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Below The Surface | The Formation Of The U S Virgin Islands And British Virgin Islands

Uncovering the journey of the creation of St. Thomas, St. John and the BVI

Nestled in the heart of the Caribbean, the islands of St. Thomas, St. John (both part of the U.S. Virgin Islands), and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are renowned for their breathtaking beauty, pristine beaches and vibrant marine life.

We spend so much time immersing ourselves in the natural beauty of our islands above the water while cruising along on a powerboat charter or sailing catamaran adventure and just below the surface snorkeling with the magnificent marine life. But we seldom take the time to think about the geological makeup of our islands. Deep beneath the surface lies a captivating tale of volcanic activity that shaped these island chains. Touching on the very surface of their makeup, we’ve put together a history, uncovering the journey of the creation of St. Thomas, St. John and the BVI.

St Thomas Barrier Islands from St John

View of St Thomas Barrier Islands of Lovango Cay, Mingo Cay, Grass Cay, and Thatch Cay from St John

Just touching on the very surface, we’ve put together the history, uncovering the journey of the creation of St. Thomas, St. John and the BVI.

A Hotspot of Volcanic Activity:*

The islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and the BVI owe their existence to volcanic activity that occurred millions of years ago. *Note: There are no active volcanoes located near the northern edge of the Caribbean Plate, where St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands are located.

Submarine Volcanism:

The birth of the island chain, including St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands began deep beneath the ocean’s surface. Powerful eruptions from underwater volcanoes propelled molten rock, or magma, to the surface. These volcanic eruptions took place repeatedly over a vast period of time, layering the ocean floor with lava and volcanic debris.

Plate Tectonics at Work:

The Caribbean Plate colliding with the North American Plate resulted in the subduction of the North American Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate. As the North American Plate sank into the Earth’s mantle, intense heat and pressure caused the melting of rocks, generating magma that eventually rose to the surface.

Shield Volcanoes: Formed islands like St. Thomas and St. John

The primary type of volcano that formed the islands in our region is known as a shield volcano. Shield volcanoes have broad, gently sloping sides due to the low viscosity of the magma, which allows it to flow easily. As successive eruptions occurred, layers of lava built up, forming the large, shield-shaped islands of St. Thomas and St. John.

Formation of the British Virgin Islands:

The BVI, located just east of St. Thomas and St. John, also emerged from volcanic activity. These volcanic islands were formed through similar processes of magma rising to the surface and subsequent eruptions.

Coral Reefs and Calm Waters of Today:

While volcanic activity shaped the initial landforms, coral reefs played a vital role in shaping the present-day appearance of St. Thomas, St. John and the BVI. Over time, coral colonies grew and developed intricate reef systems, providing habitat for diverse marine life. The reefs also act as a natural barrier, creating calm, turquoise waters ideal for snorkeling, diving and boating.

Book your USVI boat charter or BVI boat charter for a snorkeling adventure and explore today’s coral reefs. 

St. Thomas, St. John, and the BVI possess a rich geological history that spans millions of years. Through the interplay of tectonic forces, volcanic eruptions and the intricate workings of nature, these islands have emerged as Caribbean treasures. Whether you’re strolling along our stunning beaches or immersing yourself in the vibrant marine ecosystems, appreciate the incredible geological origins that birthed these island chains and welcome to the VI.

 

 

 

June 30, 2023