European Small Islands Federation

Archive for Islands

Islands in space?

Ten hours ago, NASA launched its planet-hunter TESS – the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

TESS is, simply speaking, a space telescope designed to search for planets outside our solar system (“exoplanets”). It is expected to find more than 20,000 exoplanets, compared to the about 3,800 exoplanets we know of today.


This is not Earth

Led by MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), with funding from Google among others, TESS will survey the brightest stars near the Earth for exoplanets over a two-year period. It uses an array of wide-field cameras to perform an all-sky survey and can define the mass, size, density and orbit of a large cohort of small planets, including which ones of them have water, shores and islands.

It gives quite a new meaning to Google Maps.


Island strategies

To survive in a globalized world where focus is always on economies of scale and low costs, islands can choose between two strategies: n:o 1 (according to Professor Geoff Bertram from New Zealand) is to balance-up their small, slow industries and commerce with income from those that have moved away, alongside support from the public sector. Islands that have managed this strategy well are Kastellorizo in the Mediterranean, Samoa and Tonga in the Pacific Ocean, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Helena and Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean.

Strategy n:o 2 (according to Professor Godfrey Baldacchino) is to proactively influence the islands’ own fate in how to handle difficult negotiations over wind power, oil, transportation and taxes. This strategy is directed more at procedure instead of direct subsidies, creating tax havens. Such islands are the Virgin Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man in the Atlantic, the Åland Islands in the Baltic Sea, Malta and Cyprus in the Mediterranean.


Now, time has come to October Island, an island in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad, and Russky Island, a former pasture facing the eastern part of Vladivostok , to be part of strategy n:o 2.

Compared to the sunny, palm-lined off-shore tax havens where Russians typically stash their fortunes like Cyprus or the Virgin Islands, two chilly, wind-swept Russian islands would seem to offer little. Yet, they were highlighted by Moscow this week as potential tax havens.

October Island (Oktyabrsky Island /Остров Октябрьский), is immediately east (upriver) of Kaliningrad’s historic centre in the Pregolya River. Since the 2010s the island has been extensively redeveloped around the stadium being constructed for the 2018 FIFA World Cup due to be held in Russia. Will it come true, now that Washington imposes tough sanctions against leading oligarchs?

The island is small, covering about 10 square kilometres. When Kaliningrad was German Köningsberg, it was part of the famous “Seven bridges of Köningsberg” mathematical problem: to devise a walk through the city that would cross each of those bridges once and only once.


Russky Island is much bigger: 976 square kilometres with a population of 5,360, connected with the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge across the Eastern Bosphorus to the mainland portion of Vladivostok.


The Kremlin is trying to get rich Russians to bring their money back home, but is October island and Russky Island really comparable to Gozo and Kökar?

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day

Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf wrote about two water sources, one on the island of Tjörn, one on the island of Mörkö. Summertime, five vessels are carried to the first one: “a celadon cup, an East Indian blue white pelvis, a silver beaker, an old glass of ground gilt, a wide and bulky bowl of tin. They are lowered into the source to get the cold of the water. “You drink from the five vessels, one after another, deliberately, artfully.

To the second source, you do not need to bring any vessel. “An old cup, with a brown crack” hangs in its ear on a branch.

I have just finalized a freshwater project. It included eight islands: two in Greece, Croatia, France and Ireland, respectively. It has gone well, it is a source of sustainability and work satisfaction. Now, lectures are waiting, four new projects are lining up.

In the first source I see water as a culture, as an artifact. It makes me think of how we use water, of wells, pipes, pumps, chlorine, sewers and cycles. Law, technology, cost, supply and demand. Complex, elaborated..

In the second one, I only see the water. The fountainhead of life.


A place to Bere in mind

Bere island lies in Bantry Bay, in the shadow of the famous Hungry Hill though with a high point of 267m at Knockallig is no mere pancake itself.

Bere Island is the second largest Irish island when islands connected by causeways or bridges are discounted. It is outranked only by Inishmore. In terms of population it is also the second ranked according to the same criterion with 216 people (2011 census). In common with other large islands it was once inhabited by over 1,000 people and peaked in 1926 with 1,182.

Bere island school-2

Islanders and best friends, Michael Orpen and Aoife Walsh, Bere Island, West Cork, running to rehearsals in the local heritage centre for their annual Nativity School Play. Michael played the part of Joseph and Aoife played the part of Mary in this year’s schools production on the Island
Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

And where many islands have dwindling populations with few activities, the phenomenal community spirit of Bere Island binds the island together as well as bringing in many visitors for these events. The list of activities upcoming for 2018 would put many large towns to shame. Some of the events planned include a religious retreat at Easter, an islands’ festival in June, Children’s summer camp in July, A Heritage Week in August and the All-Island football tournament in September. With hotels, B&Bs, Airbnbs, bars, cafes, restaurants and its Bakehouse Cafe with its sizzling garlic prawns, the over-riding impression of Bere Island is of a thriving
island community.

Scoil Mhicil Naofa is the school on Bere Island, which in the early 1900s, once had a total of three schools. It is the ’last school standing’ in Bantry Bay’s islands with two teachers and 18 pupils.

West Cork’s islands are taking a population battering, with Sherkin Island’s school closing, after 124 years’ service to the community, in 2016. Whiddy and Dursey also had their own schools. The school on Whiddy Island closed in 1947 with seven children on the roll, and the Dursey Island school was forced to close in 1975 when there were just five pupils left.

Principal of Deirdre Ní Dhonnchada explains how, as with all small rural schools, maintaining numbers is a constant issue: ‘This year five pupils will be leaving to start secondary school in Castletownbere and we have only three children due to start school.  We currently don’t have anyone in second class, as there was no intake that year,’ she said.

Principal Ní Dhonnchada and Katrina Ladden both live on the mainland and travel onto the island every day by ferry.  Support teacher Caoimhe Healy joins them two days a week.  Katrina teaches junior infants to second class, and Deirdre teaches third to sixth classes, with school secretary Marion O’Sullivan keeping everything running smoothly.

Bere island school-1

Sonia O’Sullivan with Bere Island national school                       Photo Niall Duffy @WestCorkPhoto

Physical activity is a big part the curriculum. Deirdre Ní Dhonnchada says: ‘We were actually one of the first schools in Beara to start weekly swimming lessons.’

Once a week, the children travel to the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry for their lesson. ‘Being on an island just means it takes a bit of extra planning. Whereas a mainland school needs to organise a bus to Bantry, we need to organise a boat to get us to the bus!’

Deirdre Ní Dhonnchada feels that ultimatley teaching in an island school doesn’t pose any major challenges. ‘It all takes a little bit more planning, but the very nature of an island community means that people always rally round to help out. The school is very much part of the community here, and we know anytime we need any assistance in arranging something, we only have to put the word out, and it happens.’

See earlier blogs (Norway) and (Clare Island and Sweden).

Many thanks to the Southern Star and the Irish Examiner:

Congratulations Estonia


100 years ago the peace talks between Soviet Russia and the German Empire collapsed and the Germans accupied mainland Estonia (but not the islands). The Estonian National Council Maapäev issued an Estonian Declaration of Independence on 23 February, 1918. It was read to the people from the balcony of the Endla Theatre in Pärnu at eight o’clock in the evening but not until next morning, Estonia was publicly proclaimed as an independent and democratic republic. It was the 24 February 2018.

There was not yet a happy ending, however. Next day, German troops entered Tallinn. The German authorities recognised neither the provisional government, nor its claim for Estonia’s independence, counting them as a self-styled group usurping sovereign rights of the German-Baltic nobility.

Imperial germany was crushed in the First World War and Estonian was free from 1920. With  the outbreak of the Second World War, Estonia was invaded first by Soviet and then by Germany and then by Soviet again, who made it a Soviet Union until 1991.

Estonia is a strange country: they sing a lot, they don’t go to church, there much more women than men (100/84) and they have 800 islands more than hitherto believed. The official number of Estonian islands now stands at 2,355 if you count islands in lakes.

This is one third more than previously believed and due to improved survey methods showing that Estonia has a total of 2,355 islands and islets, instead of the previously held 1,521.

However, only 318 of these are larger than 1 hectare, or 10,000 square meters.

Agnes Jürjens from the Land Board says improved technology allowed researchers to succesfully map small, previously unaccounted for islets and holms. “In addition, the ground has risen in northern and western Estonia, and the changing water level, as well as storms, can also alter the coastline,” she explained.

The news might come as further blow to neighboring Latvia, which has a famously low number of islands, officially at 1, and that too is man-made. Latvia did issue claims to Runö = Ruhnu at the beginning of last century, but the island, which lies closer to Latvia than Estonia, was added to Estonia in 1919.

One way to reach Estionian islands is on the ice roads used in winter. It is an unusual “fixed link” and a beautiful experience.


No plastic bags for Christmas, please!


From Tilos to Samothrace and from Alonnisos to Lipsi islands, 49 schools across the Aegean Sea took part in a campaign organised by DAFNI – the Network of Sustainable Greek Islands, in collaboration with the Hellenic Recycling Agency.

It was part of the European Week for Waste Reduction and engaged 1708 students from 28 Greek islands. Teachers together with municipality representatives handed out ecological cloth bags to students, highlighting the importance of re-use for waste reduction – plastic in particular. During the action, participants delivered presentations and discussed the need for product re-use and repair, which will help islands transition into a circular economy path.

This is a particularly important for island regions, where the intense seasonal demand for services takes a heavy toll on both infrastructures and resources, making sustainable resource and waste management an imperative for sustainable local development.

Adding Greek islands on the EWWR map of areas that are frontrunners in waste reduction and responsible resource use is meant to also underscore the potential of islands to emerge as test-beds that can host pilot projects and produce knowledge on smart and efficient resource and infrastructure management, tapping the synergies between energy, transport, water and waste.

Thank you DAFNI and let’s hope for an un-wasted, happy new 2018!

Plastic on quai

Another excellent island journal

The fifteenth issue of ID-Îles Magazine, as always well edited by researcher PhD Laura Corsi, was published late in December. It questions the social and economic changes that the islands have undergone in the last four years. Entrepreneurs filmed back in 2013 testify to their experience: the gardeners of the island of Groix managed to build their shed, the baker & grocer of the island of Sein took a coffee on the docks, and the manufacturer of weathervanes of Ushant continues his activity, but living on the continent.


Louis Brigand and Denis Bredin

After 17 minutes, we meet Denis Bredin and Louis Brigand, speaking about the tight cooperation between the University of Brest and the AIP (l’Association des îles du Ponant), the development of the islands of Brittany, how they managed to show island life is more expensive on islands ans subsequently obtain additional funding from the Region and the State, and the creation of an island product brand called ”Savoir-faire des îles du Ponant” launched in September 2017.


French island product brand site

The ID-Îles Magazine was a project 2011-2014 in cooperation between AIP and the University of Brest. It continues 2014-2018, thanks to the workshop on island entrepreneurship held on the island of Groix in October 2013 with 120 persons (one third entrepreneurs, one third local politicians and one third researchers). That workshop led to a thirteen-islands joint project coordinated by professor Louis Brigand, including ID-Îles, an internet site with all project documentation, and a monthly 26-minute television programme. You can see all the programmes here:

Groix workshops

Workshop on Groix 2013 with géographers Solenn Le Berre and Mathilde Woillez entouring President of AIP Denis Palluel, professor Louis Brigand and Councellor of Groix Claude Guiader