Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Secret Island

By Katie Morton

In this day and age very little of the world's land can now be thought of as inaccessible. Even the depths of the Amazon forest can still be only a couple of days away from a city. The most remote place on the planet is Tibet, with some parts being as much as three weeks away from a city. There is an island, however, that is just as remote and unbelievably a British colony.

Saint Helena has been described as one of the worlds best kept secrets as the beautiful and mysterious island has remained untouched by modernisation. Located in the South Atlantic Ocean with the nearest major landmass located more than 2,000 km away, the island is a rare tropical place which has remained undeveloped since its discovery in the fifteen hundreds. Most famous for being Napoleons prison, the island still remains secluded from the rest of the world. For the islanders, transportation is limited and considered a luxury as the Royal Mail ship only visits the island once every two weeks.

 According to Government studies there has been never been a case of HIV/Aids or sexually transmitted diseases. Also according to the Saint Helena Government, there has never been a murder and crime rates are 90% lower than the UK’s. As well as this life expectancy is one of the highest in the world with people living on average up to 87 years.
 Currently Saint Helena relies completely on the RMS for transportation and food supplies as the island has not got an airport or any other kind of transportation. Worlds away from our own lifestyle the ‘saints’ as the islanders are called, have a very basic way of life.
The population of the island is currently around 4,000 people with an addition of 1,000 tourists visiting every year. Considering that Newcastle city has a population of 273,000 shows how small the island actually is.

 In present the locals pre-order supplies for the RMS to deliver and have to wait fourteen days to receive them. Tourists also use the RMS as transport to the island but as you can imagine not many tourists are brave enough to endure a month long sail across the Atlantic. 
Orders for the RMS range from basic necessities such as food and clothes to orders for things like furniture and even family pets. The twenty year old boat acts as a life line for the islanders and keeps them connected to the outside world although at times food supplies have run out and the ‘saints’ have no other option than to wait for the next delivery. With a first come first serve system, supermarkets often find they struggle to provide for everyone.
Plans to build an airport were originally confirmed in 2005 but the recession in the UK has slowed down the production. Kimberly Pearce, a student of Northumbria University, lived on the island for four years. Her experience with her family has taught her a very different way of life. “Saint Helena provides a very basic lifestyle. Kind of like a throwback in time. We watched the modern world on telly but we was not apart of it.”

 Yet Kimberly doesn’t regard exclusion from modern day life as being a negative experience and is considering moving back there after her studies. “I would love to go back and see the island. It is different to any other place that I have been and it would be nice to get away from busy streets and hectic lives.” She said.

64 year old islander Mavis Nurmi, who has never left the island, bitterly opposes the idea of building an airport. “Saint Helena is a unique island and has not been spoilt by people. Getting an airport would be the ruin of it because of the pollution the tourists would bring.” Her views of tourism are a common fear amongst the islanders. 

On the other hand Saint Helena is unable to fund their own economy and so UK taxpayers pay 17 million a year to keep the island afloat. An airport, therefore, would generate enough money to allow the island to become self reliant. The growth in tourism and in export sales could see the islanders living a more plentiful life.

Human Geographer Kathryn Simm said that, “An airport would positively impact Saint Helena and encourage their financial stability as well as introducing the country to the global economy. On the other hand environmentalists would argue that the introduction of an airport would effectively cause further damage to the already fragile environment.”
Because of the rare plantation found on the island environmentalists are bitterly opposed to the airport scheme and are keen to preserve the islands surroundings. However for the majority of the islanders an airport is a desperate need after rising deaths on the island have been caused due to lack of medical care.

 In one case, reported by the Independent, a 50 year old woman died after having to wait a month to get to a hospital in London. It was said that if she had been able to get to the hospital quicker doctors may have been able to save her. In emergencies such as this an airport is crucial. Islanders have argued why transportation is so irregular and have started to loose faith in Britain.

“Britain has left the Saints trapped on an island with no way of getting off except a rusty old boat which can only manage a journey every fortnight.” says former islander Olwyn Pearce.
Olwyn who is Kimberley’s mother has a very different take on the island to what her daughter does. She left the island after 10 years as she was unable to get to visit her family and friends in England. For her, isolation from the modern world was unbearable. I think, for many of us Brits, life on Saint Helena would be like stepping into the dark ages. Imagine waiting 2 weeks for a letter or nipping to the supermarket only to find there was nothing left to buy.

According to Government statistics, in ten years the island has seen a fifth of the population leave Saint Helena in search of better opportunities. It has been argued by youths that an airport will see young people returning to the island because of the opportunities that it will bring to new businesses.

With so little of the world left untouched by urbanisation it seems ludicrous that a British colony is one of them. With plans for an airport put on hold it seems that St Helena will continue to be Britain’s best kept secret and the Saints still isolated from Britain on their beautiful island.   


  1. Brilliant stuff. Love the diversity of the trip!

  2. Cheers Kris! its a great read eh? MAkes me want to go there.

    That's what we're aiming for, bit of everything!

  3. really wanna go there now.

  4. sounds like Berwick....