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Saint Helena, named after Saint Helena of Constantinople, is an island of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha which also includes Ascension Island and the islands of Tristan da Cunha. Saint Helena measures about 16 by 8 kilometres (10 by 5 mi) and has a population of 4,255 (2008 census).
The island was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world. For centuries, it was an important stopover for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. The British also used the island as a place of exile, most notably for Napoleon I, DinuzulukaCetshwayo and more than 5,000 Boer prisoners. Saint Helena is Britain's second oldest remaining colony (now termed overseas territory), after Bermuda.
Saint Helena is one of the most isolated places in the world, located in the South Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from the nearest major landmass. The nearest port on the continent is Namibe in Southern Angola, the nearest international airport the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport of Angola's capital Luanda. The island is associated with two other isolated islands in southern Atlantic, also British territories — Ascension Island about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) to the due northwest in more equatorial waters and Tristan da Cunha, which is well outside the tropics 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to the south. The island is situated in the Western Hemisphere and has the same longitude as Cornwall in the United Kingdom.
The island of Saint Helena has a total area of 122 km2 (47 sq mi), and is composed largely of rugged terrain of volcanic origin (the last volcanic eruptions occurred roughly 7 million years ago). The centre is covered by forest, of which some has been planted, including the Millennium Forest project. The highland areas contain most of the island's endemic flora, fauna, insects and birds. The coastal areas are barren, covered in volcanic rock and are warmer and drier than the centre of the island. There are no native land mammals on Saint Helena, but rabbits, rats and mice have been introduced, as well as feral cats and dogs.
The highest point of the island is Diana's Peak at 818 m (2,684 ft). In 1996 it became the island's first national park. In 2000 a project began to replant part of the lost Great Wood, called the Millennium Forest, and is now managed by the Saint Helena National Trust, established in 2002.
When the island was discovered, it was covered with unique indigenous vegetation, including a remarkable cabbage tree species. The flora of Saint Helena contains a high proportion of endemic species. The island's hinterland must have been a dense tropical forest but the coastal areas were probably quite green as well. The modern landscape is very different, with widespread bare rock in the lower areas, although inland it is green, mainly due to introduced vegetation. The dramatic change in landscape must be attributed to the introduction of goats and the introduction of new vegetation. As a result, the string tree (Acalypharubrinervis) and the St Helena olive (Nesiotaelliptica) are now extinct, and many of the other endemic plants are threatened with extinction.
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