A new Caribbean attraction: A planetarium on Statia

A report by Gay Nagle Myers for Travel Weekly.

There’s big news on the tiny eight-square-mile volcanic island of St. Eustatius — known as Statia — in the northeastern Caribbean.

The island is now home to the first planetarium in the Caribbean, which opened last month near the soon-to-open Oasis Golden Rock Resort on the southeast coast.

The project was spearheaded by Jaap Vreeling, a retired astronomy professor from the University of Amsterdam who long dreamed of being able to bring a planetarium to Statia.

“I’m not a native Statian, but my wife and I worked here from 1986 to 1991 in secondary education projects,” Vreeling said. “We just retired, and we have a house on Statia and plan to  live here permanently.”

Together with local friend Ishmael Berkel, the two launched the planetarium initiative.

“In many countries of the world, light pollution makes it impossible to enjoy the night sky. Statia had no such limitation, but there was no way to explain the Milky Way, stars, planets, the moon and how ancestors used these to navigate from place to place,” Vreeling said.

The two men also recognized the benefits that access to a planetarium would mean not only to the schoolchildren of Statia but also to island as a whole. (Statia has a population of approximately 3,100.)

“We also envision that tourists visiting our island will be able to add this attraction to their vacation experience on Statia,” Vreeling said.

Plans fell into place, funding was obtained and Statia’s planetarium officially opened on Feb. 23 with a small group of invited guests in attendance. A group of schoolkids was among the first to visit.

“It’s now open by appointment and will be available year-round with precautions taken during the hurricane season,” Vreeling said.

There’s no admission fee for now and if an entry fee is ultimately charged, “the price will be very reasonable,” according to Vreeling.

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