CARIBBEAN PROPERTY MAGAZINE
Living, Working and Investing in the Caribbean
C O U N T R Y F O C U S : USVI
The USVI - A Home Away from Home
By Reg Block
The four principal islands are St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix and Water island, with several dozen smaller islands forming a land area equal to that of Washington D.C. Puerto Rico is 50 miles east.
The islands are volcanic in origin and mostly hilly and rugged with elevations up to 475 meters.
One of the USVI major concerns is lack of fresh water resources. Climate is subtropical with little temperature variation year 'round. September to November is rainy season.
The USVI is subject to hurricanes: Hugo 1989, Marilyn 1995, Bertha 1995, Georges 1998 and Lenny 1999, are some significant hurricanes that have impacted the islands.
Population was 108,708 in 2005. English is the primary language (74.7 percent) with some Spanish, French and Creole. The islands are a territory of the United States, established in 1917 and, by 1927 islanders became official citizens of the USA.
The capital is Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.
80 PERCENT OF ALL USVI ECONOMIC ACTIVITY IS TOURISM, DRIVE BY TWO MILLION VISITORS EACH YEAR
Agricultural industry is small (one percent) and most food is imported. However, petroleum refining (one of the world's largest refineries is on St. Croix), pharmaceuticals, textiles and watch assembly are fairly substantial, with a growing financial services sector.
Mostly, the USVI is known for its beautiful warm climate, gorgeous beaches, pristine oceans and vibrant reefs. Currently, many initiatives are in place to ensure preservation, including seven major parks and wildlife refuges. These are definite tourist attractions, but they also make the USVI a great place to live.
NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE REFUGES
Before moving anywhere it's beneficial to become familiar with the environment and history of a region.
National parks are a good place to start, as they are an expression of both the natural and man-made heritage of a country or locale. USVI has many such parks and wildlife refuges that seek to preserve the uniqueness of the islands and inspire locals, visitors and potential residents to learn about its environmental and historic richness.
Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve
In 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on St. Croix, and recently to celebrate the 500th anniversary of that historic event, George Bush signed a bill to establish the 1,000 acre Salt River Bay Preserve.
The park features the original Carib village site that Columbus and his men visited, and it is the location of the only ceremonial ball court found in the Lesser Antilles.
The park, with its dynamic ecosystem, is also home to the USVI's largest mangrove forest and to many endangered plants and animals. Divers from around the world are attracted to the spectacular undersea canyon found in the park area.
Buck Island Wildlife Refuge
Buck Island Wildlife Refuge was established in 1969 as an important place for migratory birds.
The 45 acre island is mostly cactus and grasslands and of little interest. However, the surrounding waters attract large numbers of snorklers, divers and boaters who come to explore the reef and shipwreck.
Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge (SPWR)
SPWR contains; more than three miles of protected coastline, salt marshes, vegetation and tidal pools where green, leatherbill and hawsbill turtles live along with thousands of birds -among them herons, martins, black-necked stilts and white-crowned pigeons.
The park, located on the southwestern tip of of St. Croix, is also renowned for a rare, brownish-purple orchid.
Virgin Islands National Park
This outstanding park covers 60 percent of St. John and most of Hassel Island. It is habitat to tropical forests, coral reefs, sea life and 800 species of plants, including seagrape trees, coconut palms, semi-arid cactus and the vanilla scented night-blooming cereus.
The park is home to over 30 species of tropical birds, like the hummingbird, varieties of parrot, bananquits, whistling-duck, yellow-billed cuckoo and many migratory warblers that are often seen in the United States.
Also, found in the park are Pre-Columbian historic relics and remains of Colonial sugar plantations. Hawksbill and green turtles also inhabit the park.
Green Cay Wildlife Refuge
Founded in 1977, this refuge, located off the north coast of St. Croix, is home to the once-endangered ground lizard. Currently, the refuge is closed to the public. However, the beach across from it and the surrounding waters are there to be enjoyed.
St. Croix Heritage Trail
This trail, a 72-mile journey, is a way for visitors to get a feel for the Danish colonial past of St. Croix. Part of the trail is paved and can be driven by car, while much of it involves narrow forest trails which are suitable only for walking.
The trail takes you through many historical and cultural sites, as it covers the 28-mile length of St. Croix. This is a great way to spend a day learning about St. Croix's colonial history.
Christiansted National Historic Site (CNHS)
Established in 1952, CNHS's mandate is to preserve historic structures and the early Danish way of life in Christiansted from 1733-1917. The seven acre park, located on St. Croix, consists of a waterfront and wharf area and five historic structures.
Wildlife on USVI is diverse. There are many fascinating creatures that make their homes here: some are dwindling in numbers and considered endangered, particularly the brown pelican and the fisherman bat.
For this reason it is important to be aware of environmental issues and how anthropogenic activity, particularly development, affects wildlife survival.
Below, I will provide a sampling of some of the amazing creatures that you will share the USVI with, should you choose to relocate there.
Their survival depends, in part, on how we treat the environment.
This fascinating reptile can grow up to six feet in length, with a tail that makes up half its length. Babies are florescent green and adults dark green, brown or black.
They often spend their time in trees where they eat leaves - their favorite food. However, they're often seen scurrying around bushes and forested areas. Iguanas are also native to Fiji, Tonga, the Galapagos Islands, Madagascar and other parts of the Caribbean.
Along with the iguana, many smaller lizards make their homes on the USVI. These include the anole with its red and green throat fan and the cute insect-eating gecko. The gecko, a harmless little lizard, is often found indoors, where it helps control bugs.
A variety of crabs are found throughout the USVI -among them the clever hermit crab that does not make its own shell, but rather, must find the shell of another animal to live in.
The ghost crab is often seen scurrying along beaches and ground crabs mostly come out at night, but can be seen peeking out of their holes during the day.
Bats are usually found in caves and less populated areas and can often be seen at night.
Most bats eat insects and drink nectar, however, the fisherman bat, a rare and threatened species that roosts in caves by the ocean, uses sonar to detect fish swimming close to the surface. With long curved claws fishermen bats are able to swoop down and scoop their unwary prey from the water.
Fishermen bats are also great swimmers, using their wings to paddle. Coastal development is primarily responsible for their dwindling numbers.
Originally from South Asia and Africa, the mongoose was introduced to the USVI by early settlers in attempt to control rat populations.
This failed, as the mongoose hunts during the day and the rat is nocturnal -narry the twain shall meet! The effect of introducing the mongoose to the islands was devastating to local snake and bird populations who became the prey of the mongoose.
Goats are a common site on the islands, where they can be seen in school yards, home yards, grassy areas and beside roads. Goat meat is served at special occasions and often can be found on restaurant menus.
Found on St. John, they are descendants of domestic donkeys brought by early settlers. Many of these cute, long-eared equines can be seen in Cinnamon Bay and Coral Bay. Not all are domesticated and should be viewed from a distance.
A small white-tailed deer population still lives on the islands. These shy, solitary animals are seen in St. John's National Park and in dense forest areas of St. Croix and on the east end of St. Thomas. They were brought to the USVI by colonists during the 1700s, who hunted them.
To feed, pelicans swoop down and dive into the sea. When they emerge, their bill pouch is full of water and hopefully some fish. The water drains and the fish are captured and ready to be eaten.
They nest in specific areas like Mary's Point on St. John, Congo and Whistling cays off of St. John and Buck Island off of St. Croix. Poaching has negatively impacted their numbers and the brown pelican is now endangered.
Part of the charm of the USVI is the brightly dressed, speedy hummingbird commonly seen feeding on insects and nectar throughout the islands.
The great blue heron with its seven-foot wingspan is often seen standing perfectly still while it fishes for crabs, lizards, mice and fish.
Both great blue and little blue herons spend much time in the mangroves, lagoons and salt ponds of the USVI.
Among the various species of doves found in the USVI, the bridled quail dove is rarely seen due to its endangered status.
Feral cats and mongooses feed on their eggs and lowland nesting. Also, feeding grounds have been disturbed by real estate development, greatly reducing bridled quail numbers.
The cooing Zenaida, however, is abundant and commonly seen and heard throughout the islands. They are similar to American mourning doves.