Natural beauty, fragile ecosystems, and often wild and untouched surroundings: there are many reasons that private islands may come with restrictions on development that exceed those of mainland property. However, many modern eco-friendly technologies and a sensitive understanding of environmental concerns will allow for island development that adds to not only your enjoyment of the property, but will preserve your island’s character and appeal for generations to come.
Development of private islands to varying degrees is of course very common, but local ecologies are important considerations. Because of the fragile beauty and cultural significance of some islands, local indigenous populations may have a significant vested interest in their protection. The culture, religion and folklore of many aboriginal populations worldwide are deeply affected by the same beauty that draws other visitors in a more commercial context. In the South Pacific, for example, islands are the focus of divine creation myths, describing how the gods summoned the coral and rock to protect the people from the ravaging sea. And these unique properties can have a similar effect on those more accustomed to an urban way of life. “Islands can make you feel profoundly spiritual,” says Chris Krolow, CEO of Private Islands Inc. “When you’re in the middle of the wilderness on an island, you feel incredibly in tune with the natural world.”
Today, as ecological concerns generate high degrees of public attention, many enterprising individuals are recognizing the considerable profit to be made while still protecting both the ecology of islands and the local culture of their populations. Drawn to them for their character and isolation, people are finding even greater wonder in the unique species and stories that inhabit the smallest places on earth.
Chumbe Island in Tanzania is the site of both a protected reef and forest reserve, the product of many years’ campaigning to advocate its preservation. Since 1994, the island Islands and the Environment has been marked as a protected marine reserve, administered by the nonprofit island preservation group Seacology. Because of the wide variety of bird and marine life that inhabits Chumbe Island, steps were taken to ensure that marine traffic near the reef was prohibited and that development, while resulting in an innovative eco-resort, would be done in such a way as to minimize the potential “footprint”of human development. Using local materials to harvest the elements rather than drawing on potentially harmful artificial means of power generation, a balance was struck between development and meeting the environmental restrictions needed to maintain Chumbe’s ecology.
In British Columbia, Canada, a long history of aboriginal culture has permeated the forestry and real estate industry to the point that, today, new projects have been undertaken to promote the preservation of Nuu’chah’nulth culture on Vancouver Island’s western coast. While much of it is protected as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, the Long Beach area between Tofino and Ucluelet is a prime area for real estate development, including that of private islands. Frank Island, located between Cox Bay and Chesterman Beach, is one such island listed for sale. Having lived in Vancouver for more than 10 years, Private Islands Inc. Director of Operations Alexis Pappas can attest to the beauty of the region. “When you look out at the ocean from Vancouver Island’s coast and take in the sweeping views of the small forested islands, it takes your breath away. It’s easy to see why they have so much significance for the indigenous populations.”
The traditional ecological practices of one of the local tribes, the Nuu’chah’nulth, teach that “everything is one”. In short, the all-encompassing philosophy suggests that no living being, human or otherwise, is separate from the natural whole. Because of this, there is a strong need to maintain a sense of equilibrium, or balance, when creating dwellings or using the abundant natural resources found in the region. Many developers are now learning to work within these environmentally conscious guidelines, and in the process, creating amazing developments far more in sync with the majesty and beauty of the Canadian wilderness than possible in more unrestrained urban settings.
Fragile eco systems in the private islands industry, of course, all manner of development can be affected by the type of environmental restrictions imposed by the host country, although most developing nations are highly interested in foreign investment and reflect that in their policies. Depending upon the ecology, size and location of the island, as well as the intent that development may have, there may be requirements to preserve a portion of the island or limit construction for personal use, or restrict the size and capacity of proposed resorts. Technology, however, is increasingly helping developers work within these laws. Modular housing using recycled or ecologically friendly materials not only is far easier than traditional building and cuts down on costs, but reduces the impact of dwellings on the island. Power generating systems making use of natural sources like the sun, wind and water are both relatively inexpensive and cuts down on waste and the need for construction.
Latin America, one of the most attractive markets for island development, is also a part of the world whose history has shown the wisdom of more thoughtful development guidelines. European empires such as those of Spain, France and Britain maintained colonies in Central and South America that often over-exploited the rich local resources of wood, minerals and stones. Indigenous peoples also felt the effects of the Colonial period, and were in some cases restricted from using land that had been open for their use for centuries. This history has resulted in development policies that are very sensitive to the effects that over-use may have on local environments and peoples, and in the case of Costa Rica, ensures that all of the country’s beautiful beaches and waterfront be open for public use. The awakening of a social and environmental consciousness on the part of many island developers is also a strong competitive advantage in the global market. The branding and positive connotations of “eco-friendly” developments, even when required by local laws, are often highly attractive to investors, resort guests, and potential purchasers of vacation properties. With many prominent individuals including actor Leonardo DiCaprio, owner of Blackadore Caye in Belize, showing how environmentally sustainable and responsible development can benefit everyone, this earth-friendly trend is certain to continue.