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No Overnight Visits Allowed in Coral Reef National Monument

Overnight visits are not allowed in St. John's V.I. Coral Reef National Monument except when a major storm threatens. This includes the popular Hurricane Hole, park officials said. Additionally, no anchoring is allowed except in emergencies. The monument has 11 day-use moorings for boats up to 60 feet, two dive moorings and six moorings for fishermen.

The monument, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was established by former President Bill Clinton in 2001 to protect 12,708 acres of submerged lands. It's managed by staff at V.I. National Park and sits adjacent to park boundaries.

Don't expect any changes in the mooring situation until a management plan is in place. "We are in the process of doing a general management plan and subsequent plans to follow," monument and park superintendent Mark Hardgrove said. He anticipates that once the management plans for both the monument and the park are completed in about two years, overnight mooring would be allowed in the monument's section of Round Bay but still not in Hurricane Hole.

"They're in there looking for a peaceful, tranquil environment where they can hear the sounds of nature," Hardgrove said of Hurricane Hole. The issue is generators and loud engine noise, which interrupt Hurricane Hole's quiet.

Jeff Miller, a National Park Service biologist based at the park in St. John, and Rafe Boulon, the park's chief of resource management, both pointed out that the mangroves that fringe Hurricane Hole are one of the last protected stands of mangroves in the territory. Those mangroves serve as nurseries for many species of fish, corals and birds, which thrive in the monument's calm waters. The water is calm thanks to Hurricane Hole's location in a corner of Coral Bay.

"All of these relatively fragile marine treasures use the mangroves because of the protection they offer. These are where the youth of the marine environment comes from," Miller said. Boulon indicated that the monument also serves as a nursery for ole wife, a popular species on Caribbean menus, and as habitat for lobster. Additionally, he said that humpback whales visit during their winter migration.

Although the monument is a decade old, boaters don't seem to be getting the "no overnight visits and no anchoring" message. Boats, including megayachts, often drop anchor in the monument, but when the park staff discovers them, they're referred to one of the national park's 212 moorings located in park waters around St. John. Hardgrove said he recently attended a charter boat show on St. Thomas in hopes of getting the word out.

Commercial operators can't use the monument at all. Park management recently told several commercial day sail boats that they couldn't use the monument's waters until the management plan is in place. Those operators had permits to use national park waters, and erroneously assumed that the permits were good in the monument.

St. John resident Robin Gallup was using the monument for day charters aboard her boat, Long Distance. She was one of the ones who got a call. "I understand, but I wish it could be shorter," she said, referring to the two-year time frame to complete the monument management plan.

Gallup pointed out that many charter boats use the monument, particularly when the seas are rough along the north shore. "They swing into Hurricane Hole for their second snorkel," she said. Hardgrove said he envisions that once the plan is done, kayak and snorkel operations will get permits to use the monument.

Although there is no overnight anchoring or mooring most of the year, that changes when tropical systems like hurricanes threaten. Hurricane Hole has 101 spots on four hurricane mooring chains for boaters to use when storms are on their way. Registration is closed for the 2010 hurricane season, but the announcement about the 2011 season will come out in the spring.

Boats must be present in U.S or British Virgin Island waters for at least 50 percent of the June 1 through Nov. 30 hurricane season to be eligible to use the hurricane chain.

Information on the mooring and anchoring rules is available at www.nps.gov/viis and at www.friendsvinp.org. For more on Hurricane Hole hurricane moorings, email Boulon at rafe_boulon@nps.gov or call 693-8950, extension 224. For more information on Coral Reef National Monument, call 340-776-6201.

Long time St. John resident Lynda Lohr lives in Coral Bay. A reporter by trade, she has written for numerous international, national, regional and local publications as well as travel and news websites.

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