16 December 2004


Press Release

new United Nations web site on smallisland nations features Experiences


of islanders making their mark on environment issues

Stories Address Grass-Roots Issues to Be Tackled at Mauritius Conference

NEW YORK, 16 December -- The United Nations launched a special web site today on “Small Island Nations” (, which tells the stories of ordinary individuals from small islands with big dreams, who have made a difference in improving the environment in their island communities.

It is inspiring to discover Tony’s innovative work in running vehicles using coconut oil as fuel in Vanuatu; Aliferiti, who discovered traditional ways to make fisheries more sustainable in Fiji; Mark, the Guyanese minibus driver who campaigns to change perceptions of HIV/AIDS; Andrew, who strives to protect the Caribbean forests; teenagers Sade and Shurlan, who managed to make some of Trinidad’s beaches cleaner; Puerto Rican Adrianne, who cultivates the love of birds; and Mia, who develops a more environmentally-friendly style of tourism.

To a large extent, these individuals are a driving force at the grass-roots level on several of the issues that will be addressed at the upcoming United Nations conference on the future of small islands, scheduled for 10-14 January in Mauritius.  These issues include promoting renewable energy, fighting HIV/AIDS more effectively, protecting biodiversity, controlling wastes and developing fisheries, forests and tourism in more sustainable ways.

This web site on small islands, developed by the UN Works Programme, aims to highlight the voices of those people who work at the community level on small island developing states, in order to share their respective stories with other dedicated islanders and island enthusiasts worldwide.  These stories may be freely published as long as the United Nations is credited (Sending us a copy would be appreciated).  It is also possible to download high resolution photos on this site to accompany them.

Following are summaries of these exciting island stories:

-- Tony Deamer is transforming Vanuatu’s energy sources.  While Vanuatu has to import all of its diesel fuel, costing $12 million, Tony has found a way to use coconut oil as a non-toxic fuel.  Around 200 minibuses on the islands are already up and running on this eco-gas.  Coconut oil fuel is good for the environment and will increase revenues for local coconut growers, who have been hurt by fluctuating markets in the past.

-- On Fiji, Aliferiti Tawake remembers when his grandfather would take just two hours to catch enough fish to feed his 11 children.  Over the years, Tawake saw that it took his grandfather longer and longer to catch enough fish to put on the table.  At the age of 75, the grandfather died in his boat, scrounging to get enough food for his family.  Tawake’s loss inspired him to draw on Fiji’s cultural traditions and his knowledge of marine biology.  When a Fijian village chief dies, a portion of the community’s fishing ground is set aside as a No Take area (called a tabu area) as a token of respect for the chief.  Usually the tabu lasts for 100 days.  Tawake decided to lobby for it to be extended for one or two years.  Today, the clam population in these communities has increased 24 fold.  But despite his success, there are many obstacles to his dream of establishing a No Take area in every coastal community in Fiji.

-- In Guyana, which has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, minibus drivers are helping to fight HIV/AIDS and the stigma against people who are HIV-positive.  Sherlock Arminus Rose, “Mark”, a minibus driver in the capital, Georgetown, was part of the in-crowd.  Minibus drivers wear flashy clothes, have ready cash and play great music as they drive around the city.  However, Mark, like most of Georgetown’s minibus drivers, loved to gossip and unconsciously played a role in perpetuating the stigma against people who are HIV-positive.  Many drivers were afraid of close contact with anyone suspected of being HIV-positive and openly discriminated against them.  When two of Mark’s closest friends died of AIDS, his attitude towards the disease changed.  He joined an outreach project targeting minibus drivers in an effort to shift public perceptions of people with HIV/AIDS.  Today, he is a project officer for the new Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention project.

-- Andrew Simmons embodies grassroots organizing.  When he was just a teenager he saw wildlife destroyed by illegal fires and desperate poor people in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines cutting down a precious forest reserve for firewood.  He decided then and there that he wanted to make a difference.  Andrew believes that participation of people at the village level is the best way to bring about positive change in small island nations.  “Development is a process of change, a process where people should be at the centre, where they can shape their own existence”, he says.  He founded the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), which spearheads projects in 20 countries.  The network promotes his model of getting youth organizers to engage local communities by putting on plays and writing songs about problems and finding local solutions.

-- Sade Forgenie,12 and Shurlan Nedd,13 are part of a Sandwatch team that aims to reduce beach pollution levels along their country’s beautiful coastline.  The beach of Mayaro, a fishing village on the east coast of Trinidad, was not always a pretty sight.  Debris and garbage left by fishermen and locals often polluted the white sands and warm tropical waters until Sade, Shurlan and other students at the local primary school taught the community to clean up its act.  Fishermen, who in the past did not think twice about dumping leftovers from their catch on the sand have stopped much of the littering.  Because of the students’ clean-ups, the village of Mayaro has become more conscious of the need for action, while Sade and Shurlan now know that they have the power to make a difference in their community.

-- The Caribbean islands are home to some 668 bird species, 148 of which are indigenous and particularly vulnerable.  Since 2002, Adrianne Tossas has been working hard to bring the songs of these beautiful birds into the spotlight through the annual Caribbean Bird Festival, which aims to increase public awareness of the importance and value of biodiversity and conservation by giving the public an opportunity to observe and learn about unique birds in their natural habitats.  Thousands of people, including school children and their parents from 13 Caribbean countries, have joined in activities and events that include nature and bird walks, public lectures, art and handicraft exhibitions that highlight the exceptional bird life of the region.

-- Mia Persad-Douglas grew up at an oil refinery, in a gated community called Oilfields Camps on the Caribbeanisland of Trinidad, but today she helps her family run an environment-friendly resort called Footprints.  Built with recycled and recyclable materials, Footprints seeks to maintain the biological diversity and environmental integrity of the land.  That change of scenery has allowed Mia and her family to offer guests the opportunity to truly commune with nature.  The eco-resort is an example of a community initiative for sustainable tourism that attempts to protect the local culture and traditions while conserving and managing natural resources.

The UN Works Programme collaborates with public and private partners including broadcast networks, governments, and grassroots organizations to raise awareness about critical global issues.  Co-branded media outreach, original television programming, public awareness campaigns, and a web site put a human face on the work of the United Nations through the stories of ordinary people and their communities around the world.  The UN Works Programme is a part of the Educational Outreach Section in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information at the United Nations.

Press Contacts:  François Coutu, UN Department of Public Information, Development Section, tel.:  (212) 963-9495, fax:  (212) 963-1186, e-mail:  For more information on the Mauritius International Meeting on Small Island Developing States:

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For information media. Not an official record.