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St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Saturday Video: Sacrificing The World’s Best Beach for Sea Turtles

Saturday Video: Sacrificing The World’s Best Beach for Sea Turtles

Sandy Point Beach, St. Croix is the best beach in the world.

It’s a bold statement born of some serious bias (I am Crucian, after all), but if you were there with us on any of the countless Sundays during my high school and college years, then you’d be hard-pressed to dispute it. For me, Sandy Point just has it all – a long and wide expanse of brilliant white sand, insanely clear water, seclusion and the type of jaw-dropping, sun-kissed vistas that Hollywood dreams are made of (see final scene of Shawshank Redemption as proof).

At two miles long, Sandy Point is the longest beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The beach itself, though, is actually just a small part of the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, a 327-acre protected habitat established in 1984.

I enjoyed the best times of my teenage and young adult life here. Most every Sunday morning, a collection of my friends would dust ourselves off wherever the previous night’s frivolity had left us, pile into this little red Mazda pick-up truck I had at the time, and head west; all the way west along St. Croix’s south shore. The highway would end, becoming a hardscrabble dirt road, but we’d press on; all the way west ’til we could go no further. A slight right turn into a makeshift parking lot amid seagrapes and sand, and we were there.

Sandy Point Beach. Heaven.

No facilities. No shade. No higglers. No nothing. Just Heaven.

I have so many great memories of those amazing Sundays, the vast majority of which I will never, ever share here. Decorum, and the fact that my kids read this blog, dictate that our Sandy Point secrets remain just that. (Though I will say that for at least one Sunday way back when, St. Croix did have at least one nude beach).

Among my fondest PG-rated memories from Sandy Point are the late-afternoon hatchings of baby leatherback turtles, like the ones featured in the video above. Back in my rowdy Sandy Point days, conservation efforts weren’t what they are today. Environmentalists would do all they could to ensure that the adult turtles could lay their eggs at Sandy Point and safely make it back to sea in the spring, but once the nests were laid, it was all left up to chance.

Chance, or us drunken teenagers.

On many a late-summer Sunday afternoon, I can remember sitting on the beach with friends as hundreds of little turtle heads would start poking up through the sand all around us. Even in our compromised states, we knew enough not to touch them (doing so impairs their ability to return and lay their own eggs later on), but that didn’t stop us from helping. As seagulls swooped in to try and make off with a turtle snack, we’d shoo them away, running a bit of interference for the little guys to help ‘em on their way.

The sight of all those little turtles fighting their way to the surface, and eventually the sea, is a special slice of my upbringing in St. Croix that I’ll never forget.

It’s also not something I, or anyone else, is likely to ever experience at Sandy Point in quite the same way again.

Somewhere in the mid- or late-1990′s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started limiting public access to Sandy Point during peak turtle nesting season, essentially rendering the world’s best beach off limits from April to August. Even when access is granted, the park closes at 4pm. Amazing summertime Sandy Point sunsets, like the one Kate Walsh experiences in the video, now a thing of the past.

As you might imagine, I had some mixed emotions about the new controls when they were put in place, but when you consider that Sandy Point’s tiny two-mile stretch of sand is the largest nesting ground for leatherbacks in the entire U.S., at least there’s a very good reason for our particular brand of Sandy Point party to be over.

Oh well, at least we have videos like this from wonderful groups like Oceana to remind us of Sandy Point’s incredible beauty and critical importance to one of the world’s greatest creatures.

For more on Sandy Point, including info on hiking, bird-watching and how you can volunteer to help in conservation efforts there, click here to visit the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge website. For more on Oceana, click here.

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