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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 13

New building construction
in Male, Maldives, 2003.

Carvings at the Market Place,
Avarua, Rarotonga, 
Cook Islands, 2002.

1. Introduction


The vista of small tropical islands encircled by an aquamarine sea presents an idyllic picture. It is impossible to deny the beauty of these places especially when viewed from afar. However, as those who live in them will tell you, life in small islands is not an ideal existence.

Close up the vista changes and the contrasts are everywhere, the plastic bottles washed into the drains, the stumps of dead trees on the eroded beach, the local youths with nowhere to go sitting all day in front of the rum shop, the market women selling their wares, and the tourists driving by to their expensive home-away-from-home; all this under a hot tropical sun with light breezes moving the air, and just an occasional interruption by the catastrophic winds of a hurricane or cyclone.

Stream emptying its load of plastic 
bags and debris into Basseterre 
Bay, St Kitts, 1999.
Eroded tree roots and stumps, Rock Islands, 
Palau, 2002.

Jesse Mangham (right) 
and Patricia Black 
explain their views 
during the Small Islands
Voice interregional 
workshop, November 

Government buildings, 
Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 

National flag in front of the 
Government buildings, Malé, 
Maldives, 2002.

Small islands are a ‘different world’, sometimes with total populations equal only to a small town of a larger country, and whose residents always maintain an intense pride in their island homes.Two youth representatives at the Small Islands Voice inter-regional workshop (November 2002), when asked whether they had ever thought to leave Palau permanently replied:

‘Sure, we have thought about it, but since we have Palauan blood we will always want to come back. If we all leave, then Palau would no longer be the same. Would you want to visit an island where the people have no belonging, but simply live there’?
Patricia Black and Jesse Mangham, Palau, November 2002.

These small microcosms with their own government buildings and monuments, their own flags and identity, their residents and their visitors, provide unique challenges in a world undergoing rapid globalization. The challenges facing small islands have been documented by others (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2000) and include:

As small islands, both independent states and islands affiliated to larger countries, work to find effective and efficient ways to deal with these problems, many of the answers and solutions they arrive at are also relevant to communities in larger countries.

On their own, small islands run the risk of remaining forever isolated and out of the economic mainstream, sometimes serving a particular niche as a tourism destination, sometimes seeing their visitors move on to other more ‘exotic’ destinations. In order to build their own countries and achieve sustainable development and a viable quality of life for all their residents, small islands have to bond together. Collectively their voice is significant. In the build-up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 80% of the approximately 300,000 population of the Maldives signed a petition expressing their concerns about sea-level rise. Similar initiatives from other islands in the tropical seas and oceans of the world created a groundswell which eventually led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit – an important milestone.

Maldivians demonstrate their feelings about sea-level rise and the need to protect their 
coral reef environment, November 1989. (Photo in CSI archives by unknown 

In order to reduce the effects of isolation, islanders need to be able to take part in the information age and share in the wealth of knowledge, international debate and programmes, and even the important social validation that comes from sharing similar experiences and learning from others. Otherwise, the tendency is to continue in the downward spiral of environmental degradation and growing poverty.

Small Islands Voice initiative

Saturday market, Victoria,
Mahé, Seychelles, 2002.

Tourists purchasing local 
merchandise, Victoria, Mahé,
 Seychelles, 2002.

It was against this background, and in an effort to overcome the constraints imposed by isolation and small size, that the Small Islands Voice initiative was started by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2002.This cross-cutting project, designed to integrate all five programme sectors of the Organization – natural and basic sciences, culture, social and human sciences, communication and information, and education – aims to promote the effective participation of civil society, including young people, in sustainable island development and in the 2004 review of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Programme of Action.

Specifically, Small Islands Voice seeks to overcome the isolation of small islands by building capacity and strengthening local, regional and inter-regional communication through:

In this initiative, environment is defined in the widest sense of the word and includes the natural, social, cultural and economic environment.While SIDS have developed their own prioritized programme of action, Small Islands Voice has adopted a ‘blank sheet’ approach in determining islanders’ concerns. Furthermore, the Small Islands Voice initiative is not confined to SIDS, but includes small islands in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific that have other affiliations, e.g. to a larger country or a former colonial power.

Specific activities started early in 2002, in one island country in each of the three regions: St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and Palau in the Pacific.These activities included opinion surveys, meetings and workshops, debates, radio talk shows, newsletters, and discussion of issues at key events such as exhibitions and island celebrations. Other islands came onboard during 2002 including the Cook Islands in the Pacific and St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, while several others expressed their interest in doing the same.

Linking islanders across the three regions has been another important component of the initiative.This has been achieved through different activities. Regular inter-regional telephone conference calls are held, linking islands in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific regions together at one time, when islanders discuss and update each other on their respective Small Islands Voice activities. Other actions include a global internet-based discussion forum for the general public in small islands, focusing on environment and development issues; a youth internet-based forum where school students talk to each other about their island homes and the advantages and disadvantages of living there; and inter-regional meetings and workshops.

This report describes the activities and achievements of Small Islands Voice in 2002, as follows:

Chapter 2 – Utilizing mass media for dialogue and debate
Chapter 3 – Exploring the internet to link islands
Chapter 4 – Emerging environment and development issues
Chapter 5 – Future directions for Small Islands Voice
Chapter 6 – Concluding remarks

Small Islands Voice first inter-regional workshop

The end of 2002, a midway point in the first two years of the initiative, appeared an opportune time to bring the participating islands together at a workshop to discuss progress and plan future activities.Thus the first Small Islands Voice inter-regional workshop was held from 18–22 November 2002 and Palau graciously agreed to host the event. The objectives of the workshop were to:

Islanders came from the Cook Islands and Palau in the Pacific; Seychelles in the Indian Ocean; and St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the San Andres Archipelago in the Caribbean. In the case of the islands directly involved in Small Islands Voice, representatives from government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and youth participated in the workshop. The map shows the location of the islands represented at the workshop as well as islands that have become actively involved since the workshop. Other participants came from Australia and Puerto Rico, and from UNESCO offices in France and Samoa.The full list of participants is contained in Annex 1. Representatives from each island prepared a paper prior to the workshop; the titles are listed in Annex II.

Prior to the start of the workshop proper, the participants had an opportunity to visit Palau’s famous Rock Islands and the Jellyfish Lake.This proved a useful way of getting to know one another in an informal and beautiful setting.The visit to the Rock Islands also provided an opportunity to observe and discuss the management arrangements for what is undoubtedly Palau’s main tourist attraction. Observations made on the Rock Islands visit provided inspiration and material for discussions throughout the week. Annex III contains the full workshop programme.

Palau’s Rock Islands, 2002.                         

Visitors to Palau’s famous 
Jellyfish Lake, 2002.

Workshop participants from
Seychelles, San Andres
Archipelago and Cook Islands
getting to know each other in
the Rock Islands, November
2002. (From left to right:
Sabrina Marie, Seychelles;
Maara Murare and Bruce
Gray, Cook Islands;
June-Marie Mow, San Andres
Archipelago; Alain
De Comarmond and Matthew
Servina, Seychelles.

During the opening ceremony, participants listened to a chant by Ms Merii Ngiracheluolul of Palau.They were welcomed by Mr Dwight Alexander, Secretary-General of the Palau National Commission for UNESCO, who pledged the support of the National Commission for the Small Islands Voice initiative. Mr Dirk Troost, Chief of UNESCO’s Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands platform (CSI), described previous small island workshops in Samoa in 2000 (UNESCO, 2001) and Dominica in 2001 (UNESCO, 2002a) and emphasized ways in which small islands, by working together, could reduce the disadvantages of smallness and isolation.The Director of the Palau International Coral Reef Center, Mr Francis Matsutaro, commended Small Islands Voice for its interregional efforts in bringing a united voice to small islands. He emphasized the need to begin with a ‘village voice’ and then work up through the state, at national, regional and inter-regional levels. He invited Small Islands Voice to assist Palau in building trust and confidence at the community level with sustainable partnerships and community visioning.The opening ceremony concluded with a rap poem performed by Mr Samal Duggins of St Kitts and Nevis.

The first formal day of the workshop was devoted to sharing experiences and information about the islands. Highlights from the first day’s presentations included a rendition of St Kitts and Nevis’ national anthem by Ms Lornette Hanley of St Kitts and Nevis, and video presentations from all the islands.

Traditional, men’s meeting house, Airai 
bai, Palau, 2002.

During the second day of the workshop there were intensive discussions on the Small Islands Voice internet-based youth forum and about the issues beginning to emerge from the opinion surveys. A field trip to the island of Babeldaob was the focus of the third day. Participants had a chance to travel on the Compact Road, to see this controversial development and to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the road with those involved in its planning and construction.This was followed by a trip to the Capitol Relocation Project in the State of Melekeok, where again participants had a chance to visit this impressive building and discuss its construction with developers.The participants visited the traditional men’s meeting house (bai) in Melekeok and heard about the role of the bai in Palauan society. The trip concluded at the beach where participants viewed a traditional canoe that had recently been reconstructed and learned about the role of such vessels in traditional Palauan society. 

Palau’s new Capitol building in the State of Melekeok, 2002.

During the fourth day, participants had a chance to listen to and question local media practitioners and experts about their experiences in print, radio, video and theatre, and then to work with them in small group sessions to see how their knowledge could be incorporated into activities in other islands. Several panel discussions followed, focusing on various aspects of environment and development in Palau, including natural resources, economy, community health and good governance.

At the start of the final day, Hon. Sandra Pierantozzi,Vice-President of the Republic of Palau, visited the workshop and shared some of her views about tourism, youth and the responsibility of residents to look after their islands. She also emphasized the need for islands to combine their efforts.

‘I am proud that we have come together as small islands at this meeting. I have often thought that at United Nations meetings, small islands do not have a chance to be heard. What we need to do in small islands is to put our brains together and be able to meet everyone else on an equal footing’.
Sandra Pierantozzi, Palau, November 2002.

The final workshop sessions focused on intense discussions on ways to ensure that the general public’s voice is heard in the 2004 review of the Programme of Action for SIDS, planning future activities for Small Islands Voice, and how to deal with difficult issues such as reaching the youth at risk.

Joe Aitaro describing the
construction of a 
traditional 30-man
outrigger canoe at 
Melekeok, 2002.

The recently built outrigger canoe at Melekeok, 2002.


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