Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge

What Actor? What Movie? What Beach?

Sandy Point is one of five pristine beaches I have walked in the past year and it is one of the most accessible ones. I am not sure why St. Croix is not famous for our beaches because I have rarely seen anyplace that can match us among the smaller islands. The two beaches which can only be reached by hiking are part of my Goat Hills Hike on the Nature Conservancy property. The three accessible beaches by car that are spectacular are Cramer’s Park in the East End, Ha’Penny Beach on the South Shore and Sandy Point which dominates the west end of St. Croix.

The entire west end of the St. Croix is now managed as the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge which was established in 1984 on 340 acres purchased from the West Indies Investment Company for the protection of nesting leatherback sea turtles. An additional 43 acres have been acquired since that time to protect the Aklis neo-Indian archaeological site and the endangered Vahl’s boxwood tree.

As described in the US National Wildlife Refuges Comprehensive Conservation Plan, September 2010: “This is what makes Sandy Point geologically unique…. It contains the longest beach in the Virgin Islands because the beach is essentially an enormous sandy peninsula that wraps around the West End Salt Pond (and the western end of St. Croix). No other site like it exists on the island and its geologic formation is unique in the [Caribbean] region….Maps dating back more than three centuries to 1667 show Sandy Point essentially the same as it is today.”

Because of the unique combination of environmental features including access to fertile farmlands, forests, and food from the sea and salt pond, Sandy Point was home to the prehistoric Aklis site with continuous occupation by neo-Indians at this location. Excavation at the site yielded a a mix of Virgin Islands ceramic styles dated to a calibrated age range of A.D. 600-900. The village combined cultivated foods resources and naturally occurring foods. Manioc (also known as cassava or yuca) is likely to have been cultivated and the prehistoric environment on St. Croix contained forests which would have furnished fruits, seeds, and wood for fuel and building supplies. The sea would have yielded fish, conch and mollusks. Fishing strategies probably included fish poisons like South American tribes use, woven fish nets and free diving.

The refuge was originally established to protect important nesting habitat for endangered leatherback turtles, as well as threatened green and hawksbill turtles. This protected nesting habitat has allowed these species to make a dramatic local recovery.

Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge now has the largest nesting population of leatherbacks in the United States and boasts that it is also the best studied. From a very humble starting point in 1982 of 20 nesting females a year coming to St. Croix and producing 2000 hatchlings, the numbers have now grown more than tenfold with some annual variation. This has been a direct result of conservation and protection from man and mother nature.

The two biggest threats had been poachers taking the eggs and selling them for a profit and the natural coming and going of the beach which caused destruction of nests laid in the wrong place. By eliminating poachers and relocating potentially threatened nests as soon as they were laid, the number of surviving hatchlings doubled almost immediately and 15 years later, the number of adult females returning to build nests increased dramatically.

In addition to the efforts with leatherback turtles, there have been similar successes with the less threatened Green and Hawksbill turtles. In addition, the Refuge is home to over 100 species of birds including some environmentally threatened species.

The Visitors Center

There are two ways into the Sandy Point National Refuge and the more traditional one is to start at the Visitors Center beyond the end of the Route 66.

The New Road

You then enter along a road that goes to the point and driving in is permitted and a parking area is provided at the end of the road.

Looking North Across the Saltpond

Along the road you will see the salt pond which is rich in marine life and the birds who are fishing for dinner.

Entering from Frederiksted Pool

Since beaches cannot be blocked, the other way in is to park at the end of the Fredeiksted Pool parking lot and walk along the beach.

Sandy Point Beach

Traditionally the beach at the end of the Northern part of this coastline and adjacent to the parking lot has been the party area and called Sandy Point Beach by many locals.

The Real Sandy Point

Actually, the true point is further west and to the south of the beach on the northern shore.

As to the introductory picture, The actor is Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption and it was filmed at the place locals call Sandy Point Beach. It was just part of the story that it was Baja California, but in reality, it was filmed in St. Croix. Truly a place worth visiting.

About John Boyd

I have been hiking the hills and beaches of St. Croix Virgin Islands for over 30 years and in retirement have decided to become a Heritage Hiking Guide specializing in the local history, geology, settlers, plant life and environmental changes by all settlers of the last 2000 years but just along the trails I hike.
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2 Responses to Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Mark Grice says:

    I heard the park is closed during the week. I also heard that it opens up if a cruise ship is in port. Is this true? Also, if the park is closed, what prevents me from walking along the beach to gain access? Thank you so much for your help.

    • John Boyd says:

      Hi Mark, the Closing time is theoretically April 1, to September 1 but there is a great deal of flexibility and the first leatherback has already returned. They open during the week for cruise ships but only when there are no turtles around. The best way to see it during turtle nesting season is to walk on a scheduled hike with The hiking association or volunteer for a turtle watch with SEA or the Hiking Club. These are closely monitored events so as to not violate the law. Ranger Mike Evans is a reasonable guy so you should contact him before doing anything on your own.
      As to walking the beach, be very careful because the law is all on his side when it comes to “threatening or harming” an endangered species. Things like helping a turtle going the wrong way, disrupting a laying turtle, walking above the water line could or even taking a flash picture of a turtle can all be perceived to violate the law. So if you decide to walk the beach on your own and meet a ranger above all be humble, don’t argue and listen to everything they say. Act stupid and apologize for everything. Realistically, from April 1 to September 30th, it is too darn hot to enjoy that beach as there is no shade or refreshments. Do not under any circumstances walk above the water line or spike an umbrella into the sand as they might take these as serious threats to turtles.

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