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Substantive responses received by the Small Islands Voice global forum to the posting on the theme 'Saving for the future' newspaper articles, 21st June 2005

List of contents

Population growth and island carrying capacity
Dulph Mitchell, San Andres Island
Bob Conrich, Anguilla
Patrick Ferrat, Mauritius
Federico Foders, Germany
Ed Gomez, Philippines
Moelagi Jackson, Savaii, Samoa
Graeme Kelleher, Australia
From G. Leys, Vanuatu
Gary Aboud, Trinidad and Tobago
Edward Manning, Canada
Chris McMurray, Australia
Osaia Santos, Federated States of Micronesia
Alina M. Szmant, USA
Vernon, Puerto Rico
Aliti Vunisea, Fiji
Writer, Trinidad and Tobago
Renewable energy
Tony Deamer, Vanuatu
Koin Etuati, Fiji
Karim Jaufeerally
Shainomi Metseagharun, Nigeria
Tourism development
Mike Baker, France
Bon Conrich, Anguilla
Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily
Terry Wilson, Australia
Sustainable development in islands
Brad Brace
William Wiebe
Education and sustainable development
I.A. Economides, Cyprus
Noeline Brown, Cook Islands
Moelagi Jackson, Savaii, Samoa
Jone Kalouniviti, Fiji
Michele Misiewicz, Australia

Population growth and island carrying capacity

From Dulph Mitchell, San Andres Island

Hi Folks around the world, especially those of the Small Island Community:

In May 2004, I launched the question, ‘Isn't there some way in which, especially the Caribbean Islands, could work together and cooperate in solving the threatening garbage problems?’ This was surprisingly answered by a great deal of people from all over the globe for whose attention I now extend to everyone my sincerest gratitude.

Today, seeing how the Colombian State, under a ‘Colombianization Policy’ called sovereignty (neo-colonialism) is permitting the uncontrolled and continuous occupation of our territory by her citizens from mainland Colombia to displace us as a people, in our own homeland, the Archipelago of San Andres, Providence and St Catherine, located one hundred and ten miles east of the Nicaraguan coast and three hundred miles northwest of the Colombian mainland. This action since 1953, when our territory was declared a free port, is alarmingly promoting daily an increasing population growth as shown by the following: In 1952: 5,675 inhabitants; 1964: 16,731; 1973: 22,989; 1988: 42,315; 1992: 75,000+; 2005: 100,000+ in an area of 27 square kilometres, which shows one of the (if not the) highest population density in the world. It goes without saying that there is also the unceasing erection of enormous cement buildings which serve only to destroy the natural beauties around us, without forgetting our being pushed out from our rightful place by the people who are coming in and buying off the lands, creating in this way a tsunami of overpopulation, which the Colombian State barefacedly declares does not exist.

Today, in the face of this lamentable condition my questions are: (1) Can someone quickly help us to find out what is the carrying capacity of our territory? (2) Is there some way in which this can be detected or determined? (3) At this alarming rate of population growth, how long will it take for our small islands to sink and disappear completely from existence? Help! Help! Help! This is not a joke, a solution is needed urgently!

From Bob Conrich, Anguilla

Dulph Mitchell of San Andreas complains about "being pushed out from our rightful place by the people who are coming in and buying up the lands".  Why are Dulph and his fellow islanders selling their lands to such people?  Perhaps it is true that we are the people our parents warned us about.

From Patrick Ferrat, Mauritius

Thank you for all the information concerning small islands. Mauritius is 1,850 square km with a population of about 1,300,000 inhabitants + about 600,000 tourists visiting us each year. I always heard that we are the third most over populated country in the world (surface area/number of inhabitants) after Bangladesh, Hong Kong. Can you tell me where to get genuine information on that matter? Thank you for the existence of ‘Small Islands Voice’ which makes us awake to the consciousness of many aspect of life in connections to islands.

From Federico Foders, Germany

Thank you for sending me the Small Islands Voice. I enjoy it myself and I also use it in class for my lecture on Principles of Resource Management at the University of Kiel, Germany.

Let me give you some comments on the relationship between population growth and the economic growth potential of small islands, i.e. the ability of small islands to increase their standard of living to the level of, say, advanced countries, in spite of relatively high rates of population growth. And let me begin by stating that I believe that there are a number of ways in which the challenge posed by population growth to small islands could be met, and that if appropriate measures are designed, implemented and enforced there should be no need at all to worry about the assumed trade off between population growth and economic growth in small islands.

As some of the examples in your essay demonstrate, there are basically no upper limits for density in small islands if some ideas about economic structure are taken seriously. A society organised around economic activities in the primary sector and particularly in agriculture and fishing obviously must have a limited carrying capacity for its population. On the one hand, the supply of land for agriculture is limited, and even switching to intensive agriculture will not help improve the relationship between population growth and the number of new jobs generated in the primary sector. On the other, most fish stocks are almost depleted and harvest is declining which is why fishermen should aim at finding a job in another industry or at introducing some form of aquaculture or fish farming to transform fishing into a sustainable activity (with scope for exports) in the future. The fundamental choice small islands are facing is between (i) continuing with the old economic structure and imposing restrictions on fertility or (ii) moving on to a different economic structure in which high fertility rates may even be beneficial or at least not be a problem for economic growth.

The idea is that those responsible for economic policy create incentives for rapid structural change away from the primary sector and towards the services sector (including tourism and possibly aquaculture or sea farming as an alternative to exploiting wild fish stocks). In order to achieve structural change incentives for capital investment in the services sector should be complemented by a strong effort in the education sector. In fact the key to structural change, i.e. to preparing small islands to cope with population growth, is to educate and train the existing population, both children and adults, so that investments in the service sector become profitable and thus sustainable. New jobs in the service sector should be able to absorb the cohorts of young people finishing school, vocational and tertiary education. Also, the service sector should make it possible for adults to retrain and find a new job.

The social return to investment in education should be greatest in small islands. Since in the long run fertility tends to fall in countries in which educational attainment increases, investment in education should have a positive spill-over effect on the reproductive behaviour of families.

While most of the things I have said above apply in a general way to small islands, when it comes to designing a practical strategy/policy for a specific island one should take the particular circumstances prevailing in that location into account. In some instances it should also be necessary to take a closer look at the geographic position of an island and its links to other countries/islands in order to come up with a tailor-made proposal.

From Ed Gomez, Philippines

Seeing this posting reminded me about Jared Diamond's new book:  "Collapse."  I think it is a good read, as it give several examples of the fates of small island populations.  I recommend it to all readers.

From Moelagi Jackson, Savaii, Samoa

Unfortunately I do not have the statistics to justify my comment except I wish to share with you my own village news regarding population growth. We have two churches shared by three villages: Safua has a population of 360 people, Lalomalava being 813 and Vaisaulu 113 people.   On Sunday we celebrated our Congregational Church Minister’s, Rev. Solomona, 60th birthday and 30th Anniversary of their mission at our village.   The service was attended by the Mormon congregation of our village members and our Congregational Church members.   According to Rev Solomona’s record and the Mormon Record, only 365 were born and baptised in the last 30 years.   This has been quite visible in the continuous decrease in the Sunday School numbers every year.     According to Rev Solomona, our three villages have been successful, education wise, development wise with the two hotels Safua and Savaiian Hotel, a bus company, two village markets and various small businesses let alone the agricultural development progressing quite well.  The only development that is not progressing is the making of babies - everyone roared with laughter at this.

Now we are still trying to figure out what had we done to get these good results in comparison with other villages not doing as well as ours. For us we praise the Lord for his guidance and congratulate our leaders, both the Chiefs and Orators, and the Women’s Committee. God bless all the small islands and the NGO effort.  

From Graeme Kelleher, Australia

I agree very strongly with G. Leys et al re the application of carrying capacity. The concept was always deeply flawed- even small changes in management/behaviour can dramatically change the impact of humans on the environment and its productivity- and thus change the fictitious ‘carrying capacity.’

From G. Leys, Vanuatu

Yes, population growth is a huge problem here, probably the biggest we have. In one hospital alone approximately 450 babies are born every three months - very many of them to teenage mothers. That is enough to need a new primary school every three months in this town alone!  There is absolutely no money for that. Already there is no money to pay new graduate teachers to postings in existing schools so they go unemployed.

Young people drift into town from other small islands in the hope of finding gold on the streets. When this is impossible, they drift into crime.  The police service is totally understaffed and poorly trained so no crime is ever solved; people do not even bother report break-ins as it is useless.

There are hardly any jobs for unqualified persons. We have very few natural resources and only small local industries which cannot offer jobs to the expanding number of young persons. Regrettably, the training colleges are on the whole of such a poor standard that students leave with an attendance certificate but no capability. There are jobs to be had in the trades for anyone who is capable, but they are few and far between.  It is a sad situation.

Recently an association has been formed which has as its aim the export of unemployed citizens to Australia!  A figure of 10,000 has been mentioned.  I suppose that may be said to be a resource if it is valued elsewhere but we are not the Philippines.

This country is fortunate still to have fertile land on some islands which can support people but (1) young people do not want to remain there and (2) There is so much island rivalry that despite the fact that the constitution guarantees people free movement within the country, custom mostly prevents someone from one island settling on another.

The study, ‘2010 A Doomsday Scenario’, done by the Australian National University in Canberra about ten years ago, is proving completely accurate.  It is sad that the government doesn't seem to be concerned at all about this problem.  It is the case of the ostrich with its head in the sand.

From Gary Aboud, Trinidad and Tobago

You must be mistaken, I am sure you are speaking of Trinidad and Tobago and not Vanuatu.

From Edward Manning, Canada

Our recent WTO publication ‘Indicators of Sustainable Development for Tourism Destinations: A Guidebook’ has a section on carrying capacity and sensitivity of destinations to different levels and types of tourism.  It also has a section on issues related to tourism development for small islands, as well as sections on other fragile destinations such as cruise ship ports, coastal zones, and small cultural communities.  I suggest that there is no magic bullet regarding carrying capacity.  Instead, you should be looking at a range of indicators which help you understand the limits of acceptable growth or change, and the range of impacts which different levels and types of tourism will have on the key assets and values of your island.  The section on carrying capacity from the book (World Tourism Organization 2004) follows:

5.4 Carrying Capacity and Limits to Tourism (from WTO 2004 pp309-312)

(Sensitivity, Limits of Acceptable Change, Thresholds)

Carrying capacity is a much used phrase – usually in the context of how many tourists can be accommodated in a certain place or area without damaging the place or reducing tourists’ satisfaction. The idea of carrying capacity is founded on the experience of pastoral agriculture - where it was observed that a pasture could support in perpetuity a particular number of cattle. If this threshold was exceeded, the supporting system was damaged, often to the point where it could no longer support grazing at all. Carrying capacity as a concept measures what level of use is sustainable. However, for tourism applications, the concept of carrying capacity is much more complex, given that there is a wide range of environmental and socio-economic factors that interact at tourism destinations, and that many of them depend on perception of host communities and tourists.

For tourism, the concept of carrying capacity has value - particularly because it draws attention to limits and thresholds beyond which we do not wish to tread. However, in dealing with the reality, we need to consider these factors (derived from Manning 1997):
• There are a large number of factors interacting in any destination (in all dimensions of sustainability… environmental, social and economic) which affect the ability of the destination to support any specific type of tourism;

• The impact of human activity on a system may be gradual, and may affect different factors of the system at differing rates, with different impacts on potential tourism uses. (e.g., poorer water quality is likely to impact swimming before it affects uses such as sailing or sightseeing);

• There are different types of users, and many different forms of tourism activities, each of them with different needs, levels of impacts and limits;

• There are varying perceptions and expectations of different host societies and different tourist segments. Crowds attract some tourists, others seek solitude, or the ability to experience nature without disturbance (see Colima and Rimini illustrations: each is successful in sustaining its tourism product);

• Carrying capacity limits are not static, they can be modified dependent on the changes in the system and in management measures (e.g. due to improvement in site-infrastructure, organization of groups, conservation of the natural environment, the number of tourists permitted at a site without harming the environment can be increased). Also if conditions worsen over time, numbers can be further limited).

Because of these concerns, when applied to tourism a simple definition of carrying capacity involving the identification of a single threshold value will be inadequate in nearly all cases. This reinforces the conclusion in this regard contained in the paper prepared from the 1990 WTO/UNEP workshop on carrying capacity (World Tourism Organization, 1992). It also reflects some of the concerns contained in the 1981 WTO capacity standards - which suggest using working limits for particular types of tourism, but also warns users of the need to adapt these to the unique conditions of each site. Instead, a more sophisticated approach to the identification of impacts and of limits is needed, which better 309 Part 5 - Indicators Applications: Uses in Tourism Planning and Management reflects the sensitivity of different attributes of the environment to different types and levels of impact or use.

Several approaches have been developed to consider the factors which may affect the ability to support tourism. These approaches range from work on the limits to acceptable change to applications such as those described in detail in the case studies in (e.g. Arches p. 342, Kangaroo Island p. 391 Albufera de Valencia p. 330). These cases show different approaches to the estimation of capacity, of limits to change and to total numbers of tourists or levels of development of the destination. All show that a number of factors are important to the concept:

1. Ecological capacity – where biological and physical factors provide constraints to the maximum numbers which can be accommodated (for useful indicators see the section on Tourism in Sensitive Ecosystems p. 263). Examples include the capacity of rivers to absorb waste, capacity of species to withstand disturbance or sensitivity of flora to trampling or harvesting by visitors;

2. Cultural capacity – where the impact on a local community, or the availability of human resources are the key limiting factors to acceptance of tourism and tourist numbers;

3. Social or Psychological capacity: The origin and background of tourists determines the number of tourists or the level of crowding they consider acceptable. Perception and psychological factors relating to both the host community and the tourists are determinants;

4. Infrastructural capacity – where current infrastructure (water supply systems, sewage systems, transport systems, numbers of rooms to accommodate tourists) are the short to medium term limiters for tourist numbers;

5. Management capacity – where the key constraints are institutional, related to the numbers of tourists who (with their impacts) can be realistically managed. (Note that most economic measures – which could be called economic capacity- are in fact aspects of management capacity – limits on the resources available to support management of tourism (control, design, etc)).

Indicators and Carrying Capacity

While it has always been difficult to estimate or model overall carrying capacity (although some of the cases in Part 6 do provide tools which help to understand the relationships and complexity), indicators can be of considerable use to monitor how development is related to specific limits which may affect the sustainability of tourism. In some environments like the island of Cozumel (Mexico) See Box 3.30 p. 167), a single factor (water supply) is the most important factor limiting tourism growth. While in the longer term, sophisticated water supply and conservation programs may enlarge the supply and reduce the per-capita demand, one factor, water is at present the key limiting factor. Measurement of this factor (see Water Availability, p. 165) is probably the single most important to determine capacity in the case of Cozumel Island. In other destinations, cultural capacity may be the most important – and locals may decide on tourism limits in order to avoid major disruption in their way of life or erosion of some cultural values. Other destinations may have limits related to current infrastructure (e.g., number of parking places in a national park, number of seats in a stadium, capacity of a sewage treatment plant). Such infrastructural limits can be altered and removed if decision makers approve the costs. Indicators which measure the relative use of such capacity can be critical to the decision of whether or not to limit numbers of visitors, or whether and when to invest in new capacity. For some ecological factors, there is much less flexibility. If ecological thresholds can be scientifically estimated, indicators which measure key factors relative to these thresholds (e.g. levels of disturbance in ecosystems, species breeding success: (See Natural and Sensitive Ecological Sites p. 263) become important inputs into decisions of how much activity and what types to permit.

As understanding of the carrying capacity concept advances, several approaches have been developed to help understand what are essentially human/biosphere relationships, using information relating to measures of limits and measures of trends in use. These include:

a. Limits of acceptable change, where the capacity of a destination (often applied to a community or a protected area) is estimated primarily based on what the residents or managers are prepared to tolerate. The most important criteria or indicators tend to be those related to perceived impacts by those affected, although in some applications a number of different indicators can be used. This approach emphasizes uses which match the stakeholders’ perception of what is tolerable;

b. Management tools such as Visitor Impact Management (VIM), Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP), Visitor Activity Management Process (VAMP) and Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) which attempt to match permitted visitor uses with known sensitivities in a planning and management process which tries to limit negative effects while permitting types and levels of use compatible with environmental protection. (See Arches case p. 342);

c. System sensitivity, where the sensitivity of selected (usually ecological) assets to different use levels are analyzed. Often many indicators are used to show a variety of relationships. Frequently a single indicator or small set are determined to be the most critical, and use levels set to respect these (e.g. the site will run out of water at 500 persons per day, or the biologists’ work shows that any more than 10 persons on that site per day will cause the endangered species to abandon its breeding site). Often management actions can alter the limits (reduced water use per tourist, use of blinds for wildlife viewers) which may alter the numbers which can be accommodated. This approach is most used for small sensitive natural sites;

d. Multivariate models which attempt to estimate capacity and limits based on many different variables – and try to integrate many different measures and relationships to provide an overall capacity measure. (See Albufera case p. 330) Such models require a great deal of data (many indicators) and a good understanding of the relationships between many factors in the destination. In operation, this type of model can lead to the establishment of standards and limits which respond to many different types of stress on a site.

A more detailed examination of some of these approaches is contained in the IUCN/WTO/UNEP publication, “Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas - Guidelines for Planning and Management”, Chapter 6: Managing the Challenges of Tourism in Protected Areas, where the relative utility of several of these approaches is rated. Indicators are shown to be a critical element in the construction of any of these approaches; the choice of which indicators to include and the weighting, if any, can greatly affect the results of the exercise.

Carrying capacity is a difficult but important concept, because it implies limits and can be used to stimulate discussion on those limits. Thus the determination of “carrying capacity” – or the desired levels of tourism is often negotiated by the stakeholders… each an advocate for his or her own interests. To date, tourists themselves are rarely present to advocate their interests at destinations during the planning process. Their interests enter the debate via tourism organizations or enterprises who are advocates. Local planners may have access to indicators which reflect the needs or desires of different tourist segments, through market research, exit questionnaires and other feedback which can provide clarity. Sometimes innovative solutions result, as agreement can be found for different use levels at different times or places (e.g. the religious site is open to all except when religious services are under way, when only 20 visitors who are suitably attired are allowed in.) There continues to be a demand for numeric estimates of carrying capacity – for a single number on the maximum number of tourists that can be allowed, or how many rooms are allowed to be built. It is suggested that managers consider more than a simple single limit, and make use of a range of indicators to provide the best information possible on the implications of different levels and types of use for the destination and for the specific sites within it.

Note: the entire Guidebook (519 pages) can be obtained in print or electronic from WTO's website at http://www.world-tourism.org/frameset/frame_sustainable.html Dr Ted Manning - Principal author and editor of the Guidebook

From Chris McMurray, Australia

I'm responding to the plea of D. Mitchell and A. Szmant for help with defining the carrying capacity of their island. They have raised the vital and universal island concern that sustained population increase will eventually upset the balance between population and resources. I’d like to caution them against relying on the concepts of carrying capacity and population density to argue their case, however. There is no agreed limit to population density, since carrying capacity is determined not just by local conditions but by overall capacity to access resources. Hence islands like Hong Kong and Singapore can support extreme population densities without compromising lifestyles, because they draw resources from a vast hinterland, largely by means of trade. Islands that can’t do this tend to experience population pressure at much lower densities than exist on wealthier islands.

I’d like to suggest that instead of trying to find a number that represents carrying capacity, the people of San Andreas should focus on quality of life and environmental indicators.  These could include access to services like schools and medical facilities, water and sanitation; pollution; traffic congestion; waste disposal; availability of housing; average number per household; employment; nutrition; and other poverty-related indicators. Demonstrated deterioration in these indicators is likely to make much more impression on planners than arguing on the basis of an easily-contested maximum carrying capacity.

From Osaia Santos, Federated States of Micronesia

I wouldn't worry too much about population growth in the Federated States of Micronesia since the net increase between 1994 and 2000, as the census shows, is nearly nil.  Emigration has solved whatever problems of uncontrolled growth we once had. We ought to concentrate now on more serious issues--like suicide.

From Alina M. Szmant, USA

To me the critical issue for small island nations in order to achieve ‘sustainable development’ is to achieve stable human population size.  More roads, more hotels, more agriculture all destroy the natural habitat that is the golden goose needed to sustain tourism as an industry.  Continental types value beautiful rain forested mountains, clean pristine beaches bordered by jungle, clear waters when they consider spending their vacation dollars traveling to a remote island nation.  They don't want lots of glass and concrete, which is what they are surrounded with at home!  With a stable human population size, development can mean improving already established agricultural and tourism properties so that they yield good salaries for the island residents.  If the resident human population keeps growing, then more land must be cleared for housing, food production and more business development to provide income for the expanding human population.  This is not sustainable development, but rather using up the corpus of the endowment instead of the interest!

I actually despise the term ‘sustainable development’ because it implies that if you do it right, you can keep on developing ad infinitum.  Development cannot be sustainable when it is based on converting under-developed, natural lands, to other uses.  Land is a finite resource, and land development (from untouched, wild to agricultural/urban/commercial) carries with it an irreversible loss of natural beauty.  Once developed it is almost impossible to restore to the original condition. 

The human problem with ‘sustainable development’ is that we don't know when or how to stop ourselves:  in a democracy we have laws that state that those there first don't have the right to keep newcomers out.  Every piece of undeveloped land looks like dollar signs in the minds of politicians and developers.  The first world, USA, is suffering for this unbridled development all along our coastlines.  Wetlands, marshes, mangroves all fall to our wanting homes and hotels with an ocean view.  Most small island nations have limited land resources and can't take too much of this kind of pressure before turning into some sort of concrete jungle (take a look at Grand Cayman). 

Therefore, I think it is important that the peoples of small island nations when considering the human factor, and what present and future generations of islanders aspire to, think carefully about the population pressure issue and how that can be their downfall or their salvation, depending on how they deal with it.

From Vernon, Puerto Rico

Re ‘I think it is important that the peoples of small island nations, when considering the human factor and what present and future generations of islanders aspire to, think carefully about the population pressure issue and how that can be their downfall or their salvation, depending on how they deal with it’ writes Alina Szmant (USA) in responding to the article about saving for the future’. Good article!

We are suffering the same problem with population growth in Puerto Rico and on the island we just left (Vieques, Puerto Rico). Natural and treed land is being converted to dollars, euros, yen, etc. in the form of housing for the increased population and tourist and industrial projects to provide income for the new population. I do believe birth control should be aggressively pursued before either Nature or the government forces the issue to be resolved. 

From Aliti Vunisea, Fiji

In Fiji and most other small island countries in the Pacific, population growth is a primary problem associated to so many others. Because of the young population base of Pacific island states, the question of education is one of importance. In addition to that, employment opportunities for the numerous people that should be joining the workforce in the next 10-15 years is another one. With limited scope for industrialisation, employment, even in the informal sector will continue to be a major problem. For some countries like Fiji, the additional problem of rural-urban movement resulting in the rise of squatter areas around the main town centres, increase in crime and other such associated threats are becoming a reality. There is no simple way to address these issues and most if not all of these problems can only be addressed by tacking both the government (policy level) and the people themselves. Too many times planning and development go around the people in communities, around the people who are facing problems, but very little consultation is done with them and through them.  Maybe this is because they will not contribute to decision-making or are not educated enough to set things straight, but they will at least share in the experience and will be talking from their own vantage point and not what the research or study is about. Participatory approaches to development and management have been around for ages now, but the realities of involving people and really understanding how our people live is another question…yes, there is no simple answer…

From a writer, Trinidad and Tobago

This article is very interesting we would like to put it in our newspaper for all to read. We live on a small island, Tobago (Trinidad & Tobago). Please let me know. Thanks and Ms. Szmant has said a mouthful. It seems that small islands are being re-colonised and people becoming landless in their homeland.


Renewable energy

From Tony Deamer, Vanuatu

My little bit towards sustainability is the Introduction of "Island Fuel."  By using a locally grown and processed fuel as an alternative to diesel we can reduce our imported fuel bill by 85%, no small savings, and with time we can develop ways to reduce this to less than 5% (and that would be mainly lube oils).  Coconut oil is clean.  Putting back in the atmosphere only the same carbon dioxide the coconut tree took out to make the coconut, and it forms 85% of the Island fuel. The ships transporting it can be run on it too and so can all the harvesting and processing machinery. This is no longer a dream. Most of the Vanuatu Government diesel powered cars are now running on coconut oil either from VAST Biodiesel (70% coconut oil) or from Island Fuel Co. Ltd. (Island fuel 85). All our own fleet of trucks, from the Volvo 760 Sedan to the 5 ton Crane truck, is running on it. So it is working and has been for 5 years now.  So we know it is feasible and sustainable and yes I can have air conditioning in my car, like the big boys in Oz or USA and I can have clean air too! As coconut oil puts out about half the soot particles of diesel! So who says sustainable has to mean making sacrifices??

From Koin Etuati, Fiji

Saving for the future is a very good theme and every resource that the small island nations have, should be used wisely for sustainable development.  In particular the marine resources, forests, land, human resources and even energy resources.

Energy resources, for example wind, solar, wave, hydro and biomass are inexhaustible and abundant.  If we want to save the future for our children, politicians and decision makers and the public should make a swift move forward on the increased use of renewable energy resources. In the Pacific region, more than one third of the population still has no access to energy and mostly they are poor people in the rural areas.

Another reason amongst others for making a move towards renewable energy is that the world oil price is beginning to rise sharply.  The price of oil is now US$ 60 a barrel compared to US $35 a barrel in early 2004.   The small island nations which are at the end of the oil chain would suffer most as the world oil production is reaching its peak.

Therefore we must urge the experts working on renewable energies to identify opportunities and challenges so that renewable energy resources are used widely and wisely in the small island nations. Pacific leaders should move towards more renewable energy sources for electricity and transport at a much faster pace.

Again it comes down to a compromise by our leaders whether we want to remain to depend on imported fuels which are causing pollution and climate change or to start using renewable energy in order save money and create more jobs and also lessen our dependency on fossil fuels so that we have money for other development needs (education, health, alleviation of poverty) and that our children have a better future.

From Karim Jaufeerally

I humbly suggest that energy issues are tackled in the not too far future. From Shainomi Metseagharun, Nigeria

I like what you are doing with theses write ups and my friend Fidelis Onu, who subscribes to you, encourages me to write you since you give small islands a voice. I would like to send a write up on Escravos, a small island in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, in the hope that the world may take a notice of what is going on there and come to our aid. Is this OK? Better still, I invite you over to see for yourselves the neglect and abuse we suffer in the hands of multi-national oil companies and even our government.


Tourism development

From Mike Baker, France

On the question of tourism have any small islands tried something like the English bed and breakfast (Small island bed and breakfast?) for people who would like to escape from their usual mode of living. This might be of interest to writers and artists who would like to escape for several weeks - or even months. If the writers were scientists or agricultural specialists they might provide some inputs that could be of use to the local community.

With regard to babies..... and I am no expert............... do societies that practice polygamy have  a ‘shortage’ of babies?

From Bon Conrich, Anguilla

‘So for instance in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a small island country of about 100,000 people in the Caribbean, where tourism and agriculture dominate the economy, it becomes a question of whether to extend the airport so it can receive jet aircraft and expand the tourism market, or to build a cross-country road to open up new areas for development, agriculture and tourism. What is better for the country now as well as being more sustainable for the future? A difficult decision, which is complicated by personal ambitions, political agendas, foreign aid, market uncertainties and many other factors which all come into play to make the boundaries less clear and the choices harder to distinguish’.

And it is further complicated by the fact that their primary crop is illegal.  How can they do any sort of rational economic planning while having to pretend that the backbone of their entire economy either doesn't exist, or if it does, will be gone tomorrow?

From Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily

I am living in Sicily that cannot be defined as a proper island because of its extension and because its position very close to peninsular Italy. But due to my profession of archaeologist, I know very well the situation of many small islands around Sicily. The main problem that their populations have is connected to the difficulty of connections between the small island and Sicily. Frequently the harbours are not properly built to protect ships and to let them enter in bad weather conditions. Only two of them (Lampedusa and Pantelleria) have air connections but sometime during winter those connections are irregular.

On the other side, the main problem of those islands is connected to their future. Agriculture and fishing are in deep crisis so the only future is based on tourism. But there is a huge danger that tourism will destroy the beauty of those islands because of buildings, roads and all the well known consequences of a wide and uncontrolled tourism development. We are fighting to maintain intact the original features of those islands, but the war is uncertain and very hard.

From Terry Wilson, Australia

I enjoyed reading your article 'Saving for the future'. It provided a very typical development scenario for many small islands. Interestingly, here on Lord Howe Island, back in the 1970s there was a push to construct an airport to accommodate commercial jets. Fortunately, the geological nature of the lagoon was unstable and not able to cope with the engineering requirements. Eventually a smaller runway was constructed, which was not long enough to handle large jets but provided sufficient length to cater for twin turbo prop dash 8 aircraft which can carry up to 30 people. By creating a smaller runway, the runway did not project out into the picturesque lagoon, and with fewer visitors, there was less pressure for development, particularly large scale chains, as there was insufficient tourist numbers. The outcome was a smaller but sustainable number of visitors, far less intrusive environmental impacts and the retention of the values that people came for in the first place i.e. small roads, safe bike riding etc. Because of its uniqueness, visitor numbers have remained strong, and environmental values have been preserved. I appreciate the dilemmas facing many developing island nations but resisting the pressures to over-develop will result in longer term economic security (keeping uniqueness) and sustainability regarding infrastructure (road network/waste). I'm sure these factors assisted in leading to the Lord Howe Island's eventual listing as a World Heritage site in the early 1980s.


Sustainable development in islands

From Brad Brace

Global Islands Project -- ongoing series of multi-media pdf-ebooks --

Island 1.0 is Ambergris Caye, Belize
Island 2.0 is Koh Si Chang, Thailand

Global Islands Project:

Island 1.0 -> http://bbrace.net/islands/island1/island1.html
or http://bbrace.laughingsquid.net/islands/island1/island1.html
-- over 800 images and hour-long audiotrack -- 69mb -- (acrobat 6)

Island 2.0 -> http://bbrace.net/islands/island2/island2.html
or http://bbrace.laughingsquid.net/islands/island2/island2.html
over 535 images and hour-long audiotrack -- 78mb -- (acrobat 6)

From William Wiebe

The Small Islands Voice provides a remarkable forum for discussion of many, sometime unique but often global, environmental problems. I have been reading these emails for several years, but not contributing to them, because I am not from a small island.  But I have enjoyed and learned from the discussions. What has interested me particularly is that the scale and diversity of small islands provide many models for dealing with virtually all of the contemporary continental problems.  Because of their small spatial scales, small islands can be considered the environmental equivalents of ‘canaries in the mine’; these systems respond rapidly to changes in the environment, here interpreted very broadly, e.g. population growth, over-development, exotic plant and animal introductions, land management problems, displacement of indigenous peoples .  I think that the contemporary problems of small islands, and their solutions, provide important lessons for those of us not fortunate enough to live on small islands..... . Thus I want to propose that the small island participants in this program organize an international meeting convened to gather, discuss and provide manuscripts for a book that will examine .the problems, solutions and plans that islands from Hong Kong, Singapore and Hawaii to Noumea, Federated States of Micronesia, Western Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati, have experienced and/or solved. The problems of small islands are largely no different from the problems in the rest of the world, but they are more immediate and how different island peoples perceive and deal with them should be of intense interest to everyone trying to understand and deal with the legacy of the 20th century and developments in the 21st century.


Education and sustainable development

From I.A. Economides, Cyprus

Population growth is no problem for Cyprus. On the contrary, social and economic problems are on the horizon because of the aging of the population, due to both a declining birth rate and an increasing lifespan. Government measures to support the family social structure and encourage childbearing have been on the political agendas for at least a decade but have not been able to deliver results in reversing or even delaying the current trends.

Fifty years ago a lot of Cypriots chose to emigrate to industrialized countries in search of better opportunities. Today Cyprus employs around 60,000 legal or illegal ‘temporary’ immigrants out of a total workforce of around 350,000. It would therefore appear that overpopulation is a rather transient and in any case dynamic social phenomenon.

In the short term, evidence suggests that emigration could be the natural and proven relief. In the long term, I think that a decent public education system is the solution to the population growth problem, or even maybe any other problem. (Public spending in education is a justified government priority response to a true market failure, where there are some private benefits but much larger external benefits). Educated businessmen could utilize the competitive advantage offered by any location and create employment opportunities. An educated workforce could move anywhere in the world there are employment opportunities. Educated scientists could focus their attention to more relevant opportunities and threats. Educated public officials could make better government policy choices. Educated parents could choose to have more or less children. Educated citizens could choose better governments, demand less corruption and more freedom in making choices for themselves. Educated societies can continue to learn and teach themselves. 

From Noeline Brown, Cook Islands

Thanks for the message although in my opinion it (from Economides) is overly simplistic and optimistic. While businesses have a good chance of acceptance in another country, it is not necessarily the experience of individuals trying to emigrate. One only has to look at the shameful way that Australia treats asylum seekers to see that.

From Moelagi Jackson, Savaii, Samoa

I wish to touch on the subject of education as quoted by Economides.   This is a must and a very important factor that is responsible for the present situation in our villages as discussed before.    When I came to this village 30 years ago our people did not prioritise education and this resulted in a poor standard of living and many unemployed youth.   The same young people dropout and become a pain to the council of chiefs as every time we meet they are brought in as culprits breaking into peoples plantations and stealing or even doing stupid things for the sake of it like stealing pigs and chickens that do not belong to them.   From then on, I set my own educational goals and systems like offering scholarships to High Schools on the island and stressing to the Council the importance of education; also revitalising the sharing of old uniforms and teaching women to sew.   With the cooperation of our Minister’s wife we had done a lot of projects to push the women to have more pride in their children’s education.   I think that at that time our village people accepted the fact that they are an outer island and therefore there was no future for their children.   This I did not accept.   I started lobbying with the business community to stop taking their children to town but leave them on the island as they are the brighter ones who could develop the schools on Savaii.   I started pushing the high school teachers and principals to start Parents Teacher Associations to earn money to help the school get more facilities - getting the children to involve their parents and to develop a spirit of ownership and pride for both parties.   I have proven myself well, out of my seven children six of them are University graduates and all doing well and aiming high, and our village young people have also become competitive and are aiming high.   So for me I personally sing a quiet song that I am not afraid to die now as I know the young people of this village are prepared and will prepare the other young to retain and sustain our village forever.    I am quite sure this had led to young mothers using birth control without taking the pill.   They bear what they reckon they can bring up according to their means.    Still there is a lot of things to be improved like transparency and corruption in our village, even though it is much better than ever before.

From: Jone Kalouniviti, Fiji

I hope my little 5 cents of a contribution will be noted. In Fiji, population growth has doubled in the past decade with mothers or parents getting younger and younger. Teenage pregnancy brought about by the impact of mass media, broken families and loss of family values and of course the number one factor - lack of education has all contributed to this. Again political instability and the failure of government to boost and prioritise health services add to the already dull picture of society. The explosion in population is quite visible with the strain it has on the Fiji economy. Fiji cannot provide employment of all who even graduate from tertiary institutions here just because numbers are too great for the workforce to absorb. The soaring unemployment rate sees our poverty levels moving up, crime rates soaring, prisons getting full, less and less people gain access to education opportunities and I can say that if this trend continues, Fiji will be in a much worse situation in the next decade.

Education certainly has its place in all society but the problem here is accessibility to education. My friend from Cyprus is quite right about education solving our ills but how do we facilitate such a system with the available resources? Our education system in Fiji is something of a survival of the fittest endeavour - cost wise: only those who can afford it get it full stop.

From Michele Misiewicz, Australia

Re: ‘The real problem for policy makers is how to stimulate creativity and maximize the resourceful energies of island peoples.’

Creativity comes directly through an expanded consciousness.  Teaching holistic thinking (i.e. the inter-dependence, inter-connectedness and inter-relatedness of all things) not only expands consciousness (hence stimulates creativity) but through an ‘expanded consciousness’ (i.e. through a greater understanding/knowledge/experience of your connectedness to the whole) the actions of the individual then alter to reflect this new understanding of self.  This is known in education/training terms as vertical integration of new learning.

In case I have not made myself clear what I'm saying is that the understanding of self has now grown to encompass more of the planet as a whole.  And as the individual’s survival mechanism still operates, the individual now makes decisions that are more in the interests of the greater reality i.e. the whole.  This is really what sustainable development is about i.e. making decisions that are balanced in terms of your individual interests and the interests of the whole - decisions that sustain both you individually and the whole of which you are an intrinsic part.  It is not about wanting or not wanting what developed nations have - or prioritizing nature over humans etc. etc. - or even having to address these perceived problems.

Given that you can effect great change via the mass media (ref Rupert Sheldrake’s work with the BBC late 80's) it would be appropriate to direct education policy via the mass media.  And given that many small island nations already endorse holistic thinking (more so than developed nations) perhaps cross cutting this broader holistic education policy delivered via the mass media with content policy geared toward motivational/inspirational stories highlighting achievements of individuals (in all sectors) may be needed to spark the individual’s pursuit of their own higher vision/dreams/goals/truth?


To get involved, contact :


Coastal Regions and Small Islands Platform
UNESCO, Paris, France
fax: +33 1 45 68 58 08

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