By Lydia Harris
Trunk Bay on St. John is one of the most photographed beaches in the Caribbean. An awe-inspiring heart-shaped bay, its setting in the stunning Virgin Islands National Park offers clear water, fine white sand, plenty of shade, a gift shop, watersports center, snack bar, showers, restrooms, changing areas and a picnic pavilion. None of which seems unusual - on the surface. So what makes Trunk Bay stand out from other beaches?
The underwater self-guided snorkeling trail!
Rent or bring your own snorkel gear and step into an undersea world of coral and fish. The 650-foot underwater trail (maintained by the National Park Service) features plaques that provide a wealth of information about the seal-ife you'll see beneath the water's surface.
Keep an eye out for colorful Angel Fish, Parrott Fish, Sergeant Majors, Yellow Tail Snapper and Puffer Fish, which swells up when it's threatened. Also watch for sea turtles that swim effortlessly then pop up their heads for air from time to time.
Among the coral in Trunk Bay, you'll see: Brain Coral, with folds and grooves that look remarkably like a brain; Fan Coral is wide, thin and rounded and sways back and forth to the rhythm of the tides; Finger Coral has large pores, grows in thick colonies, and its branches have swollen tips.
Of particular interest is Elkhorn Coral. Among the Caribbean's most abundant coral only 30 years ago, in March it became the first coral to be proposed for entry as a threatened species, under the US Endangered Species Act on the World Conservation Union's Endangered Species List.
But there's good news! US Geological Survey research scientist Caroline Rogers reports that this sea life "appears to be recovering in some areas," particu-larly in Trunk Bay, where Elkhorn Coral "is coming back nat-urally," she says. Studies of the species in Trunk Bay are supported by the USGS, National Park Service, Friends of the VI National Park, University of the Virgin Islands and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
Admission to Trunk Bay is $4 for adults; ages 16 and younger are free; Golden Age and Golden Access annual cardholders are $2.