Concerns are being voiced privately by conservationists as work moves ahead on a proposed wharf in Rupert’s Bay.
There are fears that the project might harm undiscovered relics from St Helena’s maritime history, as well as natural life – including rare insects in a little-known cave.
Approval has been given for work on final designs for the wharf – with a decision to move it to a different part of the bay. Planning permission will be needed for the change.
The £15 million project will be financed through the European Development Fund and the Department for International Development (DfID).
Orders for heavy equipment will be placed over the next four months, though final clearance for the project has yet to be given.
At a press conference on the visit of advisers and project directors from the UK, reporters were told that divers had made no new archaeological finds in the proposed wharf area.
That has drawn a sharp retort in an email from one expert island-watcher, who said: “Marine archaeology doesn’t sit on top of shifting sand, waiting to be discovered by casual drivers.”
Captured slave running ships are known to have been broken up in the bay.
And a sonar survey in neighbouring James Bay – for a jetty project that has since been put on hold – found anchors dating back to the 16th Century, suggesting similar finds could be made in Rupert’s Bay.
An anchor was pulled up there in 2012.
Historic finds would not be likely to prevent the proposed wharf being built, but there is expected to be pressure to ensure that a scientific survey is undertaken with any finds properly recorded.
Some island divers are thought to have been trained to carry out such work.
Environmental adviser Bryony Walmsley spent a week on St Helena alongside Nigel Kirby of DfID and Basil Read project director Jimmy Johnston.
She has been made aware of concerns over the existence of insects in a cave that might be affected by blasting for the new wharf. They have not been found in any other part of the island.
Conservation measures protect eco hotspots
The most recent airport project newsletter, dated 30 August 2013, highlights a number of measures to reduce impact on St Helena’s highly sensitive environment.
It says the amount of land taken up within the central basin of Prosperous Bay Plain has been reduced by 40 per cent during design work.
And the new haul road from the coast was moved to avoid important wirebird habitat near the Millennium Forest and Tungi Flats.
A number of conservation areas have been marked on the ground to prevent construction vehicles straying into them.
Work is also to take place in coming months to restore sites no longer needed for construction works.
“One of the first areas we will be looking at is immediately adjacent to one of only a few known habitat areas of the endemic mole spider,” says the newsletter.
“We aim to rehabilitate this area and will be working with specialists to develop a suitable approach.”