St. John’s Coral Reef Worth an All-day Snorkeling
One of the biggest things we like to do when taking passengers out on our boats is to show off the natural wildlife of St.John and the other islands. While most people love to watch sea turtles, manta rays, and other fish swim around the area, a few like to go deeper.
Most of the sea life in St.John comes from coral reefs, which provides shelter for millions of fish and other aquatic creatures. Most people often rent boats and gear just for the purpose of snorkeling and going down to see the majestic coral reefs.
It’s quite a sight, seeing all the colors and wildlife swimming around you as you move above the coral reefs and gently swim through the warm water. But it is a spectacular sightseeing moment that can go away and has been through some hard times recently.
Even though the almost 12.000 acres of coral reef is protected by the NCPA’s virgin islands coral reef monument, not everything listens to the order, especially the weather.
Damage from hurricanes
With several tropical storms and hurricanes hitting the virgin islands this year alone, it has caused significant damage to the coral reefs in the area. Natural disasters don’t just destroy the coral with high winds and crashing waves, but they can also affect the reef’s ecosystem.
The high winds and waves caused by hurricanes can snap off portions of the coral reef, especially the coral’s most vulnerable and fragile strands. Additionally, the sand kicked up during a hurricane can also smother freshly growing coral, preventing it from growing.
An occasional hurricane can help certain types of coral by resettling them in new places. Coral gets snapped off and sent to a new part of the ocean, where it lands on the seafloor, attaches itself, and then starts growing. However, several hurricanes in quick succession can do far more harm than good.
One Bright Spot
Another way that hurricanes can help a coral reef is by cooling the water down. If the water around the coral gets too hot, it will eventually damage and bleach the coral and turn it white. This certainly makes coral less beautiful for tourists and can also lead to the death of the plants.
However, a hurricane blocks the sun and prevents the extra heat from getting through. It also absorbs the heat from the water, continuing to cool the water down. The winds can also kick up layers of colder water from the bottom of the ocean and send it up to the top without damaging the reef.
But this is only useful if hurricanes come along every once in a while. Water that is too cold will cause harm to the reef as well, so a balanced ecosystem is best for the health of a coral reef.
Coral is a lot like a human skeleton in how it works. There are two main types of coral: Soft corals and stony corals. The soft coral is like a muscle. It takes time to grow and also relies upon the skeleton-like stony coral to support it.
However, as researchers seek to find out more about the effect of hurricanes that have hammered the virgin islands, they’ve discovered something about the resiliency of coral. The Stony coral is being damaged more and recovering slower, while the softer coral is recovering faster.
New soft coral colonies are rebuilding after the hurricanes and are almost making up for the losses suffered in the hurricane. But without the hardier stony coral, the reef won’t be as strong as it used to be. Scientists are still trying to figure out why this sudden change occurred and what to do to protect reefs from threats, both caused by humans and the weather.
Coral viewing in St.John
While the reef might be different looking than it was pre-hurricane, it is still home to several million sea creatures. It’s also always open to the public for snorkeling. The coral reef is still something that we are proud of in St.John, and we want to help keep it around for as long as possible.
That’s why we make sure to treat them with respect while boating and why we have every guest who visits the reef do the same. There’s still a bright future for snorkeling and seeing the natural beauty of the virgin islands, and we want to do everything possible to keep that future bright for as long as we can.