Coral World Ocean Park in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a marine park on the island of St Thomas. The Caribbean Reef Encounter is an 80,000-gallon recreated Caribbean reef, home to a variety of fish, sea creatures and sea turtles. The open-air aquarium is fed by natural seawater and exposed to the sunlight, moonlight and rain, which improves the health of the sensitive sponges and corals and hence the sea creatures that depend on them for shelter and food.
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360-degree viewing allows guests to see the sea life, all of which is native to the surrounding St. Thomas waters. The marine park is home to two sea turtles, both of which were rescued as babies, are now over 20 years old, and each over 200 pounds. Although these two residents are unable to be released into the wild, the Park does serve as a rehabilitation center for many other releasable turtles.
Sharks and stingrays may be touched at the Stingray Lagoon and the Shark Shallows. A small Mangrove forest is located at the end of the Stingray Lagoon and demonstrates the importance of Mangroves as shoreline buffers that prevent erosion and improve water quality, and as nurseries that offer protection from predators. A Touch Pool introduces children to even more shallow water creatures, including Conch, Sea Anemones, Starfish and Sea Cucumbers.
A Nature Trail offers the opportunity to see red-footed tortoises, and to hand feed the Lorikeets, colorful non-native birds that were brought to the island from captivity in Florida. The Nature Trail also introduces visitors to the native flora of the Virgin Islands, including the lignum vitae tree, which has historically been used in the building of ships. Iguana Alley is a popular hang-out spot for the island’s native Iguanas, who can be seen in the trees opposite the Lorikeet Garden.
Two restaurants and two gift shops are located within the park for guests who choose to spend a full day and enjoy the amenities and activities.
History: The park has been open since the 1970’s, and immediately became St. Thomas’ most valuable tourist attraction. In 1998, the park gained recognition for its seahorse breeding program. Additional conservation efforts at the park include Earth Day ocean clean ups, animal rehabilitation services for sea birds and sea life, and research. The park is a coral nursery on behalf of the Coral Restoration Program of the Nature Conservancy. In 2000, Coral World was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Quality Award. The public may participate in the park’s conservation efforts through Coral World’s Conservation Heroes VI program.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Guided tours of Coral World are available, as are guided treks along the Nature Trail. Twice daily during feeding times, aquarists give educational presentations at the Stingray Lagoon and Turtle Pool. Turtle Encounters offer a personal, up-close introduction to the Park’s resident sea turtles, and guests may even enter their pool with the guidance of a staff member. Sea Lion encounter is a similar experience, although guests stay dry and meet the Sea Lions from the deck of their enclosure. The Sea Lions may be hand fed, and love to be pet by the visitors. The Sea Lion swim is a 75-minute program in which guests spend 50% of their time in the pool with the Sea Lions.
Shark Encounter and Sea Trek are two of the Park’s adventures that have not yet opened in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but are expected to be back in action in early 2018. Shark Encounter allows guests to snorkel in the Shark Shallows, while the Sea Trek is a guided tour along the ocean floor, with guests breathing through Sea Trek headwear. Unlike SCUBA, no specialized training is required, and the tour reaches depths of up to 20 feet.
The Nautilus is a ‘semi-submarine’ that offers viewing of the ocean through glass windows underneath a pontoon boat. The 45-minute tour takes guests past the coral reefs while a Nautilus diver feeds fish and points out interesting sea life. The Nautilus offers an underwater view with the comfort of air-conditioning and no need to get wet.
What’s Nearby: The Park is adjacent to Coki Beach, an excellent swim and snorkel beach offering crystal clear waters and sandy beaches. The park rents showers and lockers for those who choose to enjoy a day at the beach.
6450 Coki Point, St. Thomas, USVI 00802, Phone: 340-775-1555