St Helena Island – the undiscovered secret of the Atlantic Ocean

Information and images courtesy of Dr Martin Brossy

GEOGRAPHY

  • Located on mid-Atlantic ridge 2000 kms due west of north Namibia. Lat.: 15 degrees South Long.: 5 degrees West of GMT
  • Measures 16 x 8 kmsapprox.
  • Remnant of 2 coalesced volcanoes rising up to 830 metres out of the sea.
  • Barren cliffs up to 300 metres. Green mountains in cloud zone.
  • Linked to Ascension Island & Tristan Da Cunha as British Overseas Territories

FACT SHEET

  • Population : 4,534 (decreasing). Locals known as “Saints” : very friendly people
  • Currency : St Helena Pound (GB Pound interchangeable). Mainly cash economy, few credit card facilities. No ATM’s. One bank in town accepts credit cards (Euro/US Dollar/ZA Rand) and pays cash.
  • Economy : “Subsistence” and support from UK Government. New Zealand Flax until 1960’s. No minerals/industry/agriculture. Now trying to increase tourism.
  • Isolation : Previous lack of airport and fortnightly ship supplies has retarded development of economy and the people : few opportunities, limited initiative
  • Capital : Jamestown
  • Sea Temp & Current : (20 -25’c) Benguela current remnant. Warm water !!
  • Climate : 21 –28 ‘c in summer. 17 –24 ‘c in winter (sub-tropical). Warm climate !!
  • Rainfall : 750 –1000mm pa ; (mainly on higher ground in center of island)
  • UK-funded New Airport and New “Port” cargo/petrol loading facilities offer opportunity for growth from 2018. St Helena open to the world now!

MORE FACTS

  • Own “Parliament” for local governance (UK Oversight)
  • Magistrates Court for local legal matters (UK Oversight)
  • Prison with 1 “Lifer” and a few temporary inmates (max : 14)
  • Police Station supervised by British Police
  • Oldest Church in Southern Hemisphere : St James Church (1774). Many other churches.
  • 1 Bank for cash withdrawals.
  • 1 Hospital with 6 doctors, 25 nurses and many ancillary workers. 1 theater.
  • About 100 beds for tourism : 30 at Mantis St Helena Hotel, 14 at Consulate Hotel, (others are “B&B”s and “backpackers” for divers)
  • Most roads and structures built by East India Company, slaves, prisoners and British military in 18th& 19th Centuries

HISTORY

  • 1502 : Discovered by Joao da Nova (Portuguese Admiral / explorer / trader). Used by Portuguese for stop-over (secretly) for whole century.
  • 1578 : Discovered by Sir Francis Drake & Thomas Cavendish (English circumnavigators)
  • 1633 : Claimed by Dutch Republic (Dutch East India Company).
  • 1657 : Annexed by British : Charter given to (British) East India Company by Oliver Cromwell. First settled 1659 by British settlers, soldiers and slaves
  • Prosperous Trading rendezvous point and refueling station for ships to eastern spice routes for 2 centuries.
  • 1834 -1981 : British Crown Colony (1981 -2002: British Dependent Territory). 1840’s Navy intercepted slave ships to free the slaves
  • 2002 : British Overseas Territory : (Resumed full British Citizenship)

TRANSPORT

  • New Airport opened 2017 (one flight a week from JHB to start). Prior to 2017 NO air access existed. Only access to island is/was twice-monthly RMS St Helena ship from Cape Town until 2017.
  • Car Hire limited to a few local operators with used and some “new”(ish) cars. Tour guides (4×4’s and “taxi”s available and excellent value)
  • Rugged terrain (volcanic igneous rock). 200-300 metre cliffs surround island. Steep valleys radiate from central hilly area. Mountain pass roads with dry stone support walls (built by soldiers, slaves and prisoners mainly for military purposes)
  • Cliff side Sea Jetty . WW2 troop carrier used for cargo/containers !).
  • New ”Port” opened 2018 nearby (with oil / petrol pipeline capability and cargo derrick). RMS ship to be replaced by Cargo ship from Cape Town
  • Very deep sea around the island : 3 kms deep at 3 kms out !!

TOURISM POTENTIAL

  • Marine Activities : Whale sharks, Dolphins, Devil Rays, Turtles, Whales, Wreck-Diving, Shore & Deep Sea Fishing, Yachting destination
  • Napoleonic Heritage (owned & managed by France !!)
  • Walks / Hiking trails : 21 “Postbox” hikes. National Trust established
  • Birding : Endemic species and many sea birds
  • Astronomy (Halley mapped Southern Hemisphere stars). Dark skies.
  • Fauna and Flora : Endemic species (Millenium Forest project to re-introduce endemic vegetation)
  • Invertebrates : many rare species, eg: blushing snail, spiky woodlouse
  • Military sites : 150 cannons, many fortifications and forts, access paths
  • Slow pace of life : relax and chill !! Far from the madding crowds !!

 

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