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St Helena National Trust launch Whale Shark ID App

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Whale sharks are found in tropical oceans all over the world. In St Helena’s Island’s Marine Protected Area, (nearly the size of France), the Whale sharks – locally known as Bone sharks, are the only known population where an almost equal number of both mature male and female sharks come to feed and recuperate.

As part of the St Helena National Trust’s annual bone shark research, the Marine Team documents and observes behavioural encounters of individual bone sharks throughout the season. The data collected over time, together with historical island data, creates a clearer picture of how many sharks migrate to the island every year, when and where they visit, and just maybe… to discover if they come here to breed.

Over the years, it has increasingly became evident that one of the island’s premium tourism attractions is the Bone Shark, and Trust Marine Team has been progressing a number of initiatives which are focused on promoting the Island as the No.1 destination for both research and visitor experience in relation to these “gentle giants”.

“With St Helena’s Fibre Optic Cable Project advancing, new technology being introduced and the majority of the population owning a mobile phone, our island has started a new digital age and because of this, we are so proud to be able to launch our brand new, ‘St Helena Whale shark ID App’” says Marine Research Coordinator, Kenickie Andrews.

In collaboration with app designers, CRITTER, (funded by Blue Marine Foundation and Enterprise St Helena) the Trust Marine Team has been working this mobile app for over a year. Found both on Apple App store and Google Play store, the new, free app allows anyone to submit their bone shark sightings and encounters to the Trust, contributing to an important effort to further understand these secretive and endangered marine species.

“Our app enables not just the Marine Team, but, also our local citizen scientists, enthusiasts, visiting tourist and members of the public to contribute to local bone shark encounter data, track individual sightings, and learn more about our Islands unique marine megafauna in the palm of their hand”, continues Kenickie.

“For environmental projects such as this, high quality on going field research is an incredibly important tool and the data collected, helps local researchers such as our team to maintain an understanding of the current demographics of our bone sharks, who and where have the sharks been and how long are they here for. When we can understand why these sharks come to the Island, their behaviours and what they do here, we can do more to better protect them and help identify management objectives to ensure that the world biggest fish remains safe”.

The app allows the user to also keep up with all recent shark encounters found, learn more about the individuals that the user has submitted via their own user portal and or others that have been found, displays of an island map to discover the teams research and sighting hotspots of the season, document behaviour observers and injuries and using their uploaded ID photo of the sharks, help to identify any sharks, possibly new to science or those that have returned back to the Island.

Through this input, the Marine team can review and monitor all encounter data submitted via the main app portal to help inform the research conducted and directly support the well-being of our visiting shark population.

For more information about the work of St Helena National Trust visit their website.

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New from Diverse Travel – St Helena

Africa DTA Team

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Dive holiday experts Diverse Travel have added the destination of St Helena to their programme.

St Helena is one of the remotest inhabited islands and most exciting dive destinations worldwide. A subtropical paradise nestled deep in the South Atlantic Ocean, this tiny island – just ten by five miles and with a population less than 4,500 – is quite literally a world away from anywhere else.

St Helena’s geographical isolation makes for an exceptional ecosystem. This is one of Earth’s finest natural playgrounds, packed with mountainous peaks and trails, hundreds of endemic wildlife species, and a globally significant ancient cloud forest.

View above Jamestown, St Helena. Photo – Des Jacobs Photography

Underwater, St Helena is equally blessed, and her crystal-clear warm waters boast an outstanding diversity of habitats and life. Shaped by ancient volcanic activity, the dramatic underwater landscape is characterised by rocky caves, arches, sea mounts and reef structures that host abundant marine life. Over 700 marine species have been spotted here, at least 50 of them are endemic to the island’s surrounding waters, including the so-called ‘Cunning Fish’ otherwise known as the St Helena Butterfly Fish. Sightings of dolphins, Humpback Whales, Devil Rays and turtles are also commonplace here.

Between December and April, Whale Sharks migrate to St Helena in large aggregations. The island is the only destination worldwide where male and female Whale Sharks are seen in such large, equal numbers. If snorkelling with Whale Sharks is on your must-do list, then St Helena is simply one of the best spots in the world to experience this.

St Helena’s crystalline waters are also the perfect frame for the island’s eight exciting wreck dives that tell stories of tragedy, loss and treasure across 400 years or more of history. From Jacques Cousteau favourite the Witte Leeuw to the war grave of the Darkdale, there is plenty to explore.

Above water, St Helena is also a treasure trove. The island is well-known as the place of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte, and history buffs will enjoy exploring its fascinating past in a legacy of fortifications, historic buildings and remains. St Helena is pristine and untouched by mass tourism, making hiking and outdoor pursuits here simply spectacular.

Diverse Travel Product Manager Phillip Connor says:

“St Helena is a really exciting destination for all lovers of the natural world. The island is positively brimming with opportunities for adventure above and below the water. St Helena is full of untapped potential as a dive and holiday destination and we are incredibly excited to share it with our guests.”

St Helena boasts an amazing selection of wrecks. Photo – Frogfish Photography

Tailormade dive holiday packages to St Helena start from £2845pp (March 2023) and include return flights London to St Helena via Johannesburg (one piece checked baggage), an overnight stay in Johannesburg, return Airlink flights to St Helena, hotel transfers, 7 nights at the historic Mantis St Helena hotel, Jamestown in a double / twin room including breakfast, 5 days of two tank dives with boat trips, tanks and weights, a Whale Shark experience snorkelling trip, plus ATOL and full financial protection as standard. Owing to connecting flights, St Helena is ideally twinned with South Africa. Why not experience the spectacular diving, wildlife and culture in both countries on a trip of a lifetime?

Visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/diving-holiday-destinations/st-helena-diving-holidays for more information about St Helena.

Get in touch with the Diverse Travel team on 01473 852002, email enquiries@diversetravel.co.uk or visit www.diversetravel.co.uk.

Header Image: Beth Taylor

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Madagascar Whale Shark Project unveils new project to empower conservationists to protect the ocean

Africa DTA Team

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The Madagascar Whale Shark Project is announcing a new way for ocean-lovers to support its efforts to protect endangered whale sharks. The project has launched a donation-based Patreon page to enable followers to support its vital work through a monthly subscription while benefitting from brilliant insights and exclusive content at the same time!

Stella Diamant, Founder of the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, took the initiative to set up the Patreon to share the knowledge she’s gathered from setting up her project so other scientists and conservationists can benefit. On the Patreon page, Stella and her team will open the doors of the project to share exclusive content and behind-the-scenes snippets for everyone that loves the ocean as well as advice for those progressing in their conservation careers. She’ll interview inspirational figures from her network of marine scientists and experts to find out about their epic ocean stories, expertise and fieldwork. Supporters will also have early access to trips, volunteering opportunities and even the chance to name a whale shark before anybody else!

Stella said: “When I set up the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, I learned how to set up a conservation not-for-profit simply by doing it. I felt there was a stark lack of information about the realities of working in the conservation sector and running a successful organisation. Lots of charities are happy to talk about their successes. But when it comes to the challenges, delays and frustrations, it’s often hard to find the truth about what it’s really like.”

She continued: “I don’t think it’s helpful – for individuals or the sector as a whole – if we’re only sharing what went well. That’s why I invest my time to empower other conservationists, particularly women and younger generations, to set up their own projects and share actionable advice. I also want to help people realise that you don’t have to be a marine biologist to make a difference. Marine conservation NGOs need lots of other skills: from marketing and photography to finance and project management.

I’ve set up this Patreon to give people the knowledge that will help them thrive in their conservation careers – whether or not they come from a science background. This kind of practical information is lacking on so many topics relevant to the conservation industry which means there’s a large knowledge gap in NGOs around the world. And, of course, we’re so grateful to everyone who joins for their support to keep our project thriving too.

Supporters can choose how deep to dive by selecting one of four levels:

  • Shallow (€3 per month): becoming part of a passionate community dedicated to protecting the ocean by making a regular monthly donation
  • Mid-water (€8 per month): for exclusive project updates, behind-the-scenes insights and a sneak peek into Stella’s monthly interviews with conservation experts
  • Deep (€15 per month): with monthly hour-long chats with the world’s leading conservation experts to benefit from their life-changing advice
  • Abyss (€150 per month): early access to trips and volunteering opportunities, one-to-one time with Stella and the chance to name a whale shark

When Stella saw her first ever whale shark in Nosy Be, Madagascar in 2014, no work had been undertaken to establish population size, trends or how they connect with other regional groups. So, Stella set up a project with tourism operators in the region to find out this important information. Since then, the project has identified over 400 individual whale sharks, published several peer-reviewed studies, implemented a code of conduct and initiated a local education programme. Now, she’ll be sharing her extensive expertise with other conservation professionals and ocean-lovers through the Patreon page.

For more information sign up here.

Banner Image: Stella Diamant

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