We love Statia. In this article, we‘d like to give a first impression of why it is so well worth paying Sint Eustatius, a small Dutch Caribbean island, a visit: Go Statia! There is a lot to tell. Hence, this article is meant as a first overview and links important organisations and other sources of information, allowing you to dive deeper into the why. We are presenting Sint Eustatius now as we have worked as dive instructors on the island before and are going back to do so in September 2021.
You have never heard of Statia before? Not to worry, most people haven‘t, even lots of Dutch citizens aren‘t aware of their Caribbean gem. For some Statians that‘s a blessing as it keeps Sint Eustatius protected from any form of mass tourism as well as other influences from the outside that might take away the special charm of this island. The Golden Rock is pretty much as the Caribbean used to be 30 years ago.
Before we take a look at the history of this island, introduce you to the treasures on land as well as underwater, let‘s see where exactly the volcanic island Statia is hiding.
Where to go to visit Statia
The neighbouring islands are Saba about thirty kilometres away in the northwest, St. Kitts about ten kilometres to the southeast, St. Bartolomé about fifty kilometres to the northeast and more or less directly to the north at around sixty kilometres the island Sint Maarten is situated. Sint Eustatius is roughly where the string of pearls of the Caribbean islands in the east slowly curves down to the south, only to disintegrate into small islands and tiny islets.
These are the Lesser Antilles in contrast to the Greater Antilles further west with the main islands Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico. A friend once commented: “When I look for the islands you are going to, I have no idea where in the world I am on the online map and when I finally have zoomed out far enough to be able to identify the location, your island is no longer visible. ” How about you (go to map)?
Short history of Sint Eustatius
It is hard to believe, but in the 18th century, Sint Eustatius was the most important trading centre in the world. As the sandy bay offered protection from the easterly winds and was deep enough for the large merchant ships to anchor, the Dutch declared the island a free port in 1756. Whereby the heydays of Statia began. Everything was traded, from legal goods and slaves to illegal goods like arms, ammunition and other contrabands to the so-called New World and back. For a time 9,000 people lived on the island of 21 km². In addition to trading, the island economy ran on sugar, tobacco and cotton. With traders, sailors and slaves, around 20,000 people must have brought quite some life to Statia back in the day. The nickname “The Golden Rock” is based on this time.
But the wealth aroused covetousness and resentments, especially after the Dutch supplied the independence fighters around Georg Washington with weapons. In addition, on November 16, 1776, on the orders of Governor Johannes de Graff, Sint Eustatius answered the cannon salute of the ship Andrew Doria, which was sailing under the then-unknown red and white striped flag of the thirteen breakaway colonies. Possibly Statia just signalled their interest in trading, however, the Americans felt recognized as a nation. This act is still celebrated today with Statia Day, although it ultimately was the starting point of the island’s economic and political decline. In 1781 the British crown took over the island in the fourth Anglo-Dutch naval war. Less than a year later, the French captured Statia. In total, Sint Eustatius changed hands more than twenty times until the island belonged permanently to the Dutch crown from 1816 onwards.
„The St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR) foundation was established in 2004 to provide a permanent archaeological presence on St. Eustatius with the goal of protecting and developing the historical resources located on the island in full cooperation with local residents. This is achieved through the combined efforts of both staff and volunteers. The organization consists of two archaeologists and a board of six members. Our main office is located on Road to English Quarter. Here, we are able to house students and volunteers for our field schools, process finds, store equipment, and write our reports. Anyone who is interested in the archaeology and in the history of the Caribbean’s ‘Historic Gem’ can visit us; we are always happy to introduce people to the fascinating past of our beautiful island.“St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR): self-description on their website
Today‘s treasures: Historic sites and nature
Most of the 3,500 inhabitants today live in Oranjestad, the capital and only city of the island, on the central plateau. The island‘s silhouette is dominated by „The Quill“. Its name derives from the Dutch word „kuil“ for hole or pit. The stratovolcano, 801 meters high, is considered dormant. Perhaps the volcano is dreaming of its last major eruption, which, according to radiocarbon dating, must have been between 245 and 365. A detour into the crater feels like travelling back to a land before our time: The largest tree in the Netherlands is waiting, strangler figs grow up to gradually turn off the lights for the other giant trees, while lianas wind against the forest floor; and orchids, as well as larger flowers, splash colour into the endless green-brown filled with the sound of birds and insects.
The northwest of Statia is shaped by the crater edges of the former volcano, Boven, which has disintegrated into a rocky hilly landscape over time. Cacti reach into the sky and thorns spread their spines over the sandy path that winds through the barren landscape towards Venus Bay. Then the path climbs between the bushes and trees that claw into the thin layer of soil on these hills. Bare rock shines through here and there in the open meadows and dominates the steep walls. At the summit awaits a wonderful view over the rugged hills to the middle plateau of the island with Oranjestad and the Quill towering in the southeast
In both areas, the NGO STENAPA maintains various hiking trails and offers guided tours.
„The St. Eustatius Island Government identified 33km² of land and sea to be protected under law in order to preserve nature on Statia. We are mandated to manage and maintain this area for the benefit of the community. We work every day to protect the fragile tropical ecosystems and endangered species found on St. Eustatius.“St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA): self-description on their website
In 2015 Yoeri took the time to put together a short video clip for this NGO showing not only The Quill and Boven National Park as well as the Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden but also historic sites and some island life.
Today‘s treasures: Nature underwater
A big chunk of the protected area of Sint Eustatius lays underwater, making sure the ecosystem as a whole and the different species within the system can thrive. While deliberately sunken wrecks, such as the Charles Brown or the Chien Tong, are artificial reefs teeming with life, only large, overgrown anchors are evidence of ships that sank off the coast during the economic heyday. The wood rotted away a long time ago, the ballast stones, however, were successfully settled by a diverse and colourful mix of reef organisms. In addition to outstanding soft corals, there are also many sponges around Statia. Some, like the large barrel sponges, cannot be overlooked, others cover the old ridges of lava and rocks, and even more, species form tubes, ropes or nets on the reefs. Sandy paths run through these strands of lava. Like the ballast stones, they provide support for the corals and thus form the basis for the species-rich reefs.
Be assured to see and read much more about nature on land as well as underwater over the years to come. After all, we are going back later this year. For now, just watch Yoeri‘s underwater clip from 2015, still filmed with his old video equipment that back then just started to fail. Hence, we are looking forward to exploring much more, learning about the creatures and their habitats and presenting those to you – in much sharper footage and refined clips – for starters in our YouTube series: Take a minute to relax.
Besides nature and history, visitors point out the friendliness of Statians. Happily greeting and chatting with locals might turn your shopping experience – quite limited on the island anyway – into a longer affair. Breath, relax, and be present. Like everywhere in the tropics time seems to pass more slowly. Also, life is happening outside. While wandering through the alleys of Old Town or resting in one of the bars or restaurants most likely music provides the perfect soundtrack to ease you into this Caribbean experience. Overlooking the ocean and watching the sun rise and set every day, was a real treat. We are ready to tune into Statia‘s vibe once more.
Just visit Sint Eustatius, his small Dutch Caribbean island
The Tourism Board of the island provides lots of useful information for the interested visitor. Go Statia:
„No longer caught in those turbulent times, and far less crowded, visitors will find a very unique place with only echoes of her former past. Unaffected by regional tourism trends and fads St Eustatius is not your average Caribbean island, so just close your eyes and imagine the Caribbean about 25 or 30 years ago. Clean, unhurried and unspoiled. Pristine living, practically no crime, reefs teeming with fish. Gentle trade winds. People as warm and genuinely friendly as ever. Now open your eyes and discover the beautiful little island of St. Eustatius, affectionately known as Statia.The island tourism board of Sint Eustatius „Statia Tourism“ on their website
Welcome to our island…“
In the clip below there are marine park rangers and volunteers killing lionfish. Lionfish is native to the Pacific and Indian oceans. Brought to the Caribbean by human activity this fish has no natural predators and is reproducing rapidly, eating all reef fish it can suck into its large mouth. This is a real danger for local species and the coral reefs as a whole. Therefore they get hunted. Life on the reefs as anywhere in nature is built on a fragile balance of all the species living together.
To be continued.