With the government shutdown, the National Park Service suspended the bay host program, temporarily releasing us from our role. Consequently, we no longer need to be in Leinster Bay. And, when we are, we are not supposed to engage in any of our normal activities as bay hosts.
When the shutdown first began, we headed to Red Hook to take care of some boat chores. We stayed at American Yacht Harbor marina to top off our batteries and fresh water, provision, and get a few other jobs completed. While there, we ate some tasty nachos and burritos at MeLT.
Having checked a bunch of things off our to-do list and with no end to the shutdown in sight, we departed Red Hook. It was not yet the holiday, but we spent the night in Christmas Cove on St. James Island, just off the eastern end of St. Thomas, anyway. There we relaxed on the free moorings put in by the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources and ordered pizza from Pizza Pi, a sailboat turned pizza place in the anchorage.
The next morning, we awoke and got ready to return to Leinster Bay early. We were certainly eager to get back to the comfort of Leinster; it is more protected than most other anchorages in the Virgins, included Christmas Cove, where we were rocked by boat wake throughout the daylight hours. But Leinster is also, more and more, feeling like home. As our home, our appreciation for Leinster and our desire to protect and be good stewards of the bay continually grows. And we not only desired the comfort of home, but also wanted to check and see how the bay was doing without us.
In the early morning, we made our way across Pillsbury Sound from Christmas Cove, then along the north shore of St. John, and finally rounding Mary’s Point to get back. When Leinster came into view, we both started counting the boats in the bay (there were nine with one leaving). Almost immediately, we also recognized that one boat was anchored rather than on a National Park Service mooring.
Anchoring in the bay is against park rules for good reason. Anchoring on coral or seagrass beds, which cover all of Leinster Bay’s bottom, tears up these critical habitats. In the case of coral, it may have taken hundreds of years to grow only to have an errant anchor seriously damage it in a night. Even the seagrass beds take months, even years, to recover from a boat’s anchor and chain digging into and dragging across the bottom for a night.
Had we been in Leinster as bay hosts, we might have been able to prevent the boat from anchoring in the first place. We try to keep an eye on boats coming in for just that reason. Certainly, we would have ensured that the boat did not stay anchored long, limiting the damage that the anchor inflicted. Instead, we just emailed the head protection ranger, who is still on duty. A ranger never came through the bay to follow-up. Before the shutdown, they usually would come over within an hour or two when we contacted them. Undoubtedly, they are busy dealing with things that would not normally be occupying their time as they keep the place safe while all the “non-essential” NPS staff are at home, furloughed.
As the government shutdown continues to drag on, we have stayed in Leinster. Occasionally we have observed people doing things that endanger the ecosystem and beauty of the bay. And we have offered friendly advice to visitors about the trails, snorkeling, and ruins. Our presence has even deterred at least one visitor, who recognized us as the bay hosts from a previous encounter, from bringing their dogs on the beach (another NPS rule to protect nesting sea turtles and endangered shore birds). But we know we would be doing more for Leinster Bay if the shutdown ended and we could resume our official duties.