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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coastal region and small island papers 16


‘Give a Voice’ is the Small Islands
Voice slogan in St Kitts and Nevis, as
portrayed in this colourful folder

2 Finding out the issues

The general public living in small islands is the focus for Small Islands Voice activities. Everyone is a member of the general public, young and old, employed and unemployed. Some members of the general public are well organized into specific groups, e.g. community groups, women’s organizations, trade unions or church groups. But there are also some individuals who might not fall into a specific, easy-to-access group. In addition, there are differences between islands, for example the definition of youth in Palau is anyone up to the age of 40 years, while in many other islands the cut-off age is around 30 years. So it is inevitable, that opinions will vary widely on a given topic making the identification of issues a difficult task.

Various methods were employed by Small Islands Voice to determine the issues. The first activity for most islands was to conduct a representative interview survey of the general public to find out, in a quantitative manner, the issues about which they were concerned. Once identified, these issues became the subject of further discussions through meetings and workshops; through newspaper articles, radio call-in shows and television programmes; and also through internet discussion forums.

Opinion surveys

During 2002 and 2003, opinion surveys were conducted in Cook Islands and Palau in the Pacific; Maldives and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean; and St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, using similar methodologies. In most of the islands young people were trained to conduct the interview surveys and thereby benefited from the experience. The individual survey forms, as well as the detailed results and summarized highlights are available on the Small Islands Voice website (www.smallislandsvoice.org), and the direct links to each island’s survey are listed in Annex I. Similar methodologies were used in each of the three regions, although each island adapted the survey slightly to further their own specific needs and goals.

General public respondents were appreciative of new infrastructure such 
as wide new roads, seen here in Port Louis in Mauritius (April 2003) 

and Charlestown in Nevis (February

Yet, they also wanted to see the historical architecture preserved, such 
as cobbled passageways in Port Louis, Mauritius (April 2003)

Instead of starting with the areas defined in the Programme of Action, a ‘blank sheet’ approach was adopted, and sample populations were asked about (i) changes they had observed in the past decade, (ii) changes they would like to see in the coming decade, and (iii) the issues about which they were most concerned. In some islands too, respondents were asked whether the public participates enough in planning the future development of their island. 

One per cent of each territory’s population was sampled. (In the Maldives, one island was selected, Baa Eydhafushi, and 10% of the population was sampled; in the Cook Islands, 2% of the population was sampled in Rarotonga and in five Outer Islands). Efforts were made to ensure the sample populations were representative in terms of geography, gender, age and social status. The logistics regarding the opinion surveys are listed in Annex 1.

The Cook Islands News, above, 
has played an important role in 
publicizing Small Islands Voice 
activities and hosting a Small 
Islands Voice Youth Page every 
Saturday, November 2003 

Radio Fiji, April 2003

Summarized results of the opinion surveys


Street sign promoting
good governance in Port
of Spain, Trinidad and
Tobago, October 2003

As mentioned above, most of the sampled islands adapted the survey questionnaire form to further their own objectives and goals. However, in all the islands, respondents were asked to list the three main issues about which they were most concerned. The issues identified have been prioritized based on the quantitative responses. One of the most interesting results is the similarity of the key issues among the sampled islands in the three regions.The issues, in order of priority, are:

  1. Economy

  2. Employment

  3. Health care

  4. Education

  5. New infrastructure

  6. Environment

Other important issues, which were not common to all sampled islands in the three regions, but may have been at the top of the priority list for specific islands are:

  1. Tourism

  2. Decline in moral and/or traditional values

  3. Increased crime and violence

  4. Need for good governance

Table 2 provides further details about the specific issues raised.


Issues common to all sampled islands in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific regions

  1. Economy: high cost of living, high taxes, less spending power, increased poverty, sluggish economy, economic stress, national debt, economic stability, economic downturns, shortage of foreign exchange, foreign investment, need for banking services;

  2. Employment: lack of jobs, job security, low wages/salaries, unfair hiring practices, increased number of foreign workers;

  3. Health care: insufficient public health facilities, mental health, health care services, HIV/AIDS;

  4. Education: improvements in school infrastructure and facilities, educational opportunities, tertiary education, vocational training, education for special groups such as teenage mothers, loss of qualified people (brain drain);

  5. New infrastructure: recent construction of houses, roads, hospitals, airport/seaport, telecommunications, solid and liquid waste disposal systems much appreciated, but further similar development required;

  6. Environment: waste management, pollution, deforestation, drainage, beach erosion, global warming.

Issues common to some of the sampled islands in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific regions

  1. Tourism: new tourism development and improvement of tourism facilities seen as positive changes, but concern about control of tourism and over-dependence on tourism;

  2. Decline in moral and/or traditional values: breakdown in moral fabric of society, decline in moral values, bad behaviour among young people, lack of respect for elders, eroding traditional values and customs, decline in traditional leadership, lack of community spirit and collaboration – in part due to people being resettled from adjacent islands;

  3. Increased crime and violence: increased crime rates especially violent crime and crime among youth, public safety, revised penalties for criminals, more crime as a result of increased drug abuse;

  4. Good governance: political corruption, political greed, political victimization and a desire for international peace.

Meetings, workshops and conferences

Small Islands Voice display board in 
use at the Caribbean Tourism 
Conference, St Kitts and Nevis, 
September 2003

Following the opinion surveys, activities were conducted in all the Small Islands Voice islands to find out more about these issues. These activities included public meetings and national events, workshops and conferences, radio and television programmes, newspaper and magazine articles.

In St Kitts and Nevis, the Small Islands Voice coordinating committee commissioned a local high school’s woodworking class to construct a moveable display board that could be used at national events to (i) provide information about particular issues, and (ii) gather opinions about those issues through a suggestion box.The board was displayed at events such as the SCIMATECH (Science, Mathematics and Technology) Fair and Emancipation Day celebrations, as well as at the Caribbean Tourism Organization Conference, which was held in St Kitts and Nevis in September 2003.


The slogan ‘Communities at their best’
(English translation) has been adopted
for the Palau community visioning

St Kitts and Nevis have developed their
own logo and slogan for Small Islands

The Cook Islands produced their own 
Small Islands Voice newsletter,
 November 2002

The Back Chat programme, launched
 in St Kitts and Nevis in March 2004,
allows youth to ‘backchat’ (in a
respectful manner) about their concerns

During a workshop with youth workers in Seychelles in September 2002, participants had the opportunity to brainstorm about ‘What are the main issues facing youth today?’ In Palau, communities are taking part in a visioning exercise in which they are asked to envisage how they want their communities to look in ten years time. In Bequia, one of the islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines, youth had the opportunity, in August 2003, to present their opinions on environment and development issues to the Hotel and Tourism Association.

Young people from the San Andres Archipelago presented their projects and activities at the First Youth World Summit on Experiences and Initiatives in Sustainable Development, in Cartagena, Colombia, in August 2003.

'For me it was a great experience to participate in the First Youth World Summit and exchange experiences and initiatives for sustainable development. I got to meet people from other parts of our country and also from other parts of the world. We also got to exchange ideas and opinions about sustainable development, and to learn about some environmental projects. I would like to see more students assisting in these kinds of programs so that we could have more representatives of our island in a future summit.’ 
Camille Jackson, San Andres, August 2003

Youth in San Andres are also producing their own radio programmes, and a programme called ‘Back Chat’ in St Kitts and Nevis is providing young people with the opportunity to discuss their views. In the Outer Islands of the Cook Islands, community television is providing the opportunity for young people to develop television broadcasting skills, and for older community members to enjoy local news coverage.

In January 2004, youth in The Bahamas had the opportunity to discuss three main themes relating to sustainable development:

Banner proclaiming the ‘Youth Focus Bahamas’ event, January 2004

They presented the outcome of their consultations, in the form of a manifesto (Ministry of Education and UNESCO, 2004) to the inter-regional preparatory meeting on the review of the Programme of Action for small island developing States.The youth consultation laid the groundwork for a visioning process whereby young islanders can articulate how they want their islands to develop in the future and how they plan to help make this happen.

While many of these activities centre on youth, other age groups are also included. In Fiji, community consultations have been held to focus on local issues and in October 2003, representatives of civil society in the Indian Ocean met in Mauritius to discuss key items in the Programme of Action and to devise a way forward for making their voices heard (Calodyne Sur Mer Declaration, 2003).

Bahamian youth work on preparing 
their manifesto, presented at the 
Inter-regional preparatory meeting, 
January 2004

Drugs and teenage pregnancy were the
most important concerns for youth at 
the Sandwatch workshop, Dominica, 
July 2003


International conferences have also been used as an opportunity to gather opinions and feedback. A representative of Seychelles attended the Islands of the World VII International Conference in Prince Edward Island in June 2002 (De Comarmond, 2002), and representatives from Mauritius, Palau and St Vincent and the Grenadines participated in the Oceans, Coasts and Islands Conference in Paris in November 2003 (Belmar, 2003 and Chellapermal, 2003).

Inter-regional island workshops provide an opportunity to exchange views and learn about islands in other regions. The Small Islands Voice inter-regional workshop held in Palau in November 2002 provided one such opportunity (UNESCO, 2003). Another inter-regional workshop, held in Dominica in July 2003, brought together students and teachers working on the Sandwatch project, and provided an opportunity to brainstorm about their concerns and the issues. (The Sandwatch project is an inter-regional one, focusing on monitoring and caring for island beaches.)

The activities described above are just a ‘snapshot’ providing a picture of some of the ways in which the Small Islands Voice initiative has been trying to find out the issues concerning people living in small islands. More detailed and specific information relating to individual island activities is available on the website (www.smallislandsvoice.org).

Global internet discussions

General public

In September 2002, a global internet-based discussion was started among members of the general public to further discuss some of these issues. A particular issue was selected and a one-page article was prepared, often based on a local newspaper item. The first issue selected was road development in Palau. Here a new road is being constructed to circumvent the largest island, Babeldaob.The one-page article was posted on an internet site (www.sivglobal.org) and was also sent as an e-mail message to members of the general public in small islands with a request for responses.The substantive replies were summarized and combined by a moderator into a follow-up response, which was posted on the website and sent out by e-mail two weeks later. This process continued until the responses stopped, after which a summary of the entire discussion, together with a compilation of all the responses (in full) was posted on the Small Islands Voice website. Then the discussion moved on to a new topic in a different island and a different region. At the beginning of 2004, the list of persons to whom the articles and responses were sent via e-mail totalled 15,000. Table 3 lists the issues that have been discussed up to the beginning of 2004.



Number of 
Period of 

1. Road construction in Palau, Pacific

45 Oct–Nov 2002
2. Beach access in Tobago, Caribbean 31 Nov ’02 – Feb ‘03
3. Tourism policy in Seychelles, Indian Ocean 27 Feb–May 2003
4. Foreign investment in Cook Islands, Pacific 20 May–Jul 2003
5. Increased youth crime and violence, Caribbean 26 Jul–Sep 2003
6. Export of freshwater, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean 27 Sep–Dec 2003
7. Airport development, Aitutaki, Cook Islands, Pacific 20 Jan–Mar 2004
The forum can be accessed at: www.sivglobal.org    

Table 4 shows the summary of the discussion about one of the issues – tourism policy in Seychelles. Summaries relating to the other issues are available in Annex 3. In addition all the summaries, as well as the complete compilations of all the responses received on each issue, are available on the Small Islands Voice website.



Summary of discussion on tourism policy in Seychelles, Indian Ocean
Date of discussions: Feb–May 2003
Number of persons on distribution list: 10,000
Number of substantive responses: 27

Main issue
Should up-market resorts be the main thrust of a national tourism policy in Seychelles?

48% of the respondents support the idea that a tourism policy based mainly on up-market resorts is misguided.

  • An emphasis on large resorts cuts out many local players and may cause social problems.

  • Large foreign-owned establishments often result in profits leaving the island.

  • Small establishments provide more benefit to local people, and to the local economy, especially if they are well marketed.

  • Government policy in some islands favours large investors; such a policy may have human-rights implications.

4% of the respondents support the concept that an up-market tourism policy provides many unique benefits.

  • Benefits include increased spending power, a market for special services, limited environmental impact.

19% of the respondents support the view that a good tourism policy requires cooperation from all societal sectors.

  • Dialogue and active involvement of government agencies, NGOs, the private sector and communities is essential for an effective tourism policy that is beneficial to the island.

  • Tourism needs to provide for the development of local people as well as supplying foreign exchange.

  • In view of the vulnerability of the tourism industry to global events, a diversified economy is sounder than one based purely on tourism.

29% of the respondents discussed other issues.

  • People need to take action.

  • Governments need to implement laws.

  • This forum needs to be more interactive.

  • Long-distance air travel is damaging to the environment.

While it is difficult to know how many people actually read the articles and the responses, some of the feedback from respondents is encouraging.

‘I think the best thing happening to our country is the good flow of dialogue from various parties and stakeholders of tourism in Samoa. I wish all the contributors to this forum, best wishes upon your struggle to save the small islands of the world.’ 
High Chief Vaasiliifiti Moelagi Jackson, Savaii Island, Samoa (Global forum, February 2003)

‘I thank you for the forum as I think it gives a great insight into the concerns and grief of us all in small island territories.’
Anthony Garland, Turks and Caicos Islands (Global forum, May 2003)

Articles from the global 
forum are sometimes 
reproduced in local 
newspapers, Tia Belau,
November 2002.

In some islands, newspaper editors have contacted the moderators of the Small Islands Voice internet forum asking to place some of the articles and responses in local newspapers; permission has always been granted since this is another way of widening the scope of the discussion to those who do not have access to the internet.

‘Thanks so much for sending us this article and feel free to send more in the future....we'll publish it in our paper.’
Editor, Diario Belau, Palau (Global forum, October 2002)

‘I write from the BVI StandPoint newspaper, a weekly paper in the British Virgin Islands. Earlier this month we started receiving your e-mails regarding Small Islands Voice. I went to the website, and was impressed with the idea, since we on small islands often feel like no one understands our problems. I would like to know whether you would allow us to run your e-mail newsletters from time to time, so we could share with our readers what other islanders are thinking about.’
Susanna Henighan, British Virgin Islands (Global forum, October 2002)

However, having English as the language for discussion brings with it obvious limitations:

‘I was born in and still live in a small island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of the Cape Verde Islands. We have so many problems, and we would like to talk about them with others who have identical problems. The problem is the language; we speak Portuguese and so it is not easy to communicate in English. But we try our best.’
Ludgero, Cape Verde Islands (Global forum, October 2002)

Discussion items have been used for different purposes, e.g. trying to influence local politicians about a particular course of action and for use in public hearings.

‘I thought this might come in handy for next week's public hearing on the two issues, it talks about development and changes that will inevitably affect Palau's future.’
Brenda Tarimel, Palau (Global forum, November 2002)

Discussions on particular issues may benefit other islands facing similar problems. In the latter part of 2003, the forum discussed the advantages and disadvantages of a proposed springwater bottling plant in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. A response from Kosrae in the Pacific reads as follows:

‘This forum is quite timely as Kosrae State in the Federated States of Micronesia is scrutinizing a foreign investment proposal for a water-bottling project proposed to be established here. Kosrae is a small volcanic island, only 42 sq. miles in size with a growing population. The water consumption and use at the local community level is increasing every year. I totally agree with Temaki Tebano's comments on this issue. Our water resource is a gift from God for our use, not for foreign investors who are constantly looking for opportunities to exploit our resources and make lots of money from them. Who will benefit from foreign investment project like this one in Kosrae in the long run? Local resource owners may benefit a little and so might our economy, but certainly foreign investors will be richer and much of the project income will be theirs to enjoy.’ 
A. S. George, Kosrae (Global forum, October 2003)

One of the most important benefits of the forum is how it can really assist islanders around the world in exchanging information and lessons learnt.

While the internet discussion provides a useful picture of public opinion on several key issues, it only represents a percentage of island populations given the still limited internet penetration in small island households. Nevertheless the potential of the internet especially for regional and inter-regional discussion is enormous.


Starting in September 2002, an internet-based youth discussion forum was launched (username view, password only) involving students in secondary schools from five island countries: Cook Islands and Palau in the Pacific, Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Based on informal feedback and a formal assessment (see website), this was extremely successful.

‘I really liked the Small Islands Voice internet-based youth forum because it gave students of different cultures and nationalities the opportunity to learn more about everyday life and the disadvantages/advantages of a small island. It also enabled us to develop our different points of view and ideas about the future of our islands. Through Small Islands Voice, I have also had the opportunity to communicate with students from islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific and discovered that they share some of our best things like culture, sports and language.’ 
Thyra Faure, Anse Royale Secondary School, Seychelles (December 2002)

Students in Bequia use a local internet 
café to access the Small Islands Voice 
youth forum, November 2003

Following the opening of a Small
Islands Voice internet centre in St
Kitts and Nevis, a student visits the
youth forum for the first time, July 2003

In 2003, the youth forum entered a second phase involving more schools and allowing more flexibility. Schools in eleven island countries were involved (see Annex 2) and the discussions took place over the period March to November 2003.

This un-moderated discussion forum is password protected for students’ use. However, for viewing the articles and responses, the forum can be accessed at www.sivyouth.org with username view and password only. Students choose their own topics for discussion, a new article is posted every two weeks, and then participants have a two-week period to respond, ask questions, and make suggestions. A glance at the titles of the articles (see Table 5) shows the variety of the subjects covered.


Name of article
(username view, password only)
Number of 
Agriculture (Tu anga Tanutanu)
Form 4T, Nukutere College, Cook Islands 
11.03.03 20
Our island traditions
4th Form, Bequia Community High School, St Vincent and the Grenadines 
25.03.03 15

Island heritage: pride in uniqueness of our island home
Senior 2, Mangaia School, Cook Islands 

08.04.03  48
Need for recycling in view of increased dumping, littering and garbage
S4 students, Praslin Secondary School, Seychelles 
22.04.03  22
Education on Aitutaki
Araura College Students, Aitutaki, Cook Islands 
06.05.03  8
Palauan traditions
Gavin Sugiyama, Mindzenty High School, Palau 
20.05.03  11
Drug abuse
B. Johnson, M. Rubena, H. Ngairinga, M.Tawake, Form 2,Avarua Primary School, Cook Islands 
03.06.03  17
The asbestos issue in our school
Tereapii, Lisa, Metua, Makara, Jonathan,Terepai, Form 2, Nikao Maori School, Cook Islands 
17.06.03  7

The problems affecting drinking water quality in Rakiraki (and associated health effects)
Sandeep, Sachindra, Lavenia, Ratu Buatavatava, Rakiraki Public High School, Rakiraki District, Fiji  

09.09.03 7

Health issues in Mauritius
Hishaam Jambocus, Sookdeo Bissondoyal, Form VI College, Mauritius  

23.09.03 5

Lack of jobs for school leavers and limited choice of jobs 
Baa Atoll Education Centre, Baa Atoll, Maldives  

07.10.03 5
Gang violence 
Marigot Secondary School, Dominica 
21.10.03  4
Alternative use of fish 
Frank Mitchell, Centro de Educación Media Diversificada, San Andres Island 
04.11.03  5
Living in a small island – boon or bane?
Fathmath Waheedha, 9F, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Education Center, Republic of Maldives 
18.11.03  10


Nikao Maori School in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, a beautiful location, 

and some of its students who
submitted an article to the youth forum
 about the use of asbestos in their 
school building, July 2003

One very interesting topic discussed on the forum (username view, password only)  concerned an article prepared by the students of Form 2, Nikao Maori School in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. They described the removal of an asbestos roof from one of their school buildings when students were in session. Some of the responses from other young people from around the world follow:

‘It was interesting reading your article on asbestos roof removal and its hazards. We would like to ask a question to the education administrators who first thought of having these asbestos roofs, whether they knew about the consequences and the hazards that asbestos roofing would create for our health.’
Small Islands Voice volunteers, Araura College, Aitutaki, Cook Islands (Youth forum, July 2003) 

Students and their teacher from Anse 
Royale Secondary School, Seychelles,
who were sufficiently concerned about 
the asbestos article to do their own 
research, July 2003.

‘Sorry for the delay in not responding sooner. After much research and contact with the authorities we have found out that asbestos is also found in Seychelles but in very small proportions. According to them it is found in water pipes close to our school, a few industries and at certain homes. Your article raised a lot of concern here to make sure that students and other people are safe from asbestos. Thanks for the article which has helped raise a lot of questions.’
Students, Anse Royale Secondary School, Seychelles (Youth forum, July 2003)

The article posted by Mangaia School, Cook Islands (username view, password only), on island heritage is also noteworthy because the school did not have internet connections at that time. Instead, all the responses were faxed by the Small Islands Voice coordinator in Rarotonga to the students in Mangaia (a separate island), who then, by fax back to the coordinator, answered questions and made further responses as appropriate. (Late in 2003, the school was connected to the internet.) In responding to Mangaia School’s article, a student from San Andres Island, Colombia, summarizes some of the benefits of the forum:

‘It is really nice reading about your heritage. It is when we observe the similarities of island life. Islanders have many things in common and I hope we can continue sharing these and contribute through this exchange to learn good things you are doing and that we could copy; just the same you can also copy some of our good practices. We know that the way we do things on islands is very different to continental areas and we need to get together and collaborate with each other to improve our livelihoods.’
Hauke Peters, Luis Amigó School, San Andres Island, Colombia (Youth forum, April 2003)

Poster promoting the 
youth forum

The success of the internet-based youth forum is particularly significant in view of the difficulties many schools and many islands have with internet access. Most of the schools involved in the forum have only one computer connected to the internet, and often connection and usage costs are high. Although it should be noted that, in some islands such as Cook Islands, special rates have been negotiated for the Small Islands Voice forum. In other islands, problems exist because of outdated equipment. 

‘The Marigot Secondary School (Dominica) has been so happy and grateful to be part of the Small Islands Voice forum, and the students are so excited to be participating in the forum. However, in mid-October due to persistent lightning and thunder, the school lost both its modems and its phone line. Also other contributing factors, i.e. the system becoming overheated and the corrosion of the main board due to sea salt, have restricted our participation in the forum and have negatively affected the functioning of our computer sciences classes. Unfortunately we cannot proceed until this equipment has been repaired.’
Mr Marie, ICT Teacher, Marigot Secondary School (December 2003)

Concluding comments

The internet, while providing a wonderful form of communication and means of sharing information, cannot replace face-to-face dialogue and discussion. Being able to argue a point with another person, to see the impact in the expression in his/her eyes and to get an instant retort cannot yet be replaced by the internet. In addition, many island societies, especially in the Pacific, have an oral tradition. So while Small Islands Voice will continue to use tools such as the internet for communication and discussion, it will also continue to use other means such as face-to-face dialogue, meetings and workshops, activities and events, newspaper, radio and television to gather opinions and exchange ideas about island issues.


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