South Atlantic Overseas Territorie Picture an island far, far away, remote and isolated. This was the reality for many of our South Atlantic Overseas Territories until a recent communications revolution in the South Atlantic region. Regular flights are now possible between St Helena and southern Africa and new air links are planned between the Falklands and South America all these will make movement of people between these Territories and their continental neighbours much easier. The building of the ‘South Atlantic Express’ fibre optic cable will soon deliver superfast broadband to islands previously dependent on satellite links. Running from South Africa to Brazil, with branches to St Helena and possibly Ascension, the cable will transform the data links between these UK Territories, their neighbours and the rest of the world. The position of the islands means they are home for a wide range of endemic species found nowhere else in the world. However, their isolation limits data sharing and the type of face-to-face interaction
that allows partnerships, transfer of skills and the pooling of resources that are increasingly necessary for effective nature conservation. Two recent JNCC supported events have shown how opening new flight links and laying submarine cables could transform these islands into focal points for UK efforts to support biodiversity conservation in the region. St Helena’s Natural Capital Conference, in March this year, marked the culmination of an almost three-year JNCC work programme supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through the UK Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. Taking advantage of the new island airport, the event organised by the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) brought representatives from regional Territories, international scientists and local experts to St Helena
© https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_South_Atlantic_ Express_submarine_cable_route.svg – additional locations added
to discuss the importantance of the environment, socially and economically, to the UK’s South Atlantic Overseas Territories. Before the new airport such an event would have been impossible.
Also in March, the Falkland Islands provided the venue to promote the use of Earth observation techniques (mainly satellites and drones) in the South Atlantic. JNCC and regional partner SAERI intend to use a Falklands Centre of Excellence to transfer these skills and technologies into the region. The Centre of Excellence will bring together UK and regional scientists with a background in geospatial science, to build working collaborations between research institutes in South America and the Territories. Greater connectivity between the Falklands and South America through proposed improved air links will come at exactly the right time to make this feasible. Both events supported JNCC’s aim to work with the Territories to help them protect their wildlife and manage their environments. This support prioritises enhancing economic security and building disaster resilience alongside biodiversity conservation.