Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Principles for island development: ownership, identity and honesty
Responding to Candace Key’s description of Abaco in The Bahamas, where development has been kept small-scale so as to fit in with local needs, Anita James writes from St. Lucia (Caribbean): Well it looks like that Bahamas Island is Paradise found and Paradise maintained as well. Congratulations and keep it up! And Temakei Tebano from Kiribati (Pacific) adds: Many thanks to our friend from the Bahamas. That is exactly what I meant in my last contribution, development or eco-tourism that focuses more on cultural activities that foreigners have never experienced, island hospitality, simple island lifestyle, good balanced local food, good and comfortable local accommodation, clean surrounding, etc. not a sophisticated five-star hotel setup that foreigners run away from. Well done and keep your venture in tune with your island beauty.
Returning to the situation in the Cook Islands, Mark Skinner from Australia points out: Aitutaki is already over-developed, it needs no more development. The government should be aware that there is enough environmental damage that has to be reversed before the lagoon is polluted to a degree that it will not recover. I was first there in 1994 when the lagoon was quite pristine, and then again last year and the difference was remarkable. The lagoon looks to be in a state, almost as bad as Muri Lagoon (on Rarotonga). I believe there will be more ciguatera outbreaks (fish poisoning) there and this is mostly due to the contamination by sewerage and farming activities. The people of Aitutaki need to be more aware of these signs of pollution, such as a big green algal bloom south of the harbour, and put people into government who are prepared to do something about it! Some of the developments are environmentally unsound, you now have a ‘dead’ passage next to one resort that should never have been built. You now have accommodations for tourists on motus (islands in the lagoon) that should never have been built. Stop putting the greed of developers in front of your environment or you will no longer wish to live there yourselves! Go for a swim at Muri one still morning and smell the air.
Ilan Kelman (U.K.) describes an example from a small, remote island, Koltur, one of the Faroe Islands in the North Sea. Koltur has some similarities to the Cook Islands situation through its built, rather than natural, heritage. Koltur has some of the best examples of the traditional Faroese building and community styles. Two clusters of buildings remain. The old buildings have not been well-maintained. The present population is 2, a couple who farm the 2.5 square km island and are guardians of the unique Faroese heritage on Koltur.
An opportunity exists to turn Koltur into a living heritage site where the buildings would be preserved and maintained and made into a functional farm to illustrate how farming has been conducted in the Faroes over the past millennium.
But principal issues remain such as accommodation and facilities for visitors, regular transport to and from the island. Among the ideas being considered are that visitors could work on the farm and contribute to the restoration and maintenance work.
The challenge for Koltur, as elsewhere, is balancing preservation with tourism. Visitor numbers should be controlled and not damage the island or its heritage, including the character of its surroundings. Nonetheless, visitors would bring in revenue which would be needed to run and maintain the heritage site. Visitors would need to understand fully the environment which they were visiting along with the challenges and vulnerabilities. They will get cold and wet and they should not expect cocktails by the pool.
These tradeoffs are similar to those experienced by the other island heritage sites. An asset exists, either nature or buildings, which could be used to generate incomes to sustain island life. But how can that be done without destroying island life? I would propose three fundamental principles:
-Keep all businesses and all infrastructure owned by locals
-Be only what you are. Do not try to be something else to match external expectations
-Be honest with visitors about what they get
These will probably attract more visitors than they scare away!
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