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US Virgin Islands - Enviornment

US Virgin Islands Environment

The US Virgin Islands play connect-the-dots 1100 miles (1770km) southeast of Miami in the balmy waters where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. Most of the 50 or so islands, cays and jutting rocks that make up the territory are clustered around St Thomas (30 sq miles/245 sq km) and St John (20 sq miles/50 sq km), which lap it up 40 miles (65km) east of Puerto Rico and just southwest of the British Virgin Islands. Sts Thomas and John are a cozy conch-shell call apart, separated only by the 2-mile-wide (3km) Pillsbury Sound. Their distant big bro, St Croix, is plopped firmly in the Caribbean Sea 45 miles (72km) south and measures a whopping 80 sq miles (205 sq km).

The Virgin Islands' landscape includes dense subtropical forests (such as in the hills of St John), arid stretches dominated by succulents and coastal mangrove swamps. Indigenous trees include kapok, whose silky seedpod fiber was used as stuffing in pillows and lifejackets; calabash and the teylerpalm, whose delicate fronds make good brooms and were once used to construct fish traps. Madagascan flame trees brighten the vista along with bougainvillea, jasmine and frangipani.

The most common animals are rats, mongoose, donkeys and lizards. Mongoose were introduced to eat up the pesky rats but given that rats snoop by night and that mongoose are strict 9 to 5-ers, the plan failed. Unfortunately mongoose have developed a taste for the eggs laid by endangered leatherback, hawksbill and green turtles. The cheekiest bird of the islands is the bananaquit, a yellow-breasted sugar addict that thinks nothing of swooping your breakfast table for a hypoglycemic hit. Other birds include hummingbirds, herons, egrets and hawks.

Temperature is never an issue when planning a trip to the US Virgin Islands, since daily highs year round are between 70-80°F (22-27°C), trade winds keep humidity low and Caribbean currents keep waters warm. Rainfall is unlikely to dampen a visit, with the wettest months, September through November, averaging only about five days of rain each. The islands are prone to hurricanes, which can hit anytime between July and October, so keep an eye on weather reports if you're visiting during these months.

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