Wildlife of Saint Helena
St Helena, which 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 has no native land mammals but is a haven for birdlife, including the endangered St Helena plover or ‘Wirebird’. The ocean waters surrounding the island host incredibly diverse coral ecosystems which are home to marine wildlife of Saint Helena found nowhere else in the world.
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 the 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 the 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 the 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 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 as belonging to a whole new genus, . Although attempts were made to conserve it, in 2004, St Helena Olive was declared extinct, due to clearance of forests and the introduction of feral goats. Populations of other native plants were also significantly impacted.
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