April 10, 2003 – St. Croix's Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is the territory's part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is celebrating a century of conservation this year.
In observance of the system's centennial anniversary, U.S. Interior Department Fish and Wildlife Service personnel on St. Croix are extending an invitation to the public to take part in Turtlewatch tours at Sandy Point that normally are restricted to student groups.
Established in 1984, Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is located on the southwestern-most extremity of St. Croix. Its more than two miles of continuous, sandy beach provides nesting habitat for endangered leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles as well as the threatened green sea turtle. "Despite its small size," a Fish and Wildlife release distributed on Thursday states, "Sandy Point supports the largest nesting population of leatherback sea turtles under U.S. jurisdiction."
Resource management at Sandy Point focuses on protecting adult sea turtles and their nests through conservation and education, the release states. From April to July, as part of the popular Turtlewatch program, student groups are permitted to visit the refuge at night in order to observe leatherback sea turtles laying their eggs.
This season, in recognition of the nationwide centennial celebration, the Fish and Wildlife Service on St. Croix is inviting members of the general public to take part in special Turtlewatch tours to be conducted on six dates: April 16, 18, 19, 20, 26 and 27.
Reservations are mandatory. For reservations and more information, call 773-4554 on Tuesday or Wednesday between 1 and 3 p.m.
The release notes that Sandy Point also contains salt ponds and inland vegetation which provide valuable habitat for more than 100 species of birds, including locally endangered least terns. The diversity created by the beach, woodland and wetland habitats provides a unique ecosystem for an array of plant and animal species, it says.
The refuge is routinely open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays unless otherwise posted.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903 and went on to establish 55 more during his presidency. Today, there are more than 530 national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas that occupy more than 93 million acres.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the only network of federal lands dedicated specifically to wildlife conservation. "This vast network of habitats protects millions of migratory birds, hundreds of the nation's critically endangered species, premier fisheries and other species such as bison, elk and caribou," the release states.
More than 35 million people visit refuges each year to enjoy such activities as hunting and fishing, wildlife photography and observation, and environmental education and interpretation. There is at least one refuge in every state and U.S. territory.
In addition to managing the national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special areas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations.
The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the distribution to state and territorial fish and wildlife agency of hundreds of millions of dollars a year collected in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment.
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