Similarities between islands around the world: students discuss climate change impacts on a fieldtrip to Ameland

Written by Emma Meurs, on 16 September 2022

Small island developing states (SIDS) in the Caribbean, the Pacific and elsewhere are very different from the Dutch Wadden Islands in the North Sea. But there are similarities, too, IHE Delft students from SIDS countries and local officials concluded during a recent field trip to the island of Ameland.

The Wadden Islands, popular summer vacation destinations, and the SIDS face similar challenges, including dealing with climate change impacts, wastewater treatment, tourism and more.

After a curvy boat ride on the ferry to Ameland due to the narrow passage through the Wadden Sea caused by the extremely dry summer in the Netherlands, the group talked with Mayor Leo Pieter Stoel about the tiny island’s struggle to accommodate up to 600,000 tourists each summer while also striving to become more sustainable in terms of energy, reducing plastic waste from food and nature preservation.

IHE Delft MSc student Jean Luc Brown, a water infrastructure specialist from Jamaica, said the trip gave him insights into what life on an island on the other side of the world is like and the challenges faced there.

The issues as well as the benefits as seen in Ameland are quite similar to that of Jamaica – this assured me that as a developing nation we are, more or less on the right track
Jean-Luc Brown
MSc student in water science and engineering

The 12 students visiting Ameland met with experts working to improve island life, including council member Esther Oud, who leads the Wadden Campus, a network organization that involves students in research on Ameland’s challenges related to business development, the transition to sustainable energy and accessibility.

For PhD candidate Adele Young of Trinidad and Tobago, the visit underlined the uniqueness of islands.

I was reminded that islands are some of the most beautiful places in the world and the locals are very friendly. These things should not be taken for granted. On my island, we also rely very heavily on the ferry service between islands, so I empathise with the accessibility challenges Ameland is facing
Adele Young
PhD candidate at IHE Delft and TU Delft

Ameland’s freshwater comes via a pipeline from the mainland, but islanders wish to source their water locally and are in the middle of the process of deciding whether to renew the pipeline, Pim Hendriks, hydrologist at the Friesland Waterboard, told the visitors, whose home islands often face similar decision-making.

Another hot topic on Ameland is its ambitions to transition to sustainable energy: the island aims to be CO2 neutral in 2035, 15 years before the Netherlands’ national goal, said Benne Holwerda, communication and sustainability specialist of the municipality.

“We are planning several things at the same time to reach this goal, for instance, we are opening a second solar park and we will make use of a tidal kite, who can produce electricity from the currents the Wadden Sea are known for. The kite’s power is four times bigger than that of a windmill,” he said.

Unlike the Wadden Islands, SIDS are located in the most vulnerable places in the world and frequently experience natural disasters. Some islands even face imminent disappearance because of sea level rise. For example, a 50-centimeter sea level rise will result in Grenada losing 60 percent of its beaches, while a 1-metre rise would inundate the Maldives.

In Jamaica, rising sea levels will adversely affect beaches and coastal life, which are of great significance, Jean Luc Brown said. “Agriculture will too be faced with uncertainties as the expected increase in temperature, drought durations and rainfall and hurricane intensities will negatively affect certain crops. Islands are and will be very vulnerable when it comes to climate change and as such, methods of adaptation will be required for the future,” he said.

Another Jamaican MSc student, Keeba Smith, has ambitions to help secure her island’s water future.

My organization has been exploring the idea of desalination to secure drinking water for some sections of the island. Hopefully, after graduating from IHE Delft, I may just be the one leading this project
Keeba Smith
MSc student in Urban Water and Sanitation

IHE Delft strives to support key professionals from SIDS in developing the tools and skills they need to increase strengthen their countries’ resilience to current and future water challenges. Part of the Water and Development Partnership Programme (phase 2), funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the SIDS programme has been nurturing a Community of Practice, by inviting water professionals from SIDS to study at IHE Delft. 

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