Buck Island Reef National Monument, or just Buck Island is a small, uninhabited, 176 acre (712,000 m²) island about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the northeast coast of Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. It was first established as a protected area by the U.S. Government in 1948, with the intention of preserving “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea.” The U.S. National Monument was created in 1961 by John F. Kennedy and greatly expanded in 2001 by Bill Clinton, over the bitter opposition of local fishermen. Buck Island National Monument is one of few places in the Virgin Islands where endangered brown pelicans and threatened lest terns nest.
Most of the Monument area, which is administered by the National Park Service, is underwater and attracts around 50,000 visitors a year. With its 4,554-acre (18.43 km2) long reef there is plenty to explore and experience in the water. Snorkelers can follow an underwater marked trail on the eastern tip. It is one of only three underwater trails in the United States. Along the trail are plaques denoting information about marine flora and fauna commonly found in the area. Two thirds of the island is surrounded by an elkhorn coral barrier reef, providing an ecosystem for over 250 fish species and a variety of other marine life including spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks and lemon sharks, and juvenile Blacktip reef sharks and Whitetip reef sharks. In the spring endangered Leatherback turtles come onto the beach to nest while Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles nest during the summer months. Turtle Beach on the western edge of the island features a pristine white sand beach and has been voted one of the world's most beautiful beaches by National Geographic.
The National Park Service has been monitoring Buck Island for over 40 years. Most of the research is focused on coral, fish, sea turtles, brown pelicans and least tern nesting. West beach is one of the most active turtle nesting beaches in the world with one the longest continually operating research programs.
The National Park Service requires all visitors to utilize Authorized Concessioners providing guided tours to ensure the ecosystem continues to thrive. To help protect this natural beauty visitors are encouraged to wear non-toxic reef safe sunscreen or a rash guard while swimming in the waters surrounding Buck Island Reef National Monument.
There are actually two Buck Islands in the Virgin Islands. The one just north of St. Croix is the centerpiece of the National Monument. Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge occupies the one near St. Thomas.