St Helena is an isolated Island surrounded by the rich waters of the South Atlantic and its marine environment supports a diverse array of marine life, including many endemics.
The surrounding ocean is also important for several charismatic migratory species including humpback whales, whale sharks, and turtles, as well as resident populations of dolphins.
Nearly 780 marine species have so far been recorded from St Helena including 72 species of algae, 223 Mollusca, 44 Echinodermata, 173 Chordata (including 10 Ascidacea), 41 Cnidaria, 33 Bryozoa, 69 Formanifera, 64 Crustacea, 24 Porifera, 31 Annelida and 5 Plathelminthes. Of these at least 50 are endemic species.
Inshore habitats include large boulders and bedrock reefs; both white and volcanic sandy areas and regions covered in cobbles and maerl. Although there are no reef- building corals around St Helena there are ten species of octocoral including the beautiful endemic orange cup coral which covers the underside of ledges and roofs of caves.
The Marine Conservation Section is responsible for the protection of St Helena’s marine environment as set out in the Marine Management Plan and consists of three core staff:
A Marine Conservation Officer, who manages the team with day to day tasks, manages the sections budget, prepares applications and proposals for external funding, liaise with users of the marine environment and wider stake holders and work with other government departments, NGOs and the local population to ensure we use the marine environment both responsibly and sustainably.
Two Marine Conservation Assistants, who carry out day to day activities such as field work, data entry, report writing and raising awareness on all aspects of the marine environment.
At any one time there are also specific project related staff, part time staff, volunteers and support from marine tour operators with our seasonal work.
Marine and Environmental Monitoring
St Helena has eight different breeding seabird species, mostly nesting on the offshore stacks and islands. A seabird monitoring scheme was initially set up in 2004. Within the scheme, the team monitor nests of key species for breeding success, identify foraging areas during breeding and non-breeding seasons. During the breeding season GPS loggers are used and the non-breeding season GLS loggers are used. GPS loggers provide useful information about where and when birds feed. Bird location can be tracked over time to calculate total distance travelled or determine whether some marine habitats or locations are being used more than others. A dedicated ringing programme is used to ring and measure birds and that will identify individuals and monitor the life of individuals.
As result of the Darwin Project ‘Marine biodiversity and habitat mapping’ in 2012, dive surveys became a regular long term monitoring tool. They enable us to quantify seasonal trends in relation to habitat and species, monitoring for invasive species and observe areas of known pollution.
A recording system has set up for members of the public so that when they see any marine species, they can report what they see, number of species, their location, date and time. This information is returned to the Marine Section so that we can enter it into our Marine Sightings Database. Local boat owners and fisherman also own a Marine Sightings record book.
The marine section is currently undertaking two Darwin funded projects, one that has started in July 2017 and will continue until December 2019 and called ‘Oceanographic influences on the St Helena pelagic ecosystem’.
Click here to find out more about this project: http://www.sainthelena.gov.sh/dplus070-oceanographic-influences-on-the-st-helena-pelagic-ecosystem/
The second Darwin Project ‘Sustainable fishery management for St Helena’s lobster populations’ will commence in September 2018 and will continue until August 2020.
This project started in April 2015 as a Darwin project and continued until June 2017, it then continued for another year under the Blue Belt Programme and will shortly move over to ICCAT. The aim of this project is to determine habitat use, movements and retention time of yellow fin and big-eye tuna in the St Helena EFZ and to determine diet of yellow fin and big eye tuna and link to habitat utilisation and provide information on pelagic biodiversity also to develop local management measures (in addition to ICCAT) to ensure the sustainability of tuna stocks.
This project started in early 2018 under the Blue Belt Programme, the aim of this project is to gain a greater understanding of the population status, growth, reproductive biology, movement and habitat use of grouper, to determine a precautionary sustainable annual catch and to help inform the development of management measures (e.g. size limits, area closures).
The aim of this project is to establish a monitoring programme for single use plastics whilst reducing the amount of plastic entering the marine ecosystem. In order to do this the project will look to establish a national plastic recycling and education programme, and reduce cost of waste disposal of St Helena.
Marine Awareness Week
This is programme that happens every year for a whole week and each year has a specific theme. The aim of this programme is to allow members of the public and children from both primary and secondary school to understand our marine environment and everything in it. During marine awareness week there are information displays, marine related activities, radio quizzes, game night and marine facts in local newspapers. The team also delivers presentations to schools at assemblies across the island.
Public awareness is key in raising the importance of the marine environment. Many Saints are already aware of just how important the ocean is and many rely on it for their livelihoods. The team update the sections Facebook page, submit articles into local newspapers, publicise marine sightings reminders to encourage Saints to engage with their marine environment.