Remarkable landscapes are often found on small islands, they are shaped by human activity and reflect the tenuous link between nature and culture, and make local know-how and practices tangible. Often, these landscapes are strong identity markers for island communities.
Natural and cultural monuments like great landscapes and emblematic structures, (places of worship, prisons or lighthouses...), are symbols of the area, both on physical and cultural levels. History, customs, cuisines, fishing or construction techniques, music, paintings... all these intangible skills deserve to be preserved and valued, just as protected species.
The close ties between nature and culture have led over time to the island landscapes of today. It is necessary to grasp this intricate entirety before implementing any sustainable development program on an island.
Waste management problems, particularly plastic pollution (macro and micro), are more acute on Islands because of their distance from the continents and geographical constraints. They lack land for storage as well as sufficient financial means and treatment facilities, as their critical size for profitability (financial and technical) is often incompatible with the amount of waste generated. Mismanagement of waste can generate health problems, as well as the degradation of soils, water, marine and terrestrial environments and landscape quality. It can also affect the attractiveness of the area and life on the island. Waste accumulation can also be aggravated by the influx of tourists to the Islands and seasonal variations.
Several islands stand out due to their initiatives of waste reduction at the source, whether it is waste deposited on land or coming from the sea. On remote islands far from the mainland, cheaper and less restrictive solutions are also implemented such as using small incinerators, organic waste composting, or re-using in cases where “circular economies” are implemented.
Small islands frequently lack fresh water, due to their small size, their topography, sparse vegetation, the scarcity of water sources or lack of rain. Furthermore, access to drinking water on Islands is very uneven, water quality can be altered by the intrusion of sea water into groundwater or by diffuse pollution related to unethical agricultural, domestic, or even touristic practices.
In the coastal regions of developing countries, up to 90% of wastewater is directly discharged into the oceans without being treated, it is often polluted with pathogens, chemical pollutants, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other used hydrocarbons or oils, generating negative impacts both on the health of residents and on freshwater and marine environments.
A major issue for small islands, which need to develop innovative methods to reduce consumption, is to improve the availability of water and reduce this pollution.
The fact that islands are isolated leads to very high endemism rates (i.e., the percentage of animal or plant species that don’t exist anywhere else), up to 9.5 times higher than that of continental areas. This remarkable biodiversity, whose future is intimately tied to that of human communities, is nevertheless fragile. Islands could shelter up to 40 percent of threatened and particularly endangered species. Biodiversity loss on Islands is linked to several phenomena, firstly to biological invasions, reinforced by the absence of predators or parasites for some species, the reduction of the size and distribution area of some specie populations and the low connectivity with nearby ecosystems, but also to the destruction and fragmentation of habitats, the overexploitation of certain resources (including fisheries), and pollution.
Climate change is aggravating these phenomena and impacting the resilience of islands and island communities (that is, their ability to recover from external disruptions): as they are geographically isolated, islands are more frequently exposed to extreme climatic conditions that are likely to degrade ecosystems which are extremely important to local species.
Island inhabitants are also very dependent on local natural resources and their unique biodiversity, which is both valuable and particularly fragile. The sustainable management of islands should therefor rely on methods which enable human activities to coexist with the protection of nature.
Faced with the lack of local conventional energies available, many islands are forced to import and/or use fossil fuels from the continent. These are choices that lead to dependence, which are also often expensive, generating a strong ecological footprint as well as greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. In other cases, the energy needs of households generate a lot of pressure on local environments and fragile island ecosystems.
One solution is to favour the Island’s natural capital and to promote locally available energy: relying for example on solar energy, wind power, biomass or geothermal energy, using marine energies or fuels generated from terrestrial plants (coconut oil...) and marine plants (phytoplankton).