St Helena Online

Tag: islands

When Jonathan met Sally – and the story went global


Jonathan stares at the camera, beak open wide
Jonathan the tortoise, pictured by Guy Gatien

The BBC’s prestigious From Our Own Correspondent programme evidently has a fascination for St Helena: the island has featured on it at least four times in the space of five years. Judged against the size of the island’s population, this might make it – unofficially – the most interesting place on the planet, in the eyes of one BBC editor, at least.

Strange, then, that the BBC refused to answer a Freedom of Information request a couple of years ago, asking how many programmes it had recorded on St Helena in the 80-plus years of the corporation’s existence.

It claimed the matter was editorially sensitive, but it may well be that it didn’t want to admit that the answer, as far as anyone can recall, would be “none”. Foreign and independent documentary crews have been out, but Britain’s state broadcaster has not done so well.

From Our Own Correspondent, though, has enjoyed rich pickings from the island – this time, with a piece on Jonathan the tortoise, the world’s oldest known living creature.

The full text of Sally Kettle’s piece was published in the St Helena Independent on 14 March 2014 and can be found on her website.

Sally achieved the distinction of having an extract played on BBC Radio 4’s Pick Of The Week programme a couple of days later, when it was introduced with the question, How can you tell whether a 200-year-old tortoise is happy?

Jonathan’s age dropped to a mere 182 in the piece itself (leaving aside the fact that his exact age isn’t known; he could be 20 years younger).

It was Sally’s passionate delivery of her script that really stood out. Click here to listen.

She describes watching Joe the Vet feed Jonathan, whose blindness and blunted beak have made it difficult to find food for himself – but whose greedy hunger almost cost Joe the tip of a finger on one occasion. 

As often reported, the old boy has no difficulty mating, producing what Joe calls “a noise like a loud, harsh escape of steam from a giant battered old kettle, often rounded off with a deep oboe-like grunt.”

Sally reports that her piece was picked up “like crazy” on Twitter, the micro-blogging site.

Her website also includes an interview with the St Helena Wirebird, in which she talks about the visit she made (at two weeks’ notice) to film a documentary about St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension.

She says she can see the benefits of the island’s airport project, including medical support, work opportunities and tourism.

“But I can also appreciate the drawbacks that are perhaps difficult for outsiders to understand,” she says. “I spoke to the head girl at Prince Andrew School and she explained her reticence. She told me that the voyage on the RMS prepares you for the gentleness of the island; it gives you time to think about the journey and appreciate the remoteness the islanders’ experience. When tourists arrive on the plane they will just step off without that appreciation. I can see her point. The trouble is the airport is coming, and I’m not sure everyone is prepared for it.”

Carnival catcall echoes round the world – St Helena on From Our Own Correspondent
Jonathan the Tortoise on From Our Own Correspondent
Sally Kettle website
Rower Sally heads for islands (the easy way)

Share a kind word: Christmas message from Governor Capes

Governor Mark Capes: spending Christmas at sea. Picture by St Helena Government
Governor Mark Capes: spending Christmas at sea. Picture by St Helena Government

St Helena is certainly getting busier… that is a phrase that I often hear these days and I have to agree with it.  The past year has flashed by, with so much happening and so much still to do.  At times, our sister islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha have also kept me busy during 2013.  Through it all I have enjoyed working with my colleagues to achieve the best outcomes for all three islands.

For me a highlight of 2013 was my first visit to Tristan da Cunha, an extraordinary place and the most remote inhabited island in the world. Its community of less than 300 people extend such a warm welcome to visitors and I do hope that I may visit again one day.

I also greatly enjoyed a short working visit to Cape Town, en-route to Tristan. What made an intense and quite gruelling programme enjoyable was the strong sense of being part of a united team, working hard for St Helena.  All concerned were pulling together, working well with good humour and commitment, to achieve our common objectives.  It was quite a buzz.

As always it is attitude that counts. Sir Winston Churchill once said: “Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference.” How true that is. With a positive attitude so much can be achieved.

I’m much looking forward to the challenges ahead in 2014 and to working with “Team St Helena” to meet those challenges.

As each year comes to a close, and especially at Christmas, we pause to think of family or friends who may be with us no longer.  So while Christmas is for sharing and celebrating with our friends and families, let us also remember those that are mourning the recent loss of a loved one, as well as those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Let’s offer them a helping hand: even just a few kind words or a hug can make a big difference to someone.

This year my Christmas Day will be spent at sea. I will be on the good ship RMS St Helena, heading for Cape Town for a quick visit to London to see my family and then on to Ascension for my first visit following the recent general election there.  I know that I and my fellow passengers will be very well looked after by the superb crew on the RMS – it should be an experience to remember.

At Plantation House, Wendy and Melissa have been busy making Christmas cakes and so a rich and warm aroma of baking cakes has filled the house. The cakes were for me to deliver to the Community Care Complex, Barn View, and those in sheltered homes. The Christmas tree lights have been on in the paddock at Plantation House and, no doubt after much hard work and many rehearsals, the primary schools have presented their Advent plays.

On that happy note, Tamara and I send our very best wishes to everyone on St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha for a blessed Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.   

Governor Mark Capes
December 2013

Siting of a dock in the bay…

Rupert's wharf impression 640Work could start in early 2014 on building of a new, permanent wharf in Rupert’s Bay, allowing ships to come alongside a dock to discharge cargo and passengers for the first time in St Helena’s history. Click here to see a gallery of plans and artists’ impressions.

Ascension’s fake forest is a challenge to science, says writer

Sir Joseph Hooker planted tree on Green Mountain to trap clouds and rain. It worked
Sir Joseph Hooker planted trees on Green Mountain to trap clouds and rain. It worked

When the Royal Navy first “invaded” Ascension Island, it did so not with weapons of war, but with plants – creating what is said to be the only man-made tropical forest in the world.

The result is either a beacon for re-greening the planet, or a biological abomination, says writer Fred Pearce on the Yale Environment 360 website.

Isolation has meant Green Mountain has been “badly under-researched”, he writes – but it is now being hailed as a reason to look again at established thinking on the environment.

Because it works.

Bermuda cedar, Chinese ginger, Cape yew and Brazilian guava trees thrive on Green Mountain, alongside Japanese cherry trees and Madagascan periwinkles – and screw pines that grow higher on Ascension than they do on their native Pacific islands.

On St Helena, they’re following conventional practice by grubbing out alien species that threaten the survival of endemic plants.

If conservation officer Stedson Stroud took that approach on Ascension, there’d be almost nothing left. But actually, he says, some native ferns are growing on introduced species, and faring better because of it.

Three others, though, are believed extinct. A fourth was rediscovered by Stedson himself, and is now being propagated at Kew Gardens in London, ready to be reintroduced.

Green Mountain’s unnatural success is creating controversy among ecologists, says Fred Pearce.

He asks: “What are we to make of this confected cloud forest? Is it nature or a garden? Is it a beacon for re-greening the planet or a biological abomination?

“The British government’s environmental policy for the island is the ‘control and eradication of invasive species’ in order to ‘ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats’.

“But the policy has nothing to say about the protection of — or even ecological research into — the extraordinary novel ecosystem in their midst on which the indigenous species often depend.”

Click here to read the full article on the Yale Environment 360 website, published by Yale University.

Simon and Carlos shoot their way to silver medal

From St Helena Government press office, 16 July 2013:

Simon Henry and Carlos Yon have today won a silver medal in the 2013 NatWest Island Games in Bermuda for the 50-metre Three Position Small Bore Rifle Team event.

This is believed to be the first time that St Helena has ever won a silver medal at the Island Games.

With a total score of 1022 the St Helena team came closely behind winners, Gotland (1089 points) and ahead of Jersey (1001 points).

The National Amateur Sports Association on St Helena is thrilled with this result and congratulates Simon and Carlos on their success.

The International Island Games were founded in the Isle of Man in 1985. 24 member islands come together every two years to compete in friendly competition in a range of up to 14 sports chosen by the host island.

Since 1999, NatWest has been the title sponsor for the Island Games, which have become one of the largest international multi-sport events in the world, behind the Commonwealth Games and Olympics.

This year’s Games are being held in Bermuda from 13-19 July. Around 2,000 athletes and officials, plus many supporters, are attending.


  • Matthew Benjamin Awesome well done
  • Gail Ruth Thomas Way to go Saint Boyz……. Keep up the good Spirit  !!!
  • Sheila Markham well done to them botH 
  • Nick Stevens this result as you’ll all now know is official it cause quite a stir on the island it was great to be on radio this afternoon to deliver such great news. The Castle even release a press statement

No more whale adventures for St Helena’s new diplomat

Tristan da Cunha’s administrator, Sean Burns, is to take up a senior post on St Helena – but  the job is unlikely to offer the same excitements as life on the world’s remotest inhabited island.

Besides dealing with the 2011 wreck of the MS Oliva and the resulting penguin rescue operation, Sean has handled the aftermath of storms, and even help to liberate a tangled whale.

The stricken humpback was spotted 200 yards off Tristan’s Calshot Harbour with a buoy and net caught around its tail.

Sean soon found himself joining three islanders, including police officer Conrad Glass aboard a rigid inflatable boat. His role was to keep radio contact – and take photographs – as the others tried to free the eight-metre-long whale.

Each time the boat approached the stressed creature it would dive – with the buoy increasing the tension on the fishing line.

Eventually they managed to coast alongside the whale and quickly cut the buoy free.

His new job will see him taking over from Clive McGill as head of the governor’s office. He will also serve as acting governor when Mark Capes is away from St Helena.

He brings experience of immigration, project management and human resources in Foreign and Commonwealth Office postings in Tanzanie, Antigua, Bangladesh, Senegal, Kenya and South Korea.

He said he and his wife Marina were looking forward to making their first visit to St Helena at an exciting time.

Not as exciting as the past three years on Tristan da Cunha, perhaps…

AUDIO: new St Helena Britannica is a tribute to island historian

Alexander Schulenburg presents Elisabeth Hearl with the first copy of St Helena Britannica
Alexander Schulenburg presents Elisabeth Hearl with the first copy of St Helena Britannica

The widow of the late St Helena historian, Trevor Hearl, has been presented with the first copy of a new book that brings together the results of his research over many years.

Click here to listen to Simon Pipe’s report from the launch

St Helena Britannica – Studies in South Atlantic Island History is published by the Friends of St Helena and was launched at the group’s annual meeting in Oxford on 8 June 2013. 

St Helena Britannica - selling well
St Helena Britannica – selling well

Another island scholar, Dr Alexander Schulenburg, has edited the book  into 30 chapters, beginning with the island’s first discovery and the mystique that grew up around it:

“As news of its existence permeated the ports, cities and centres of learning of Europe, the island gained an almost magical reputation from mariners’ yarns which, unlike the sightings of sea monsters in the encircling ocean, needed little enhancement from their imagination.”

St Helena Britannica can be bought for £25 from Ian Mathieson of the Miles Apart bookshop. Read more on the Friends of St Helena website. 


Tea and fruit run out as Tristan supply ship turns back

Rationing has been introduced at the store on Tristan da Cunha after the supply ship MV Edinburgh was forced to turn back while en route to the island.

The ship was 500 miles from Tristan on 30 May 2013 when Captain Clarence October MBE decided to return to Cape Town because of technical problems.

The last delivery of fresh produce and mail was on 26 March 2013. The Edinburgh is not expected to reach the island until 18 June, meaning a gap of 12 weeks without fresh supplies.

The Tristan website has reported that the island store was rationing flour and milk, and stocks of tea had sold out.

It quoted islander Dawn Repetto, saying: “The children are longing for fruit as we have been out of apples and oranges for quite a while.”

The 11 passengers on board the Edinburgh will have spent a fortnight at sea by the time the ship reaches South Africa, probably on Thursday 6 June 2013.

According to the island website,, they include the Tristan desk officer at the Foreign Office, the administrator’s daughter, and two children.

A tug sent out to meet the vessel has successfully transferred spares and repairs have been carried out to enable the ship to continue under its own power, travelling at about nine knots.

If further repairs and sea trials go well, the Edinburgh is scheduled to set out on 11 June 2013 for the week-long voyage to the island – a trip of 1,700 miles.

By the time the passengers reach the island, they will have sailed more than 4,000 miles.

Despite “challenging” weather conditions, all those on board were said to be well.

The island website listed the passengers as: education adviser Carl Lander, his wife and two children; locum medical officer Dr D’Silva; an Ovenstone factory engineer; administrator Sean Burns’ daughter, Kelly; Ian Cramman, the Tristan desk officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and islanders Shaun and Renee Green and Glenys Swain.

Fresh produce and perishables aboard the MV Edinburgh are to be inspected when the vessel arrives in Cape Town, and replaced if required.

Better luck this time for ship that was stranded in ice

Tour ship Plancius with an ice cliff behind
Plancius was stranded in South Georgia (picture: Inezia Tours / Pieter van den Luit)

Cruise passengers headed for St Helena on the MV Plancius have fared better than those who set off on the same voyage in 2012.

They were stranded for several days in the icy waters of South Georgia, before being rescued and taken to South America – missing out on their planned visit to Tristan da Cunha, St Helena and Ascension.

The ship’s main propulsion system had failed, leaving it without the power it needed to face the demanding voyage to Tristan.

This year’s passengers have had a better voyage. Conrad Glass, Tristan’s well-known “rockhopper copper”, reports on Facebook that he helped land 54 people from the Plancius on Nightingale Island.

The converted icebreaker, which carries up to 117 passengers and 43 crew, is due to reach James Bay on 23 April 2013 for a two-day visit, before heading on to Ascension.

The online brochure for its Atlantic Odyssey cruise, costing 6,000 euros, says it offers “a unique possibility to visit several of the remotest islands in the world.

“Beautiful and often rare species live on these islands, many of them not found anywhere else in the world. Isolated local communities can also be visited.”

It emphasises St Helena’s natural attractions: “Beautiful flowers such as the nearly extinct St. Helena Ebony, the rich marine bird-life such as noddies, terns, petrels and tropic-birds and the endemic and rare Wire-bird,” it says, “give nature photographers a unique possibility to see and photograph these true wonders of nature.

Hundreds of tourists who enjoyed a visit to St Helena aboard the MS Amsterdam were less fortunate when they reached Ascension on 17 April 2013.

Passenger Bradley Elliott wrote in his World Traveller blog: “We almost made it.

“We were in the tender about 100 yards from the dock and the captain announced that it was not safe to disembark the tenders, so back to the ship we went. However, I did take some nice photos.”

It was a second blow for one passenger aboard the Amsterdam. Having travelled hundreds of miles to reach St Helena, he tripped only a few yards after stepping ashore on the wharf, which was being resurfaced. He and his wife spent most of their day at the island’s hospital.

Cruise passengers stranded amid ice

MV Plancius – Atlantic Odyssey
Bradley Elliott: World Traveler blog – Jamestown pictures

MP ‘shocked’ by tales of environmental failings

A Member of Parliament has reacted with dismay to allegations about the British government’s performance on protecting the environment of UK overseas territories.

Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green Party MP, said the government’s systems were “constitutionally not working.”

She said: “The more I hear, the more shocking the situation seems to be.”

She expressed her concern during a hearing of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which is investigating the sustainability of the territories.

There was praise for environmental protection on St Helena and Tristan da Cunha – including for island students who have gained qualifications in the UK – but much of the 90-minute hearing was taken up with criticisms and concerns.

The small group of MPs also heard that lack of government transparency in most territories meant it was difficult to know why decisions were made.

It also exposed islands to risks of corruption – as seen on the Turks and Caicos Islands – said Clare Stringer, giving evidence for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Strong criticisms also came from the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF)

St Helena Online published a live feed of reports via the micro-blogging service, Twitter. Tweets included:

UK overseas territories biodiversity group ‘barely functions’, lacks authority, doesn’t report to ministers, UKOTCF told Parly envir cttee

Tristan da Cunha praised for exemplary fisheries management in RSPB evidence to MPs’ environment committee.

Decisions in most overseas territories are made behind closed doors and hard to understand, RSPB told MPs. Creates risk of corruption.

Overseas territories citizens in UK buy lottery tickets so their home islands should benefit from funding, UKOTCF tells Select Committee

UK overseas territories lack access to big EU funds while French outlying islands can apply, thanks to constitutional differences RSPB tells MPs.

DfID ‘has supported’ eco protection alongside St Helena airport ‘and that’s good to see’, RSPB told Parly’s environment audit cttee

An edited version of the full stream of reports can be seen here

House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Hearing 17 April 2013
(note: sound and picture fail at the start; keep playing and it will come on)

Committee takes evidence on sustainability in the UK overseas territories
UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: hidden treasures in the UK overseas territories