St Helena has long inspired and engaged the interest of scientists. From Edmond Halley who came to map the stars of the southern sky in 1677, to Nevil Maskelyne who came in 1761 to observe the transit of Venus, and Charles Darwin who visited for four days in 1836 as an amateur geologist on the Beagle. Studies that were influential in growing the scientific understanding of the natural world.
Today, there's so much we still have to learn and discover and as proof of that, there's lots of exciting locally-led research that is going on, particularly related to the conservation of marine and terrestrial biodiversity and sustainable management. Air access makes St Helena a much more accessible place for researchers from around the world and we have seen an increase in enquiries to conduct research on St Helena across a range of fields of study.
St Helena hosted its first international environmental conference in January last year � 'Diverse Island Environments; A multi-disciplinary view of islands'. It brought together local and international anthropologists, sociologists, economists, ecologists, environmentalists, fisheries scientists and educational professionals to debate topics from the impact of connectivity, green technology, to marine plastics, and St Helena's unique whale shark habitat. It was here that the suggestion for a research institute was raised.
Setting up a Research Institute offers St Helena an exciting opportunity to become an internationally recognised centre for high quality research in the South Atlantic. In so doing, St Helena will join a growing network of UK Overseas Territory Research Institutions that are territory-led and share expertise and experience between the islands. The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), launched 2012 and the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (MAERI) launched March 2018.
Over the course of last year, a steering group was formed to consider how best to manage research on St Helena. Led by Shirley Wahler, former Director of Education & Employment, and working with the Education Committee, two policies have been drafted � the Research Policy and the Research Institute Policy. The St Helena Research Policy sets out the principles under which research on St Helena may be conducted and establishes the St Helena Research Council through which all research licences and enquiries will be handled, regardless of field of study. The second is the St Helena Research Institute Policy that establishes the St Helena Research Institute as a centre under the umbrella of the Lifelong Learning Sector of the Education & Employment Directorate to promote and support research on St Helena and protect the interests of the St Helena community.
A little over a year later, as the Island prepares to host its second environmental conference � 'Natural Capital in the South Atlantic' (11-15 March 2019), the vision to create a Research Institute for St Helena is fast becoming a reality. Dr Rebecca Cairns-Wicks has been appointed Coordinator of the Research Institute. Working with the Research Institute Steering Group and Education Committee, activities are now focused on getting the policies and procedures in place in preparation for the official launch.
Rebecca is keen to point out that:
The progress achieved to date would not have been possible without the energy and drive of the former Director of Education and the support given by the Education Committee, the staff of the Education & Employment Directorate, and members of the Steering Group.
This has been a collaborative effort of key stakeholders working together for the common good and in the interests of St Helena.
The energy, commitment and excitement is growing amongst stakeholders as we prepare to launch and we look forward to working with the community to help share and realise the benefits of science.
Source: St Helena Government