Island sustainability

blog-bonaire-squareI recently had the pleasure of going to Bonaire, a tiny island about 50 miles off the northern coast of South America.  It was an entirely new experience for me, being that it was the remotest place I’d ever been.  It’s also fairly primitive, with wild goats and donkeys roaming around untethered.

I know, flying is bad.  I feel guilty every time I do, but I work hard to keep the rest of my impact down so I forgive myself the opportunities I get to see the world.  I most definitely consider each one a chance to learn more about the world and the environment.  And I was fortunate to have gotten the plane ticket free thanks to my Delta Skymiles debit cards.

There are many difficulties to living on an island of that type.  For one, electricity is very expensive.  Although it is very, very hot there due to its proximity to the equator, they don’t tend to use central air conditioning.  Instead, each bedroom has a small air conditioner.  At night, they close the bedroom doors and just cool those small spaces.  During the day, there is no A/C in the rest of the house.  Instead, the doors and windows are flung open to let the island breezes blow through.  Most all rooms have a ceiling fan as well.

Water is also at a premium.  They desalinize the water on the island, which is, I’m sure, an expensive process.  Drinking desalinized water also has a health consequence – it lacks the beneficial minerals that normal groundwater contains.  So, many island residents take supplements.

Most of the island is, unfortunately, desert, so not much grows there.  Apparently they had a hydroponics operation at one time, but it is now defunct.  I heard there are plans to get it back up and running, however.  At the moment, pretty much all fruits and vegetables are imported.

The two big corporations who are currently exploiting Bonaire are Cargill (for the salt) and PDVSA of Venezuela (for oil).  I’m OK with the salt operations, but the oil tanks were kind of disappointing to see.  The salt is largely processed naturally using sunlight and evaporation.

I noticed there was no recycling as our hostess crammed all our used bottles and cans (which I had neatly collected on the counter) in to the trash can.  I was told there was a landfill on the island, but since the island is so small, I would have thought they would recycle as much as possible.  To recycle, you need someone to buy the waste, and I guess they haven’t found anyone.  I’m not sure if it comes from the island, but one large coastal area seems to be a collection point for plastic flotsam and jetsam that washes in from the sea.  Local people even go out and make trash sculptures out of it.  I distinctly remember seeing a shoe tree among the artwork.

Fresh local fish in Bonaire

Local food consists mainly of fish, goat and chicken, all of which come from the island.  Because I’m a vegetarian for strictly environmental reasons, I indulged in some goat stew, which I’m fairly sure was from a roaming goat that was killed that week.  The fish was very fresh and tasty – a lot of Wahoo and Mahi Mahi.

Small cars on Bonaire

There were a surprising number of vehicles on the island, but most were very small – a lot were the smaller versions of the brands we know that never show up in the U.S. – tiny Kias, Chevys and even a cool Fiat.  I’m sure they all have low mileage as the island is only 114 square miles.

Trash art on the island of Bonaire

I think a good many of the local residents re-use things quite a bit.  “Things” are hard to get for those who cannot afford to fly off the island frequently.  I came across the above trove of recycled items.  The owner of this property had also painted the flags of about 50 nations on reused pieces of metal.  It was colorful and artistic, and I appreciated their sense of aesthetics.

Those in Bonaire who are on the poorer end make do with less and those are the folks living with the least impact, which is probably generally true of island sustainability.

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