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U.S. Virgin Islands

Jack and Isaac Bays, St. Croix


Jack and Isaac Bays, 301-acres (122-hectares) of white sand beaches and upland forests, make up one of the few pristine ecosystems remaining on St. Croix. Once slated for residential development, the bays adjoin with a 300-acre (121-hectare), government-owned natural area. This combined effort protects the entire eastern end of St. Croix, including nearly four miles of coastline adjacent to the territory's East End Marine Park, the offshore barrier reef and other marine systems.

The preserve is home to fragile bays, wind shaped ecosystems of rolling hills, steep valleys and beautiful beaches.

Location

Jack and Isaac Bays are on the far eastern end of St. Croix, an island measuring just 28 miles long and 6 miles wide (45 by 10 kilometers). St. Croix is the "geological exception" of the Virgin Islands because it is a sea mountain, and not part of the Puerto Rican Shelf.

Animals

Jack, Isaac and East End Bays have the largest nesting populations of green and hawksbill turtles on St. Croix. The Conservancy's sea turtle monitoring and protection initiative, operating since 2001, tracks nesting activities of more than 100 of the endangered turtles on a two-mile stretch of beach from July to December.

Coral reefs in these bays are home to at least 400 species of fish, including parrot fish, blue tangs, four-eyed butterfly fish and sergeant majors. Elkhorn, staghorn and brain corals, starfish, conch and a plethora of other marine species can be found in the coral and associated sea grass communities here.  

Why the Conservancy Works Here

Poachers have depleted sea turtle populations by collecting turtles and their eggs as a food source. Historically, sea turtles were a staple food source for Caribbean islanders. Even with dramatic declines in turtle numbers in the region, this tradition continues. While the green turtle population at Jack and Isaac Bays is stable, the population of hawksbill turtles is continuing to drop. Hawksbills are valued for their shells, which are used to make items such as jewelry and purses.

Residential development threatens turtle nesting sites. Tourists' use of nesting beaches, especially at night, causes female turtles to abort nesting attempts, lose egg clutches or abandon nesting beaches. Also, newly hatched turtles use light reflected off the ocean to negotiate their way to the water. They become disoriented by artificial light from streetlights and beachfront properties. And, while the construction of sea walls, groins and jetties might protect buildings, they often contribute to the damage and loss of nesting beaches.

What the Conservancy is Doing
  • In the early 1990's, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey of St. Croix beaches determined that eggs from  about one-third of all turtle nests were poached on East End beaches.  In 2001, eggs from less than 1 percent (1 nest out of 250) of nests were poached. The Conservancy's turtle-monitoring project is responsible for this turnaround. Two part-time marine biologists and three interns patrol beaches nightly during the entire nesting season. Due to the Conservancy's presence, today there is virtually no poaching. By guarding and studying nesting sites, the Conservancy ensures that future generations of turtles have a chance for survival.
  • To continue protecting turtles, the Conservancy is organizing activities such as closing beaches at night during the nesting season, having pre-season nesting beach cleanups and educating local people and tourists about turtle behavior.
  • The Conservancy is seeking funding for a satellite-tracking program to follow the foraging habits and sea travel routes of turtles in the region, including those that nest on St. Croix beaches. For instance, hawksbill turtles are on a two- to three-year nesting cycle. Tracking devices would allow biologists to find out where the turtles go when they are not nesting, and help the Conservancy identify what other turtle habitat in the Caribbean needs protection. Each satellite transmitter costs $5,000.
  • To advance ecotourism, the Conservancy invites visitors to study turtle behavior and the landscape around Jack and Isaac Bays during a three-hour guided hike. Proceeds go toward turtle monitoring and protection. 

 

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