Some months ago, we started to collect small and big reasons to explain why we love Statia, Caribbean Netherlands, on social media. As slowly but surely these posts get buried deep down in all the newer postings, we decided to bring them back to life on our blog. Hence, we put together the first selection. We are looking forward to finding more and more reasons why we love Statia so much. Besides, we are happy to hear what others have to add or comment regarding this small island in the Caribbean Netherlands (general travel advice „Go Statia! Why visit the Dutch Caribbean island„).
Somewhere over the rainbow
There is so much we love about Statia, Caribbean Netherlands. However, we have to start somewhere. So let’s go with rainbows!
It is really quite striking how many rainbows we get to admire on Sint Eustatius. Often the island offers even more than one rainbow, multiple in a day or – even better – right next to each other. When we were leaving the STENAPA event of World Whale Day 2022 at the Botanical Garden, the sun was shining on Statia. From St. Kitts the rain approached, forming a curtain out at sea with rainbows touching the water where, one of these days, we hope to see Humpback Whales travelling from their tropical breeding grounds in winter to their polar summer residence.
Views and whales are further aspects we love about Statia, this unspoiled Caribbean island. With „what we love about Statia“ we express our affection and devotion in pictures and stories.
Totally relaxed marine life
When it comes to what we love about our Caribbean gem St. Eustatius the relaxed marine life is definitely high on the list. After all, it is making the diving experience unique and offers so many opportunities for photographers, videographers, marine biologists or enthusiasts as well as any ocean lover.
Turtles are one great example. While in the Philippines – where Yoeri and I met at the back of a dive centre – most turtles would take off while we were still relatively far away, here they might get off the ground too, all just to swim right towards us to take a closer look. Often they don’t only pass by one person but examine each and every diver of the group. How very considered!
In general, a good piece of advice to get close to any turtle worldwide is to go as slowly as possible without looking it into the eyes. A direct, quick approach and straight stare are not putting any creature to ease …
The wild, wild North
Of course, we love diving. After all, we are dive addicts. Nevertheless, we recognise and enjoy the beauty and diversity on land too. Walking to a particular spot on the island and enjoying a break somewhere along the hike allows us to unwind, clear the mind and connect to mother nature in almost the same way a dive does.
One day I went to Venus Bay at the Northeastern end of St. Eustatius. While I didn’t meet a human soul, many birds were singing along the path to the Atlantic side of the island. Some I could admire for a brief moment, most stayed hidden in these stunning hills of Boven Nationalpark.
On my way back the sun was setting on the Caribbean side painting its colours above the skyline of this extinct volcano. The camera has problems capturing such a scene in low light. Luckily there is HDR these days which allowed me to create a picture in the way I saw the whole scenery. Island life in all its glory!
Meet and greet the animals
The scenery – on land and underwater – is spectacular. Within this setting, wildlife and nature experiences rank very high when it comes to what we love about this wonderful Caribbean island.
Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)
Last weekend we got a chance to film and photograph a nest of the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). Nests are usually along cliffs with one single egg which is incubated by both parents. Once the bird hatches the parents stop visiting the nest. Quite the radical approach to getting the offspring ready for a life on the ocean. After fledging these birds live and eat at the sea for 4-5 years before they return to their nesting site to produce their own first chick.
This nest has been the lowest STENAPA recorded so far and was discovered by Jan-Joost Mekkes on his quest to find new beetles and other insects to add to the lists of species being present on Sint Eustatius. His work is only one of the many inspiring projects on this island and in collaboration with the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute at St Eustatius – CNSI. Conservation efforts and scientific research are other reasons to love this Dutch Caribbean island so much.
Red-bellied Racer (Alsophis rufiventris)
The Red-bellied Racer (Alsophis rufiventris) sunbathing, I spotted up on the path to Mazinga the highest point of the volcano Quill on St. Eustatius.
This harmless snake species can be found only on Statia and Saba these days, after the Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) was introduced on St. Kitts and Nevis over 150 years ago. Meant to kill the poisonous snakes on plantations as it is immune to them, the mongoose didn’t stop there. The carnivorous mammal reproduced happily wiping out all snakes on the islands. A good reminder to not mess with the balance within ecosystems by introducing alien species.
On Statia and Saba, the racer plays a key role in regulating small reptile and amphibian populations. Even though threatened by other invasive species like black rats (Rattus rattus) and cats (Felis catus) the population was considered stable. Therefore, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) downgraded the status of the species from „endangered“ to „vulnerable“ in 2016. But then Irma and Maria, two category 5 hurricanes, hit both islands in 2017 causing a lot of damage to the ecosystems. Loss of habitat, reduced number of prey, and direct mortality of racers raised concerns.
Hannah Madden from the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) and Lara Mielke from Saba Conservation Foundation joined forces to conduct a survey using line transects in different vegetation types. Density estimates for Statia (2019) are lower than Saba (2021), although both are in decline according to the researchers. Unfortunately, there is not enough data from before the hurricanes for modelling the trend in detail. They published an article on the website of the DCNA too.
Caribbean hermit crabs (Coenobita clypeatus)
We present one of the many Caribbean hermit crabs (Coenobita clypeatus), also known as the soldier crab, West Atlantic crab, tree crab, or purple pincher that can be found all over Statia, even inside the crater of the Quill.
Adults burrow and hide under the roots of large trees. When they are out and about and people pass by, they usually retreat into their shells which often results in the crab rolling downhill. So if you hear „rolling stones“ on St. Eustatius, take a second look. Like other terrestrial crabs, they can breathe air thanks to modified gills. Their shells help to keep the humidity necessary for the gas exchange to function properly.
In this picture is the shell mostly used by the hermits on Statia: Cittarium pica, the West Indian top shell or magpie shell, is a large edible sea snail. Hermits can use their larger (usually left) claw to cover the aperture of the shell for protection against predators.
Caribbean hermit crabs feed on animals and remains of plants, overripe fruit, and faeces of other animals. Females release fertilized eggs into the ocean. The spawning happens on certain nights, usually around August. We shall keep an eye out for this event and are looking forward to meeting many more Coenobita clypeatus while walking, hiking and even trail running this wonderful Caribbean island.
A whole new macro world suddenly revealed itself: insects! We never paid a lot of attention to insects apart from the flamboyant ones like butterflies and dragonflies. In March 2022 we had the pleasure to explore Statia in a whole new way.
The insect safaris with Jan Joost really opened my eyes! After one day of very slowly walking up the Quill with lots of standing, staring and photographing, I began to see insects everywhere. While diving we love to discover our supermacro stuff but haven’t adopted the same passion for the weird and wonderful class insecta.
We are very much aware that lots of insects are threatened by human activities in general and the way we industrialised our agriculture in particular. Pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers are killing blindly. Same as in the sea, a lot of creatures and their functions aren’t even known, let alone their role within the ecosystem understood.
We are not only part of nature, we also depend on functioning ecosystems and stable conditions for our survival. Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean there will be one last species standing after killing off the rest. It emphasises how adapting and evolving creates roles and links within nature and life on this planet.
Hiking: Why we love Statia, Caribbean Netherlands
The possibility to get away from it all and stroll not only through nature but through history is fuelling our love for this Caribbean island every time we go for a walk or hike on Sint Eustatius.
The hiking routes on Gilboa Hill in Boven Nationalpark offer many views like the one towards Zeelandia, the Eastern part of town and the Quill Yoeri was filming in March 2022. Numerous stone walls from the 17th and 18th centuries on all three ridges prevented erosion of topsoil and served to indicate property lines. There are even remnants of a sugar mill and an alcohol distillery with two stone ovens to create rum built. While hollowed rocks were used to store water, the piles of stone formed once the foundation of mud huts where slaves of the different plantations used to live in.
The Dutch kingdom stopped the slave trade in 1814. However, slavery in the Netherlands Antilles was abolished only on July 1st 1863. The Emancipation Act gave freedom to 12,000 slaves on the Dutch Caribbean islands. Wondering about the hardship of former islanders many butterflies lightened up our path through grass fields, bushland and trees in combination with cacti. Still, lots of history and species to learn as well as habitats to be understood and preserved.
STENAPA is putting a lot of effort into all hiking trails on St. Eustatius lately. Compared to my first exploration of the three different ridges on Gilboa Hill in 2011 it was so much easier to follow the paths. Thank you for the work!
Colourful present rooted in the rich past
We love that history awaits us at every corner. In March 2022, we had the pleasure to join a historic city tour by the knowable and entertaining Gay Soetekouw. With her help, I hope to get the facts straight to share my experience not only in a more detailed blog article (or multiple) covering some of the past events of Sint Eustatius.
These five-sided beads were produced out of wood ash in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries particularly for Statia, back then known as the Golden Rock. They were given to slaves on the island as a reward – payment without spending any money. However, slaves used the beads, also different shapes and colours, to trade in between themselves.
You can still find Blue Beads underwater as well as on land. Though legend says it is actually the bead finding you and if you take it, you are destined to come back to the island. We confirm. Back in Europe, there are two nice big beads hanging in our room found in 2015 on dives at Blue Bead Hole. Last year their call for too loud to ignore. So here we are.
If you ask any tourist what makes Statia special, they will tell you it’s the people. We agree. We just haven’t had a posting, particularly on the vibe and friendliness of the islanders themselves. Those are still to come. Also, we’d like to highlight new experiences that the island has to offer for young researchers and conservationists as well as locals and travellers. We love to share our passion as much as we love to learn about the ones of others. Let’s connect and protect.