Island Nations Invest in Sustainable Solutions to Address Climate Change, Other Threats

coral reef
Healthy coral reefs provide habitat for fish and erosion protection for shores.

Around the world, small island nations whose existence is threatened by climate change and other environmental dangers are pioneering innovative technologies to both help the environment and foster economic growth. At the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) meetings last week in New York, participants discussed a variety of environmentally friendly technologies that island nations can use to develop their economies in more sustainable ways—from tidal energy and sea cucumber harvesting to new methods to revive coral reefs.

Thomas Goreau with the coral-growing company Biorock stressed the importance of bolstering struggling coral reefs, which are dying in many areas because of global warming, pollution, and other human impacts. Reefs are valuable not only because they attract fish and tourists, Goreau noted, but because they protect shores from erosion and the impacts of strong waves. He described how his company is promoting the use of underwater steel structures that, when charged with an electric current, can help coral communities grow at 3 to 5 times the natural rate. Tests using the swimmer-safe structures show that the resulting corals can survive in water temperatures 16 to 50 times higher than in surrounding reefs, providing a possible solution for coral survival in warming oceans, Goreau explained.

While Goreau and his team have used solar panels in the past to generate electricity for their reef-growing structures, they are currently developing systems that rely on tidal energy. Tidal power is more predictable than solar and wind power, less environmentally damaging than hydroelectric dams, and widely applicable, according to Roger Bason, president of Natural Currents Energy Services, who also spoke at the CSD event. Tidal energy expert Scott Anderson noted that 80 to 90 percent of the equipment needed to assess and harvest tidal power can be built using low-cost, low technology resources, making it affordable for poorer island nations.


Other innovations for small island nations discussed at the CSD included a business plan based on cooperative ownership of sustainably harvested sea cucumbers; a low-cost shelling machine to significantly reduce the labor required for preparing nuts, a major source of protein; and a process for converting sewage into energy, fertilizer, and clean water.



This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.