St Helena Online

Tag: eco-tourism

Whale sharks: St Helena’s biggest tourist attraction?

whale shark by lotus pilgrim on flickr
Encounter with a whale shark, by lotuspilgrim (flickr)

Whale sharks earn tourist dollars for the few places in the world where they make regular visits, and they could even do the same for St Helena.

Now rules are being drawn up to make sure the giant but friendly creatures are not harmed by thrill-seekers.

A few lucky tourists got to swim with visiting whale sharks in early 2013, according to the St Helena Wirebird tourism website.

Wikipedia says the creatures are a cornerstone of eco-tourism in tropical regions where they congregate in predictable, seasonal patterns.

“In Thailand, Belize, Utila, and the Yucatan Peninsula, numerous scuba diving and snorkelling tour operators depend on whale sharks for their livelihood,” says the site.

“Healthy populations of the giant fish draw tens of thousands of visitors, and these travellers contribute substantially to the local economies.”

Growing interest has prompted St Helena’s marine conservation unit to issue “basic interaction guidelines” for anyone given the opportunity to swim with them:

  • Touching or riding whale sharks is strictly prohibited
  • Underwater flash photography is prohibited
  • Swimmers must say at least ten feet away
  • Divers must not “chase after a whale shark in an aggressive manner”

A policy is being drawn up, and the public will be invited to comment.

The guidance note says: “St Helena has been a safe haven for whale sharks for generations and we would like to ensure that we keep it that way.”

For information, contact Elizabeth Clingham or Dr Judith Brown at the marine conservation unit, part of St Helena Government.

When whale sharks visited St Helena – St Helena Wirebird tourism website
Best destinations for diving with whale sharks –

Mantis to Develop New Hotel on Saint Helena, Island in South Atlantic

Mantis, a collection of privately owned boutique hotels and eco escapes around the world, announces its latest project will be the development of a five star hotel on the island of Saint Helena, a British overseas territory located in the South Atlantic Ocean.

View from Ladder Hill Fort
View from Ladder Hill Fort

As one of the most remote places in the world, more than 1,200 miles from the nearest major landmass and with its rich flora and fauna, the island certainly fits with Mantis’ mantra of “unearthing the exceptional”.

A team of six from Mantis, including founder and chairman Adrian Gardiner, visited the island in January of this year and identified Ladder Hill Fort as the location for the five star hotel, which will have 45 bedrooms, including 10 self-catering units, a restaurant, spa and fitness facilities.

Read more at: Luxury Travel Magazine or view the Mantis Collection.

Home-grown roofing; just the business for an eco Saint

The walls might be imported from overseas, but the roofing for the new Wirebird Hills hotel will be truly St Helenian. It’s to be grown on the island.

And Linda Houston, of developer Shelco, says it could turn into a truly green business for an enterprising Saint.

The idea of a “living roof”, with plants providing insulation, was a key part of the eco-credentials for the planned luxury resort.

There was also a plan to grow hemp on the island and turn it into a green building material for the walls, but Shelco has now decided to have much of the building pre-fabricated overseas.

Linda told Saint FM: “There are certain things you can’t prefabricate, and green rooves is one, because we will be using indiginous plants.

“I had hoped – sadly, have failed – to have some matting brought out on the ship with me so we could start work on this now.

“We have a company that specialises in this in the UK that we are talking to. They will give me a more of a briefing and I will talk to people here, and we will work out how we can try this out.

“I am keen we do a bit of trial work on island before the development gets going, and I believe this could be a cottage industry for somebody, to offer green rooves to clients across the island.”

Government property for sale ‘effectively, now’ (comment added)

Buildings and land owned by St Helena Government are about to be advertised on the open market, according to Stuart Planner of Enterprise St Helena. But anyone who needs property for a business needn’t wait, he said.

They are for sale “effectively, now”, he told listeners to Saint FM. “Come and talk to me.”

Architects are due on the island in August to look at the redevelopment potential of historic assets, including the public works store in Jamestown, and some of the so-called “chief secretary” houses that have traditionally been used to house government officials.

They could be given a new life as hotels and guest houses, he suggested.

The visiting experts will also consider the how the wharf area could be re-used once the airport is open.

“St Helena government still owns in excess of 80% of lands and buildings on the island. A lot of those buildings weren’t being used effectively and with a bit of moving around we could get SHG to own less, which means more for the public sector.

“Anything is possible on this island but we have to have to have in mind what we are doing: we are trying to create a fantastic place for tourists to come and for the island to enjoy. We have to have a regard for the word ‘sustainability.’

“We are gearing the economy towards low volume tourism. There are going to be large operators on the island but everything is going to benefit.

“We have a couple of large hotel development opportunities but the island needs diversity – guest houses and small hotels, restaurants, bars, warehouses, workshops and, of course, houses, so anything is possible on this island.”

Stuart said he wanted to see the market in Jamestown refurbished, and used to sell the fresh produce that tourist establishments would need.

“We are trying to create a fantastic place for people to come. Opportunities exist but they have to fit with the sustainable development plan. Any development must be sustainable, not only in the way it is built but how the business is run within it.”

Asked about the potential to turn Ladder Hill Fort into a luxury hotel, he said: “We have some fantastic assets and we need to start work with architects now to look at these schemes.

“Before anything is done we have to look into the welfare of the tenants there. That means new housing. Nothing will be done until that housing is ready.”

  • A new law was enacted on Monday 16 July 2012, formally establishing Enterprise St Helena as the body responsible for economic development on the island. It has now formally replaced the St Helena Development Agency. A government statement said: “Up to now ESH has been operating in name only, as sanctioned by the former SHDA board of directors.”


Re: “The visiting experts will also consider the how the wharf area could be re-used once the airport is open.” This is something which seems to be being totally overlooked: how large items and cargo are going to be transported into St Helena after the airport arrives. It is likely that there will be more requirement for cargo coming in by sea after the airport arrives. Especially with the amount of development this is going to trigger. Not only does St Helena need its airport it also requires somewhere to berth cargo vessels – ie, a harbour. This could also offer enhanced facilities for cruise ship and yacht visits.

Robert Thomson

£3 million enterprise body is vital for better future, says Paul

Go-ahead given for Wirebird Hills eco-resort – eventually

Artist's impression of the hotel from the south
An 88-room hotel and tourist lodges are planned at Broad Bottom (picture: Shelco)

After ten years of planning and a flurry of eleventh-hour doubts, ambitious plans to build a spa hotel and eco-resort on St Helena have been given the green light.

But UK writer Ian Mathieson has called for “a full public debate” on the environmental and economic implications.

The scheme is the largest ever to be considered by councillors, apart from the £200 million airport project.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had praised the environmental ideals of the developer, but formally objected to the plans because of doubts about the impact on the island’s critically-endangered wirebirds.

The St Helena National Trust had also objected to the scheme, which includes an 88-suite hotel and 165 holiday homes.

The island’s planning board recommended approval for the scheme on 7 June 2012, but with a set of strict conditions.

The developer, Shelco, had already given undertakings to protect water supplies and established paths across the land, and improve breeding conditions for wirebirds on the site.

Governor Mark Capes was due to make the final decision on Tuesday, 12 June, but when the plans went before executive councillors they asked for further reports before giving their own view.

Approval was finally given on Friday, 15 June, after a special meeting of the executive council (ExCo).

Governor Capes reported after the meeting:

“On Tuesday, officials provided a comprehensive oral briefing on the Shelco application. We then put questions to the officials and engaged in a good discussion of the project.

“ExCo chose to defer making a decision to allow more time to reflect on the issues raised during the briefing and the subsequent discussion. Clearly this was the right approach given the scale and importance of the proposed project.

This morning, Friday 15 June, ExCo met in open session to take a decision on the development application.  I am pleased to report that ExCo indicated full support for the project and, accepting the planning board’s unanimous recommendation, duly approved the development application.”

In the June 2012 issue of the St Helena Connection – published shortly before the planning decision was made – Ian Mathieson expressed doubts about the whether there would be enough water available at Broad Bottom to serve the resort.

He also questioned the proposal that the hotel would be run by the Oberoi group, whose hotels – including one on Mauritius – have been named among the best in the world.

“What of the weather?” he asks. “While in Mauritius all months have an average of seven hours of sunshine a day, at Broad Bottom only in February can seven hours of sunshine be expected.

“There seems to be a strong likelihood that this project will slip through simply because there is little else on the table.

“At present it seems that the community may be blinded by the size of the investment without being aware of the contents of the Pandora’s Box which it may open.”

RSPB objects to Shelco resort over wirebird doubts
‘Cautious support’ for wirebird resort (comment)
Will this be the site of the world’s greenest hotel?