All At Sea’s Ten Top Caribbean Marine Parks to Visit

Virgin Islands National Park/Trunk Bay-Trunk Bay Snorkel Trail, St. John, USVI. Photo: Dean Barnes

In an ever crowded world it’s nice to know there are still bits of paradise that are protected. Nowhere shows this better in a nautical way than at Caribbean marine parks and protected areas. Here is a sampling of ten to visit:

1. Montego Bay Marine Park, Jamaica

This amazing protected area sits alongside a bevy of beachfront resorts. There are several ways to jump in, including scuba diving, snorkeling or a guided glass bottomed boat trip out on the reef. There’s also a submersible boat excursion that departs from the park’s main office at the Pier One marina. www.facebook.com/Montego-Bay-Marine-Park-Trust

2. Virgin Islands National Park

Over 40% of this park is submerged, while the rest makes up two-thirds of the land area of St. John. The underwater snorkel trail at Trunk Bay is a hit, but can become bumper-to-bumper on cruise ship days. Other snorkeling areas more off the beaten track are at Annaberg, Salt Pond, and Lameshur Bay. There’s a museum at Lameshur commemorating the 1960s underwater habitat research, Project Tektite. www.nps.gov/state/vi/index.htm

3. East End Marine Park, St. Croix

Experience land and sea in harmony on a visit to this St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands’ park that boasts a 23 mile fringing coral reef. “Take in the view from Point Udall, then hike to Isaac Bay. The long, sandy beach here is often totally deserted. In the water, several patch reefs in the protected lagoon harbor a variety of reef fish, octopus, stingrays, nurse sharks, lobster, and conch.  On a calm day, snorkel the barrier reef but be aware there can be a strong easterly current,” says Caroline Pott, marine park coordinator. www.facebook.com/Friends.STXEEMP

 

East End Marine Park, St. Croix, USVI. Photo: Courtesy of STXEEMP
East End Marine Park, St. Croix, USVI. Photo: Courtesy of STXEEMP

 

4. Prickly Pear Cays, Anguilla

This duo of cays, neither more than one mile long, are among one of Anguilla’s six marine protected areas. Both are uninhabited, except for the bar and restaurant staff who arrive daily to serve day-trippers out of thatched roof eateries. Walk the beach. Watch for sea birds. Snorkel the usually calm reef in the bay or dive down to underwater cays. There are several wrecks offshore. pricklypear anguilla.com

 

Prickly Pear Cay, Anguilla. Photo: Dean Barnes
Prickly Pear Cay, Anguilla. Photo: Dean Barnes

 

5. Statia National Marine Park

This nearly 7,000-acre protected area surrounds the island of St. Eustatius. It’s a diver’s paradise. “One highlight is a night dive on the sunken Vietnamese vessel, the Chien Tong. It was sunk in 2004 and on any given night you can see up to 20 sea turtles resting on the wreck or cruising by. In the day, reef sharks come in for a quick exploration, lobsters peep out from the portholes and schools of fish dart in and out. It’s a beautiful dive site night or day,” says Jessica Berkel, marine park manager. www.statiapark.org

 

Statia Marine Park, St. Eustatius. Photo: St. Eustatius National Parks
Statia Marine Park, St. Eustatius. Photo: St. Eustatius National Parks

 

6. Sandy Point National Marine Park, St. Kitts

Scuba enthusiasts claim that the dive site here (depth 50 to 130ft), off the west side of St. Kitts, near Brimstone Fortress, is one of the best in the Eastern Caribbean. That’s because it’s close to shore and there’s everything from deep canyons and swim-through coral formations to eels, turtles and fish on the reef. There are excellent black sand beaches for strolling too. www.stkittstourism.kn/love-st-kitts-diving-fishing.php

 

Sandy Point, St. Kitts
Sandy Point, St. Kitts

 

7. Folkestone Marine Park, Barbados

Located on the west coast of Barbados, off Holetown, the crown jewel is an artificial reef created by sinking the Stavronikita, a 365ft Greek freighter, in a depth of 120ft less than a half-mile off shore. Those who’d rather not brave the depths can snorkel over the inshore reef where there are many fish, sponges and corals. The calm bay is great for SUPing too. A museum and interpretative center onshore showcase marine displays and exhibits. nccbarbados.gov.bb

 

Folkestone, Barbados. Photo: onnes - iStock.com
Folkestone, Barbados. Photo: onnes – iStock.com

 

8. Tobago Cays Marine Park

Access to the five uninhabited cays, plus the inhabited isle of Mayreau and three islets that make up this gorgeous marine protected area located in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is by boat only. Try scuba diving on the wreck of the Purunia, 140ft WWI British gunship. Snorkel the Baradal Turtle Sanctuary to see green and hawksbills or take a beach walk at Petit Tabac, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean film locations. www.tobagocays.org

 

Tobago Cays, SVG. Photo: Ins and Outs of St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Tobago Cays, SVG. Photo: Ins and Outs of St. Vincent & the Grenadines

 

9. Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park

The eerily beautiful life-size concrete-and-rebar sculptures here serve as artificial reefs. This, the world’s first underwater sculpture park, opened in 2006. “The sculptures are located in the Moliniere Beausejour Marine Protected Area. They are quite spread out. Tour companies such as ours run guided snorkel trips that provide a history of the park and make sure guests see all the sculptures,” explains Howard Clark, owner of Seafaris Powerboat Adventures. grenadaunderwatersculpture.com

 

Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada. Photo: Grenada Seafaris www.grenadaseafaris.com
Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada. Photo: Grenada Seafaris www.grenadaseafaris.com

 

10. Bonaire National Marine Park

A strict no anchoring policy means healthy and abundant marine life in this 6,700-acre park. There are 60 or more stony and soft corals, over 350 fish species, and 86 dive sites. Two popular scuba sites are inside the Washington Slagbaai National Park. Wayaka, at 10- to 30-feet, is where to see large species like hammerhead sharks. Boka Slagbaai, at 20- to 100-feet, is where to spot rays. “Both locations are excellent for a special dive,” says Anouschka van de Ven, communications coordinator for Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire (STINAPA). stinapabonaire.org/bonaire-national

 

Wayaka dive locations inside the Washington Slagbaai National Park Bonaire. Photo: STINAPA
Wayaka dive locations inside the Washington Slagbaai National Park Bonaire. Photo: STINAPA

 

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