Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve

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Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Salt-River-Bay-1.jpg
Overview of Salt River Bay and Landing Site
Map showing the location of Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve
Location St. Croix, Virgin Islands, USA
Nearest city Christiansted, Virgin Islands
Coordinates 17°46′44″N 64°45′32″W / 17.77889°N 64.75889°W / 17.77889; -64.75889Coordinates: 17°46′44″N 64°45′32″W / 17.77889°N 64.75889°W / 17.77889; -64.75889
Area 945.77 acres (3.8274 km2)
Established February 24, 1992
Visitors 2,419 (in 2011)1
Governing body National Park Service &
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov't
Official website
Designated: 1980

Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve on the Virgin Island of St. Croix, contains the only known site where members of a Columbus expedition set foot on what is now United States territory. It also preserves upland watersheds, mangrove forests, and estuarine and marine environments that support threatened and endangered species. The site is marked by Fort Salé, a remaining earthworks fortification from the French period of occupation, about 1617. The park also preserves prehistoric and colonial-era archeological sites including the only existent example of a ball court in the Caribbean.

The area's blend of sea and land holds some of the largest remaining mangrove forests in the Virgin Islands, as well as coral reefs and a submarine canyon. Salt River Bay's natural history, its vitally important ecosystem of mangroves, estuary, coral reefs, and submarine canyon, has witnessed thousands of years of human endeavor. Every major period of human habitation in the Virgin Islands is represented: several South American Indian cultures, the 1493 encounter with Columbus, Spanish extermination of the Caribs, attempts at colonization by a succession of European nations, and enslaved West Africans and their descendants. More than a dozen major archeological investigations since 1880, together with historical research, reveal a remarkable story.

On February 24, 1992 Congress created the park, under cooperative management of the National Park Service and Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. These agencies jointly manage this park. As an historic area of the National Park Service, the park was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the same day. The Columbus landing site had already been designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960. The Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve will be honored as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters in 2020.2

Bioluminescent Bay at Salt River

Salt River is home to one of two Bioluminescent Bays or Bio Bays on the island of St Croix (a second Bio Bay can be found at Altona Lagoon).3 Every year thousands of people flock to see the glowing water of the Bio Bay that's created by a micro-organism, the dinoflagellate Pyrodinium bahamense. The bay is also home to other bioluminescent marine life including Ctenophora or comb-jellies and Odontosyllis phosphorea 4 or Fireworms.

Bio Bays are extremely rare with "only seven year-round lagoons known to exist in the Caribbean", says Dr. Michael Latz of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, an expert on bioluminescent organisms, “Any place that has a bioluminescent bay should cherish it like a natural wonder, like a treasure”.5

A combination of factors creates the necessary conditions for bioluminescence: red mangrove trees surround the water (the organisms have been related to Mangrove forest 6 although Mangrove is not necessarily associated with this species.7 A study at the Bio Bay located at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve is being conducted by faculty and students from the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of the Virgin Islands. Their research is focused on analyzing quality and nutrient composition of the water, the distribution of the dinoflagellate Pyrodinium bahamense, and the abundance of “cysts,” dormant dinoflagellates embedded in the sea floor.

Historical marker

SCUBA Diving the Canyon at Salt River

Salt River Canyon is a prehistoric river and waterfall having cut two deep walls facing each other across a quarter mile of blue water. The feature is one of the best known of St. Croix's dive features, along with the Frederiksted Pier. The most popular scuba diving locations are a few hundred yards outside the Salt River Bay. Although most of the boat moorings are 25-45' deep, the actual canyon reaches nearly 500' in depth. Recreational scuba limits are 130' and well into the shadows of the canyon walls. This location is known for its sheer depth, clarity, and wildlife. February and March play host to nursing humpback whales. Year-round are both the nurse shark and reef shark. Occasionally one of the pods of dolphins may come swimming by as well. Sport Diver Magazine has also rated this area as one of the top 5 for water clarity in the Caribbean.

References

  1. ^ "National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics". National Park Service. Retrieved October 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Columbus Landing Site". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  3. ^ "Kayak Through the Bioluminescent Bays". seathrukayaksvi.com. 
  4. ^ "Scripps Scientists Help Decode Mysterious Green Glow of the Sea". scripps.ucsd.edu. 
  5. ^ "SEA Launching Second Study on Bioluminescence". stcroixsource.com. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  6. ^ Usup G, Azanza RV (1998) Physiology and dynamics of the tropical dinoflagellate Pyrodinium bahamense. In: Anderson DM, Cembella AD, Hallegraeff GM (eds) The physiological ecology of harmful algal blooms. NATO ASI Series, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, p 81–94
  7. ^ Phlips, EJ, Badylak, S, Bledsoe, E & M Cichra. 2006.

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