Definitions

Ascension Rail

Wildlife of Saint Helena

Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha as well the other uninhabited islands nearby are a haven for wildlife in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are or were home to much endemic flora and fauna, especially birds, and many endemic fish species found in the reef ecosystems off the islands.

Birds

Saint Helena

Saint Helena Island is not now a major breeding site for seabirds as Ascension is, but it used to have more endemic birds, all but one of which are now extinct. The Wirebird (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) is a type of plover which lives in burrows around the island, and is the national bird. It is called the Wirebird due to its thin legs that look like wire. Extinct birds on the island include the Large St Helena Petrel, St Helena Crake, St Helena Swamphen, St Helena Cuckoo and, most famously, the Giant Hoopoe.

Ascension

Ascension Island used to be home to many breeding seabirds; most are now all but extinct on the main island, and the main breeding site is on nearby rat-free Boatswain Bird Island. Over 10,000 birds breed on this tiny island, which is home to Ascension Frigatebirds, Red-footed, Brown and Masked Boobies, Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbirds (known as Boatswain Birds), and petrels. The Sooty Tern, known locally as the Wideawake Tern because of its distinctive call, is the most common breeding seabird on the main island, and the airport is named after it. The Ascension Rail is extinct.

Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha has the number of birds on a par with Ascension. Inaccessible Island and Gough Island are together a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a wildlife reserve due to the large number of breeding seabirds found there, including endemics. The birds include the Wandering Albatross, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Rockhopper Penguin, Great Shearwater, Antarctic Tern and Tristan Thrush. The Inaccessible Island Rail, the world's smallest living flightless bird, is endemic to Inaccessible Island. The Tristan Albatross is also native to the islands of Tristan da Cunha, as well as the Atlantic Petrel.

Mammals

There are no native mammals on either St Helena or Ascension. Over the centuries several introduced mammals have gone feral, On St Helena these are cat, dogs, rabbits, rats and mice; donkeys and goats no longer roam free. On Ascension the feral animals still common in parts of the island are donkeys, sheep, rats and mice; the cats have been eliminated. Goats were introduced to Saint Helena by the Portuguese to provide passing ships with fresh meat.

Tristan da Cunha hosts breeding grounds for Subantarctic Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals, a number of whale species are also found in the waters around Tristan.

Terrestrial invertebrates

About 1100 species of land invertebrates have been recorded from St Helena, and over 400 of these are endemic and occur nowhere else. Prosperous Bay Plain, the site of the proposed airport, is the only site known for about 55 of these endemic species. The giant St. Helena earwig is almost certainly extinct, the last chitinous remains having been found in the 1990s. However it is firmly in St Helena folklore, and hopes linger on.

Marine Life

Saint Helena and Ascension Island both have excellent and well preserved coral ecosystems, which are very diverse and contain many endemic and non-endemic fish species.

The following fish are endemic to Ascension Island:

The following are found in both Saint Helena and Ascension Islands;

The following fish are found only on the island of Saint Helena;

Green turtles make a 3000 mile journey every 3-4 years from Brazil to Ascension Island to breed. They have been a protected species on the island since the mid 20th century and lay their eggs on the unspoilt beaches of the island. The turtles who survive to adulthood will return to breed on the island.

On Tristan da Cunha there is an endemic species of lobster, the Tristan rock lobster, which appears on the coat of arms of the territory. Other marine life includes several temperate water fish species, as well as the seals and whales listed above.

Flora

The Flora of Saint Helena is particularly diverse, with hundreds of endangered endemic species. In recent years there has been a program to conserve and replant the great forest on the island which was destroyed over the years by human activity, causing widespread soil erosion on the island. The Millennium Forest Project has been successful and the forest is expanding rapidly.

There are a few plants endemic to Ascension Island also, these include the Marattia purpurascens, Asplenium ascensionis, Xiphopteris ascensionense, Pteris adscensionis, Euphorbia origanoides & Sporobolus caespitosus. There are several other extinct species. Ascension contains one of the world's largest artificial forests, planted over the past hundred years with mainly introduced species, on Green Mountain. This has threatened the endemic species on the Island.

Conservation

St Helena

Sadly, most of Saint Helena's endemic birds became extinct since human habitation began. Still, Wirebird breeding programs are on-going, although numbers are still falling. The Millennium Forest Project has been highly successful and has boosted the chances of Saint Helena's treasured flora and fauna, and this is the main concentration of conservation on the island.

Ascension

Conservation has been a big issue on Ascension Island, and the Ascension Heritage Society has been set up to help deal with the issues. There have been successful programs for protecting Green Turtles, and the charity has worked hard with the RSPB to protect the birdlife on the island. The main activities going on at the moment are a cat and rat eradication program, along with attempts to breed the native plant species on the island.

Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha has had some extremely successful programs in conservation, most notably of which is the world heritage site of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island. The low population has helped matters on the islands, as well as the non-existence of cats and other pests.

References

External Links and Sources

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