Fourteen new species discovered on St Helena

On the island of St. Helena, one of the UK’s Overseas Territories, 14 new species have been discovered as part of a project  to protect and raise awareness of the island’s unique marine life.

Divers conducting surveys around St. Helena © Marine Section EMD


Led  by JNCC, St. Helena was awarded funding from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative to enable local people to implement marine monitoring and management strategies. This work has resulted in the protection and sustainable use of the island’s marine resources.


Islanders and local environment staff were led on a voyage of discovery of the seas around St. Helena by Dr Judith Brown. The survey team conducted hundreds of dives in the waters around the island, gathering information on habitat, fish and invertebrate diversity and abundance. Scientific papers from as far back as the 1800s provided historic data to support the work and over 120 new records were logged during the project. Fourteen new species to science were discovered including shrimps, flatworms, seaslugs and sponges.


“One of St. Helena’s treasures is the ocean which surrounds it and it has been a privilege to spend so much time sharing its magic. It’s all of our responsibility to look after this unique marine environment so that many can enjoy its wonders for many years to come,”

said Judith.

Bornella sp. new record to St. Helena and possible new species to science © St Helena EMD
The underwater visual surveys, combined with sidescan sonar and drop down camera work, looked at the various habitat types to establish baseline information for future decision-making. High levels of public engagement saw a dramatic increase in the number of marine sightings reported and all of this information has supported the development of policies on  interacting with whale sharks, devil rays and cetaceans; underwater blasting in or near the marine environment; protection of wrecks and marine archaeological heritage ordinance and updated spear guns control ordinance.


A Marine Management Plan has been drafted to direct future uses and developments of the marine environment in sustainable and environmentally sound ways, helping to protect the pristine marine ecosystem around St Helena. A documentary on the marine life of St. Helena has been produced and a guidebook is now available. Even a first day cover set of marine stamps was produced!


The enthusiasm and dedication of the local marine team staff representing St. Helena has increased international awareness of the island’s marine life. Through support from marine stakeholders - from fishermen to marine tour operators - valuable experience and local knowledge has helped inform future management strategies. The project was also supported by various organisations including JNCC, St. Helena tourism, Enterprise St Helena, Georgia Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, Ascension Island Government, the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institiute, many supporting government departments and many international taxonomists who gave generously in both time and money to match fund elements of this project increasing the outputs.Whale shark - JNCC funding supported St Helena Marine Scientific Officer to attend 3rd International Whale Shark Conference. Findings from St. Helena sparked huge international interest in whale shark research around the island © Marine Section EMD


Elizabeth Clingham, St. Helena Marine Conservation Officer, said

“This project marks a legendary period of knowledge expansion of St. Helena’s marine environment – as it was intended to do.  I speak for my team when I say thanks to Darwin for this incredible opportunity.  St. Helena’s future will benefit for years to come.”

 

The UK Overseas Territories are of global importance for their biodiversity; they support at least 1,500 endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world (a much greater number than are found in the UK), and iconic species/habitats, such as penguins, albatrosses and coral reefs. JNCC works collaboratively with St Helena, primarily with the Environment Section of St Helena Government, providing advice on biodiversity and ecosystems.