An important piece of Virgin Islands history was desecrated recently when someone left their mark at the Reef Bay petroglyphs.
Graffiti on the rocks where the petroglyphs were carved nearly 1,000 years ago was discovered in late April by V.I. National Park Ranger Dave Horner.
“Somebody drew on the rocks with some sort of glitter paint,” said VINP Acting Superintendent Martha Bogle. “We have been able to remove the majority of it, but when we removed it, the rock was cleaned too. Over time, the algae and dirt will fill in so it won’t be as noticeable.”
An investigation, which consists mostly of Horner researching the symbol drawn on the rocks, is underway, and the penalties are serious.
Petroglyphs Previously Damaged
“We’re not taking samples of it or anything,” said Horner. “We just want to see if anybody knows anything about it. I’m trying to research the symbol, but I haven’t found anything that matches.”
Horner believes it could have been teenagers who marked the rock with graffiti, he explained.
“It’s probably some youth going down there, hanging out, who thought it was cute to write on the rocks,” said Horner.
“It’s an open case until I get further information.”
This is not the first time the petroglyphs have been damaged.
Just four months ago, someone carved the historic drawings deeper into the rocks, explained Horner.
“They re-drew them with a rock to make them show up better, which is considered destruction,” said Horner. “Nobody should even be touching the petroglyphs.”
Vandalism to Plants
Other incidences of vandalism involving the strangler fig plant on the Reef Bay trail have been occurring on a regular basis.
“There’s a plant down there, the strangler fig, that people like to write their names in,” said Horner. “We would like that to stop. When one person does it, they all do it.”
“There’s a plant down there by the waterfall, and I don’t think there’s one leaf on it that doesn’t have markings,” Horner continued. “It’s pretty sad.”
Damage of archaeological resources is against the law, and penalties range from a $10,000 fine and one year in prison to a $100,000 fine and five years in prison.
In addition to being against the law, the recent damage done to the Reef Bay petroglyphs could harm their chance to be recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site, explained VINP Archaeologist Ken Wild.
“This is the kind of thing that could cause us to lose the chance of being a World Heritage Site,” said Wild. “It’s a shame, because they’re such a wonderful monument to an ancient civilization.”
“All we can do is try to get the message out,” Wild continued. “Please, this is our heritage — don’t harm it. It is vulnerable.”
Bogle urged anyone who witnesses defacing of Park resources to notify authorities.
“It’s a real tragedy to see something like this happen to such a significant archaeological resource in such a special place,” she said. “It’s something we should take a great deal of pride in having, both on our island and within our National Park. We would hope that if people see this type of occurrence happening, they will report it to a VINP ranger or to the V.I. Police Department.”
Visitors to the Park should enjoy the serene surroundings and not leave anything behind, according to Horner.
VINP Seeking Volunteers
“Take pictures and leave only footprints,” said the VINP ranger. “Take everything with you. Enjoy the place and leave it with minimum impacts.”
In an effort to better monitor the Park’s resources, the VINP is seeking volunteers. Anyone interested should contact Wild at 693-8950 ext. 223.
“We are trying to monitor the things that can be stolen in the Park,” said Wild. “We are looking for anyone who would be interested in going out to record and monitor what’s out there. That way, if something does disappear, we will know it was there.”
Anyone with information on the recent vandalism on the Reef Bay trail should call Horner at 776-6201 ext. 243.