Science and Research

photograph of native plants being planted in the park
A young Sea Grape planted at Salt River, as part of the native plant restoration project.

NPS photo

Native Plant Restoration

Since 2012, SARI has been working to restore the plant native communities within 72 acres along the eastern shore of Salt River Bay. Over the past 50 years the area has been subjected to numerous discarded landscape plants and cuttings being thrown into “the bush,” resulting in a thriving community of invasive, exotic plants. Efforts to restore the native habitat began as a collaboration between the NPS-SARI, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Caribbean Exotic Plant Management Team, and NPS Youth Conservation Corps. To date over 1000 locally-grown native plants have been planted in the park. Non-native plants, such as guinea grass, tan-tan, rubber vine or purple allamanda, and Ginger Thomas, are targeted for removal and destruction while native trees, shrubs, and grasses are planted to improve erosion control and plant diversity.

Treatment within 50 feet of mangroves and shoreline are treated via mechanical removal, hand pulling, cutting with weed eaters, and mowing/mulching in place. Outside of the shoreline area, the plants are removed via mulching and mowing, and treatment of stem and new growth grasses with approved herbicides. No herbicide application will occur if rainfall is anticipated within 30 minutes of application.

The NPS is committed to maintaining and enhancing the natural beauty and health of our environment, and to the preservation and stewardship of the cultural resources of Salt River Bay through increased awareness and education. We look forward to continuing these efforts with our neighbors and partners.

Here is more information about the
South Florida and Caribbean Exotic Plant Management Plan.
Photograph of archeologists digging at a site in Salt River.
Archeologists have long been interested in the human settlement of Salt River Bay. These university students and NPS archeologists worked to uncover part of a village dating to ca. A.D. 400.

NPS photo

100+ Years of Archeology

Since the 1880s, archeologists from around the world have been interested in the archeological heritage of Salt River Bay. From ancient villages of fishers and farmers to Taino stone-lined ball courts, earthen forts, and historic agricultural plantations, the archeological sites surrounding Salt River Bay encompass nearly every human occupation of St. Croix since ca. A.D. 400.

Through artifact evidence and/or early historical accounts, we know that the area was inhabited by all three major pottery-making cultures found in the Virgin Islands in prehistoric times (Saladoid-era, AD 50-650; Taino-era, 650-1450; and Kalina (formerly referred to as Island Carib, ca. AD 1425-1590). There is good reason to believe that the Salt River site was a major religious and cultural center as well as a long lived permanent settlement. The only Tainan ceremonial ball court or plaza (batey) found so far in the Lesser Antilles was excavated there by a Danish archaeologist, Gudmund Hatt, in 1922-1923.

Remember: it is illegal to take artifacts from the ground surface, to dig for artifacts, or to take artifacts from underwater.

Underwater photograph of NOAA's Hydrolab facility, sitting at 50 feet below the surface.
The NOAA Hydrolab in Salt River Bay served as the undersea residence for researchers. NASA used the habitat to test living conditions aboard space stations.

NPS photo


In 1977, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) refurbished its staturation diving habitat HYDROLAB and relocated it from the Bahamas to the head of the Salt River canyon. Originally built in 1966, the facility had been moved and refurbished several times. Sitting 50 feet below the surface, and measuring only 16 feet by 8 feet, weighing 60 tons, it housed teams of four researchers for five to seven days at a time. At the end of each stay team member had to endure 16 ¼ hours of decompression. The HYDROLAB was operated under contract for NOAA by the West Indies Laboratory of Fairleigh Dickinson University. The NOAA property at Salt River also contained a small laboratory and living quarters, located on Triton Peninsula.

By the time HYDROLAB was decommissioned in 1985, it had hosted over 85 scientific missions conducted by 120 scientific groups. Over 11,000 excursion safe-diving hours were made to depths of 150 feet. In 1987, NOAA placed its new, larger underwater laboratory, Aquarius, at Salt River. This new habitat, measuring 43 feet long and nine feet wide, was operated by NOAA’s Undersea Research Center at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s West Indies Laboratory and could accommodate up to five scientists and one staff member. Unfortunately, Hurricane Hugo so damaged the land-based West Indies Laboratory that, in 1990, Fairleigh Dickinson University closed the facility. Citing safety concerns, NOAA decided to cancel all future projects on Aquarius, and in 1993, moved the underwater laboratory to Conch Reef in the Florida Keys National Sanctuary.

Last updated: April 24, 2018

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