. . . an island, even though it is small, is not an homogeneous, discrete entity, but rather an assemblage of diverse subaerial and subaqueous ecosystems in upland, littoral, sublittoral, and outer-shelf zones; most of these, in the case of small islands, are included in the coastal zone.
Although some islands are more ‘open’ than others, all islands are bounded by the sea, and the smaller they are, the shorter the time frame for interactions between the human and natural ecosystems (and component terrestrial and marine ecosystems), especially when external forces induce change.
[From: Edward L. Towle, THE ISLAND MICROCOSM, 1985]
Island Resources Foundation was an early leader promoting the incorporation of environmental principles in island development. With support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Foundation undertook the first environmental survey of selected Caribbean islands (1973-74), reporting on key problem areas requiring special management approaches well before these issues were more generally appreciated in the region.
At the same time, the Foundation was an early advocate for the employment of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in developing islands. EIAs prepared by the Foundation in the 1970s for Caribbean infrastructure projects (including airport construction, mass transportation systems, harbor dredging, dock construction, sand mining and petroleum transport facilities) were among the first in the region.
The pace and scope of development in tropical island states, particularly in the Caribbean, increased significantly during the 1980s, discernible by both visible and subtle changes in insular landscapes. Island communities began to confront planning problems not dissimilar to those in continental areas. Nowhere was the environmental stress induced by change more evident than in the coastal zone of insular places where competing human interests interact directly with the dynamics of natural ecosystems.
Recognizing the need for improved management strategies, the Foundation begin in 1976 to carry out a series of research and resource management projects in the Caribbean that initially focused on water quality and pollution control, fisheries development, and marine resource utilization, and later on guidelines for integrated coastal area planning in the Wider Caribbean, prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1996. Additionally, for over two decades, the Foundation provided technical input for the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program of the U.S. Virgin Islands, including, in the early 1990s, preparation of management plans for 18 coastal “areas of particular concern” (APCs) as defined by the Territory’s CZM legislation.
Research coordination became an important concern of the Foundation as the organization pursued objectives that both increased accessibility to research findings and improved their applicability to resource management requirements. The goal was to define better environmental planning processes, in part by helping to create partnerships — between governments, the private sector, and island residents — to maintain environmental quality for the mutual benefit of all.