Saint Helena

About

St Helena, is 122 km2, has a resident population of approximately 5,000. It lies 1,960 km from the SW coast of Africa and 2,900 km east of South America. The nearest land is Ascension Island, 1300 km north.

St Helena’s isolated position in the South Atlantic has given rise to an unusual and remarkable land and marine flora and fauna, although, massive destruction of native plants and animals followed the Island’s discovery and settlement in 1502. The current estimated population is just over 4,000 (2014 estimate). The Government is the main employer on island. The island’s first role for humans was as the first watering place for British ships on the long route back from SE Asia with valuable spices. Since the opening of the Suez Canal and the introduction of powered ships, St Helena has had to find other bases for its economy.

It once had a thriving flax industry, which provided material for British Post Office bags until the 1960s. The flax plant is now invasive, displacing native species, many of which occur nowhere else in the world.

In 2016, an airport will open servicing the island as an alternative to the Royal Mail Ship, and current method of travel, which will be retired.

Because of its exceptional biodiversity importance, despite earlier losses, St Helena is one of very few sites on UK’s current Tentative List for World Heritage Site status.

The island’s endemic flora consists of approximately 51 flowering plants and ferns and 25 bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts). The lichen flora is highly diverse, with approximately 223 species occurring on the island. This includes nine endemic species. Perhaps the most significant in terms of endemic species is the occurrence of over 1000 land invertebrates; over 500 of these are unique to St Helena including several species of spiders and the spiky yellow woodlouse Pseudolaureola atlantica, with species still being identified. Several studies on the invertebrate fauna continue. In 2015, it was reported that two species of wasps have been described belonging to a whole new genus, Helenanomalon. Although attempts were made to conserve it, in 2004, the St Helena Olive was declared extinct, due to clearance of forests and introduction of feral goats. Populations of other native plants were also significantly impacted.

The Millenium Forest is the result of a large restoration project to try to re-establish native trees and plants and address the destruction, which was made by the earlier settlers. With the help of residents and conservation groups by 2012, about 10,000 trees have been planted many of them are endemic species such as the gumwood Commidendrum robustum.

At least six unique land birds once occurred on St Helena. Only one, the wirebird (or St Helena plover) Charadrius sanctaehelenae, survives today. This is subject to a species action plan due to a number of threats.

138 species of fish are known from the waters around St Helena. Endemic species of marine fish include the bastard five-finger Chromis sanctaehelenae; Cavalley pilot Stegastes sanctaehelenae; deepwater greenfish Holanthias fronticinctus; deepwater jack Pontinus nigropunctatus; greenfish Thalassoma sanctaehelenae; Melliss’s scorpion fish Scorpaena mellissii; silver eel Ariosoma mellissii; skulpin Physiuculus helenaensis; Springer’s blenny Scartella springeri; and St Helena dragonet Callionymus sanctaehelenae.16 more are found only here and at Ascension. A greater understanding of the marine environment is the subject of several ongoing projects.

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE). 

Map

Video

Saint Helena – wildlife and heritage

 

Saint Helena – wirebird conservation

 

Saint Helena – plant conservation

 

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE).