A regional “Powering Sustainable Development” Conference took place on St. Eustatius, September 25 to 27, organised by St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation with financial aid from local and regional sponsors. The conference emphasised the urgent need for a democratic development process; a plan for sustainable tourism in Statia; wide cooperation of stakeholders to tackle multi-faceted problems of sustainable development, as well as a strong facilitating role for government without hidden agendas. Additionally, education was also deemed of great importance. In general, it was strongly felt that “this conference has created a platform to initiate discussions on the topic of sustainable development,” on Statia and in the region.
The conference, which attracted some 70 participants from many Caribbean islands, was built around a number of subthemes:
agro-tourism, sustainable development in a small community, cultural heritage, marine, terrestrial and sustainable tourism in general and alternative energy.
Development of agrotourism was seen as a major issue for Statia, but just attracting more tourism of that kind and providing rooms in farms is not enough. Local farming itself should be made economically healthy and certified for their organic produce, which it currently not the case.
However, a number of promising experiments are taking place, such as “Turning the sun into ice-cubes, and “Farming as green education for the public.” Clear roles for the Executive Council, but also for the population were indentified. “It is up to the consumer to support the local farmer.” it was stated. In her keynote address, Director General Nature and Regional Policy of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation Annemie Burger made a number of suggestions to participants with regard to sustainable issues on the local level. “Develop eco-tourism in order to show the values of biodiversity; do not make it a second Miami,” she warned.
Presentations by the Dutch town of Breda led to a number of comments, for instance about inequality in relationships between Statia and the Dutch government. Organisers had not forgotten to include cultural heritage and the arts in their view on sustainable development.
A drum workshop led to great enthusiasm among participants. It was acknowledged that marine tourism is of vital importance to the Caribbean. Therefore, strong emphasis was put on the protection of large marine areas, and on the sustainable use of marine areas for diving and fishing.
Statia also has a number of terrestrial natural resources, such as its national parks, its tangible history in buildings and infrastructure, and archaeological assets. Roaming donkeys and cows and especially hundreds of goats pose an immense threat to this heritage, also in protected areas.
A pressing issue was the question how many hotel rooms Statia could handle without compromising the delicate balance between the island’s ecological capacity and economic needs. The current number of available hotel rooms (80) was seen as a very limiting factor in the development of sustainable tourism. Many suggestions were made, including a plan for sustainable tourism, an expansion of traditional hotel capacity to 250 rooms, locally run eco-lodging facilities, and a certification system.
Further improved transport capacity to and from Statia, such as a ferry to St. Maarten and affordable flight prices, and a harbour for medium-size yachts were deemed very necessary.
Participants were against the arrival of cruise ships and against expansion of NuStar oil tank storage capacity. Alternative sources of energy were found of vihotal importance to a more sustainable society. The presentation of an Aruban resort owner yielded great admiration by participants when learning that even in its smallest details a nearly circular system of energy use, garbage processing and recycling of materials has been achieved.
The conference was closed with a reception at the office of Island Governor Gerald Berkel. Participants said they found the conference well-conducted and rich in results. Ideas surfaced to organise similar conferences on a rotation schedule between “nearby” islands such as Saba, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Nevis or Anguilla.