while enhancing the quality of life for the local community.
In cooperation with other local institutions and agencies, the Virgin Island Resources Management Cooperative has completed a variety of studies within the biosphere reserve including characterization of local fisheries, analysis of the cultural role of fishing, mapping of nearshore marine communities, as well as descriptions of the bays and marine communities.
Note: For more than four decades, the park was part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – known as UNESCO – but it was voluntarily removed in 2017 when it could not meet the guidelines to maintain the designation.