INTRODUCTION TO SIDS
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were first recognised as a distinct group of developing countries at the UN Conference of Environment and Development in June 1992. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists 52 SIDS, including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Bahrain, Mauritius and Seychelles. SIDS are described as low-lying coastal countries that tend to share similar sustainable development challenges including limited resources, small populations, susceptibility to natural disasters, remoteness, vulnerability to external shocks and fragile natural environments. Tourism continues to be a catalyst for development in some SIDS, however if not properly planned or managed, tourism could significantly degrade the environment on which these SIDS are so dependant. SIDS growth and development can be held back by disproportionately expensive public administration, little to no opportunity to create economies of scale, and high energy, transportation and communication costs. The extent of these problems can cause significant ‘brain drain’ as people migrate to countries that can provide them with greater opportunity for safety, sustainability and prosperity.
HOW CAN STRUGGLING SIDS BECOME SAFE, SUSTAINABLE and PROSPEROUS?
The West India Committee believes the answer may lie in national parks. SIDS are renowned for their species diversity and endemism, as reflected in the fact that 90 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity is found in the 14 UK Overseas Territories, many of which can be classified as SIDS. However, SIDS biodiversity is amongst the most threatened in the world, with natural disasters, global warming and human activity presenting constant problems. Opportunities in education, training, and employment may arise for the people of a SIDS from the designation of the island (or at least part of it) as a globally recognised national park. This statement is based upon conclusions reached from a recent West India Committee investigation conducted in Scotland and England, as well as ongoing research of national parks around the world. The central object of the West India Committee research reflects that of the charity itself, namely to increase the general welfare of the peoples of the Caribbean, by using conservation, protection and management of the unique habitats, environments and ecosystems of SIDS as the platform for economic diversification, thereby extending its significance beyond that of ecological research and protection. Tourism may continue to be an important part of SIDS, but in order to become sustainable and environmentally viable, it should be integrated within the existing cultural and environmental constraints and opportunities present in SIDS. SIDS should therefore plan the development of tourism in relation to compatible land uses, water management, coastal zone management and the development of parks and protected areas.
The designation of a national park could facilitate the identification and development of facilities to meet specific niche markets, particularly ecotourism, dark-sky tourism, nature and cultural tourism, and could involve local populations in the identification and management of these natural protected areas of biodiversity. These views on SIDS tourism are echoed by the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing Nations (OHRLLS).
There are countless examples through-out the world of national park designations that have led to positive outcomes for both mankind and the natural environment. New employment based on the skill sets of local people could be created in the environmental and cultural management of a national park, with blended education and training stemming the brain drain that undermines population stability and growth. Related small- to medium-size enterprise and inward investment are also likely to arise, bolstered by the globally recognised national park brand. The Cairngorms National Park brand in northern Scotland has provided a distinct marketing advantage for local enterprises that use the brand, with over 78 local businesses benefitting as Brand Charter holders. According to a 2013 report on ‘Valuing the English National Parks,’ it was noted that there are 22,500 businesses located in 10 English national parks. The report states that “national parks indicated that over 50 per cent of businesses surveyed felt that their business was directly or indirectly dependant on a high-quality landscape and environment, and positively impacted by the National Park designation, with this figure rising for tourism-related businesses.”
Niche areas such as adventure and dark-sky tourism are especially well suited to the national park model. In the US, a recent study found that national park visitors contributed US$26.5 billion to the US economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013. In Dartmoor national park, England, the designation of the area as a national park has attracted over £100 million per year to the local economy and supports nearly 2,000 full-time jobs, while tourism is worth almost £200 million per year and supports 2,090 jobs within the national park boundary. The Cairngorms National Park Authority in Scotland see their brand as being a significant attraction for tourists, contributing to their 1.4 million visitors per year to an otherwise remote and economically depressed part of Scotland.
The 2013 report on ‘Valuing the English National Parks’ states that “there is no evidence to suggest that businesses in national parks are suffering from undue planning restrictions compared to elsewhere, with a significant majority of planning applications in national parks being approved by National Park Authorities (89 per cent compared to 87 per cent for England as a whole).” International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Category V National Parks have successfully accommodated the needs of the local population and the environment. This category of national park is suitable for much of Europe, where the existing farming, woodland and other economic activities are well established. Category V National Parks are intentionally flexible, enabling them to accommodate both new development such as sustainable recreation and tourism infrastructures whilst at the same time maintaining local agriculture, forestry and commerce in a manner that continues to sustain valued biodiversity. Throughout, private and commercial property ownership and interests appear fully respected.
LOCAL POPULATION BENEFITS
Education, training and employment in the fields of park rangers, cataloguers, tour guides, management, administration, marketing, eco-construction personnel, planners and geographical information systems officers, together with a ready market for small- to medium-size enterprise in related goods and services could benefit SIDS immensely, offering a means of sustaining potentially dwindling populations by diversifying and stimulating local economies. The University of the Highlands and Islands offers courses well suited to national park professions, such as ‘Adventure Tourism Management,’ ‘Craft Design in Business,’ ‘Sustainable Forest Management, ‘Environmental Science,’ ‘Ecotourism,’ and ‘Sustainable Mountain Development.’
SIDS NATIONAL PARK CASE STUDY: MAURITIUS
The Mauritius government is currently implementing a number of strategies to ensure that biodiversity is managed in a sustainable manner. These include the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2006-2015) and the Islets National Park Strategic Plan (2004) for 16 offshore islets. The Closed Reserves are strictly for the purpose of conservation and protection of native biodiversity and access is restricted to authorised personnel for the purposes of monitoring, enforcement and restriction of native habitat. The Open Reserves are, however, multipurpose, with an array of permitted activities, ranging from protection, conservation, research, ecotourism, education, public awareness and recreation. Moreover, the Mauritius government is implementing the Protected Areas Network project to manage the protected areas in collaboration with the private landowners.