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Coki Point, St. Thomas

A visit to Coki Point at the north end of St. Thomas offers lots of water adventures.

By Lisa Mullins Bishop, Caribbean Edge Staff Writer

Visitors can tour Coral World Ocean Park and Underwater Observatory, take a Sea Trek along the ocean floor, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters, or take a scuba diving lesson at the PADI-certified Coki Beach Dive Club, experience Snuba, or just swim in the warm waters.

Coral World Ocean Park and Underwater Observatory reigns as St.Thomas's number-one attraction. This five-acre marine park has plenty for everyone--from touch pools to a coral reef to an underwater observatory to a mangrove lagoon.

The Caribbean Reef Encounter is an 80,000-gallon tank with 360-degree views of a coral reef. Visitors can experience life on a coral reef with its various denizens such as lobster, conch, angelfish, groupers, and sea anemones. With its 21 tanks featuring various marine habitats, the Marine Gardens Aquarium gives guests a unique look at life under the sea. You'll see tons of local fish such as candy cane shrimp, balloon fish, soldierfish, and angelfish.

The diminutive seahorses captivate visitors. Coral World's seahorse breeding program ensures the survival of these sea creatures and amazes visitors, who watch as baby seahorses learn to swim and to adapt to their surroundings.

The Underwater Observatory Tower takes guests 100 feet from shore and 20 feet below sea level. At the bottom of the tower, visitors can view marine life through 24 picture windows. The Predator Tank at mid-level offers an up-close look at sharks such as lemon, nurse, as well as other predatory sea creatures like moray eels and barracuda. The exhibits at the top level of the observatory constantly change, and the views of the nearby islands from this vantage point dazzle visitors.

Back on land, follow the tropical nature trail as it meanders through both the dry and wet zones typical of the Caribbean region. Along the way, visitors sees the mangrove lagoon with its unusual trees whose roots grow in saltwater, seashore plants such as aloe, agrave, and seagrape that thrive in dry, salty conditions, and a variety of exotic birds, such as bitterns, Puerto Rican flycatchers, herons, and hummingbirds. Keep your eyes open for other creatures such as red-footed tortoises and iguanas.

There are also waterfall-fed outdoor touch pools where visitors can hold starfish and observe endangered sea turtles. Other open-air pools let guests watch baby sharks and feed stingrays.

Those wanting to get wet can take the Sea Trek. Trekkers wear a special air-supplied helmets with a large glass mask as they walk 15 feet underwater through the coral reefs. Trekkers hold onto a handrail as they follow their guide along the 60-yard underwater trail, where they see yellowtails, tang, trumpetfish, sergeant majors, sponges, and sea fans. Trekkers wear special booties to protect their feet as well as gloves to hold onto the handrail and to protect their hands when touching sea creatures. The Sea Trek takes about 20-25 minutes and is suitable for ages 8 and up.

The Padi-certified Coki Beach Dive Club offers snorkeling and scuba diving lessons. Snorkeling lessons take place on a right off Coki Point Beach. Even children can get into the action, there are dive lessons for children and a bubblemaker program that introduces children to underwater breathing with a regulator. Divers wanting to explore the waters off St. Thomas can choose from a variety of programs, including guided reef tours and night dives. The reef tours involve little swimming since they take place right off Coki Beach to a maximum depth of 55 feet.

Visitors can also try Snuba, a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving. Participants wear a mask and use a regulator with a 20-foot-long air hose connected to a compressor on a boat. The only equipment needed is a mask, fins, a weight belt, and a lightweight harness that keeps the air hose out of the way when swimming. Participants start out in waist-deep water and then gradually descend to a maximum depth of 20 feet underwater with a guide. The fish are fed twice a day at Coki Point so there's always plenty of colorful fish to see. The Snuba experience takes about 1 hour and is suitable for ages 8 and up. No experience is necessary. A pass to Coral World is included in the Snuba price.

A day spent at Coki Point offers much to see and do above and below water.

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