Island Girl's VI Guide: Coral World Marine Park
Visit the Coral World Marine Park Web site
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A short, pretty drive from Red Hook, and a slightly longer but nevertheless breathtaking ride from town, this charming aquatic-life museum nestled on the tip of Coki Point gives visitors a huge amount of information about the undersea world surrounding the islands. In fact, most of the sea life I saw there came from the waters right around the point, which is fine with me except for the sharks. Sharks freak me out. At one point during my most recent visit, however, I made a big leap forward on the shark-fear-front when I actually touched a nurse shark. Sure, it was only a baby, didn't have any teeth and was being held firmly but gently by a trained professional, but still, I gave myself full marks for courage. Anyway, there's also a new Coral Reef exhibit in the Marine Gardens where I saw a disturbingly large lobster, watched a sea horse hunt for tiny shrimp, and was taught by a staff marine biologist how to spot an octopus in the wild. I also learned all about the way a reef system works and why it's utterly necessary that we take excellent care of the ones we have. I got to see a feeding (That's when I touched the shark. Scary!), touch a sea star, and watch rescued sea turtles swimming round and round in their safe pool by the sea.
In January 2006 Coral World launched a whole new fun thing called Adventure Isle. As it was explained to Island Girl, they've converted a 65' catamaran into a floating water-world with big, super-fast slides, jet skis and all other manner of water toys, snorkeling gear and guides for all. Boats will shuttle back and forth to the island throughout the day. So it sounds sort of like a normal water park except you're not in the middle of Ohio baking on a slab of hot cement while your eyes bug out from all the chlorine. Never fear, as soon as she can Island Girl will be all over it and will report back.
The "tower" at Coral World doesn't look like much of a tower from land, the above-water portion rising only to a one-story observation level crowned by a retro-looking geodesic dome. It's the below-sea-level part where all the magic happens. Built in the late 70s when Coral World first opened, the tower goes down 17 feet to the ocean floor and is an excellent way to see the bottom without having to get wet. The tower's middle level houses the lion's share of the park's large predatory fish.
Ever dream of breathing under water? Of walking across the ocean floor like it was your very own octopuses garden? I have. And I'll confess, whenever I sign a waiver before doing something I get excited. Island girl, if you must know, likes a little danger. Alas, as it turns out, Sea Trekkin' was far more peaceful than the need for a waiver might imply. Staging from the "tower," the sun-scorched and friendly Sea Trekkin' crew took me through a brief but thorough orientation after which, with a 72-pound helmet that functioned as both air-bubble and lifeline, I made my descent into the depths (17 feet, straight down, give or take). Thanks to the buoyancy created by the air being pumped into my helmet from up above, the 72 pounds felt like nothing – which is great because, to be honest, Island Girl does experience a little lower back pain from time to time. And while everything from my neck down was wet, the helmet kept my hair, my face and, most importantly, my glasses dry. And there, like a spaceperson in a bathing suit, I walked around for 25 minutes in this amazing, quiet blue world. As the landlubbers looked on in envy from the tower (much of the Trekkin' path runs directly in front of the lower observation level), I was swarmed by a school of I don't know what kind of speedy silver fish, while one of the park divers did a scheduled open-water feeding up above me. With help from my guide who, like me, was walking around in a space helmet, I got to hold a sea spider and (gasp!) a sea cucumber. Dozens of different species of fish shared my trek with me and when it was time to ascend the ladder again I wasn't quite ready to leave.
A Note On Sea Trekkin': Coral World is the only place in the Virgin Islands where Sea Trekkin' can be done. My guides explained that since operations began in the late 90s there have been no injuries. They also said that often times people with disabilities that prevent them walking on land have no trouble, with a little extra help, doing the tour. There are never more than 8 people on a Sea Trekkin' tour.
What You Need to Know
Hours: Coral World is open every day all year, barring dangerous weather, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket sales end at 4 p.m. daily.
Best time to go: Weekends may be more crowded at Coki Point, and afternoons may be quieter than mornings.
Time commitment: 2 hours or more.
Admission: Admission is $18 for adults, $9 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for children under 3 years old.
ATM on-site: Yes.
Gift shop: Yes.
Parties and Special Events: Coral World is available for weddings, birthday parties and other special events.
Parking: There is limited free parking.
Taxi: A taxi ride from Havensight is about $10 per person; from Red Hook it's about $6.
Other attractions nearby: Wave runner rentals, Coki Beach Dive Club, Coral World Water Sports (with kayaks, parasailing, glass bottom boats and more).
6450 Estate Smith Bay
St. Thomas, VI 00802
Phone: (340) 775-1555
Toll Free: (888) 695-2073
Fax: (340) 775-9068
Web site: http://www.coralworldvi.com
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