1st ISLANDS Conference, September 2023

1st ISLANDS Conference, September 2023

Last month, the 1st ISLANDS Conference was held at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences at University of Groningen, bringing together all ISLANDS consortium universities, University of Groningen, University of the Aegean, University of Iceland and Universidad of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 

Over two days our students presented their inspiring research, shared innovative ideas and engaged in thought-provoking discussions. From examining the complexities of urban island sprawl to uncovering the potentials of cultural ecosystem services, their diverse research gave in-depth insight into the world of islands.

In this blogpost we are sharing insights into the captivating research conducted by our students and presented at the ISLANDS conference. So, continue reading and join us on a journey through our world of islands, celebrating the future of island studies and sustainability!

We were honoured to have Johan Woltjer, Dean of the Faculty of Spatial Science at Groningen University, welcome the conference delegates. Prof. Dimitris Ballas, the conference chair, Islands MSc academic program director, and academic coordinator, also extended a warm welcome, officially commencing the conference. He introduced our esteemed guests and keynote speakers from the consortium universities.

Follow along below to learn more about the research presented at the conference.

A Spotlight on Island Litter: Using light pollution data to model littering on Fuerteventura’s Coastline, Jody Holland (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria)

During her spring semester at University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Jody Holland conducted a pilot study that explores light pollution satellite data to model human activity and its correlation with the generation of terrestrial litter in tourist-dense environments.

This study applies remote sensing techniques, and places particular focus on the coastal areas of northern Fuerteventura. The investigation introduces several hypotheses concerning the variation of litter profiles across different coastal regions, the impact of climatic conditions, and crucially, the explanatory potential of light pollution data in elucidating the characteristics of coastal litter within the study area. Data from the CapOnLitter study, collected by the Observatorio de Basura Marina (OBAM) in March 2021, is utilised, employing multidisciplinary scaling and over 90 Poisson regression models to test the proposed hypotheses. 

The findings reveal significant heterogeneity amongst coastal areas. While attempting to explain this variation, the study concludes that data limitations impede the explanatory potential of climatic conditions. Nonetheless, notable positive relationships are identified between light pollution in surrounding areas and the generation of several key litter types, such as cigarette butts. Consequently, light pollution demonstrates promising potential as a proxy for human activity in researching litter in areas where conventional population data is scarce, such as top tourist destinations.

Virtual Repeat Photography as a Research Methodology for Climate Change Studies, Yulita Muspitasari (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Iceland)

At the ISLANDS conference Yulita Muspitasari presented her research on the application of virtual repeat photography as a methodology for climate visualization and climate change studies. 

This method allows for a better deeper understanding of the environmental changes over time and from different locations. Her study centers on the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland and finds that virtual repeat photography can enhance the traditional repeat photography process by providing the exact locations and camera details that are required for repeat photography. 

On a larger scale, repeat photography has the potential to enable citizen scientists to participate in the mapping process allowing them to participate in repeat photography around Vatnajokull. In our ever-changing world, well-documented photographs become invaluable resources for current and future generations to follow and understand the transformations of our environment.

“An island inside an island”: applying spatial data for a GIS-based zoning proposal for the Terrestrial-Maritime National Park of Guguy, Gran Canaria, Spain, Rodolfo Bassani (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria)

Rodolfo’s research project focuses on developing a zoning strategy for the Terrestrial-Maritime National Park of Guguy, located in the west coast of the island. The zoning strategy he proposed during his presentation is grounded in the application of spatial analysis methods on biological, socio-economic and geographical datasets, both on the marine and terrestrial areas. With these results he aims towards a higher efficiency of the conservation measures of the terrestrial and maritime natural systems targeted for protection.  

While the research methodology inherently recognizes the need for complementary approaches in advising spatial policy, the proposed zoning plan remains harmonious with the park’s objectives, legal definitions, and the experience of the Spanish network of national parks. Rodolfo’s work is a valuable contribution to the complex task of spatial planning in this captivating area.

Mapping the Intangibles: Cultural Services of Westfjords, Iceland, Viola Angesti (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Iceland)

At the ISLANDS conference Viola Angesti presented her research on the interaction between humans and ecosystems. 

Examining the interaction between humans and ecosystems is crucial, and a deeper understanding is necessary for their sustainable coexistence. However, studies of such interactions, referred to as ecosystem services, remain limited. Instead, the intangible benefits of ecosystems are typically grouped under ‘cultural ecosystem services’ and are rarely thoroughly explored.The lack of a systematic exploration of this topic is concerning as it is crucial to understand social dynamics in conjunction with the interaction between the environment and socioeconomic benefits, particularly in the context of sustainable development and planning.

In her study, Viola has focused on the case of Westfjord, Iceland, and the ongoing policy dilemma that pits economic opportunities against ecosystem protectionism. She has conducted a systematic literature review to both understand the complexity of the topic, and designed a model for participatory data collection methods to assist the evaluation of cultural ecosystem services for future studies. 

Can Phyto toponyms be used as data sources to reconstruct the distribution of lost plant communities? The case study of the protected Old Anaga Massif, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, Seun Oladipo (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria)

Sean Oladipo conducted his research on a particular type of toponyms, namely Phytotoponyms which are place names associated with plants. Toponyms (place names) can provide historical, geographic, ethnological, and linguistic information to be used for research. Phytotoponyms specifically are a great source of biological and environmental data and very helpful for understanding the landscape and how it changes over time. 

Due to environmental and anthropological effects, there has been a loss in vegetation communities in the Anaga Massif in the past decades. In this research, Sean assesses whether using phytotoponyms as data sources can reconstruct the passed Anaga Massif. 

The research included both qualitative and quantitative data sources, including a topographic map and twenty-two empirically conducted semi-structured interviews with the locals born between 1935 and 1965. A total of 311 phytotoponyms were identified, of which 201 related to trees and shrubs were used for analysis. All Phytotoponyms were localized and georeferenced using GIS.

Amongst others, the study identified plants associated with place names, connected plant species to trees and shrubs, and identified which plant communities show erratic distribution with respect to phytotoponyms. Ecological distribution of phytotoponyms were mostly influenced by climatic factors related to rainfall. 

Phytotoponyms are a crucial tool for analyzing how vegetation changes over time! In addition to helping to restore forest ecosystems, they enable the reconstruction of changes in the landscape and the future use of land.

Mapping and Assessing Street Trees in Reykjavik, Iceland, Sarita Mahtani Williams (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Iceland)

Sarita Mahtani Williams spent the spring semester at the University of Iceland. At the conference she presented her research collaboration with the City of Reykjavik’s department of environmental planning, where she developed a methodology to evaluate and map street trees in Reykjavik’s urban core. 

Urban trees provide environmental, ecological and health benefits to society, and are increasingly important in climate change policies. Therefore, having a coherent methodology for evaluating street trees is a crucial dimension of urban planning and management. 

The developed methodology holds potential for future assessments and comprehensive street tree mapping in Reykjavik. In addition to the methodology, the research resulted in a map of street trees that shows health and hazard aspects for 300 trees. Street tree diversity was low, with 88% of assessed trees in the urban core being either poplar (Populus trichocarpa) or rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). The main hazards were pavement buckling from protruding roots and long branches in poplars, while health concerns related to leaf blackening in rowan trees, likely due to salty damage. Poplars have robust root systems, so expanding soil space is a crucial priority, especially on the commercial street of Laugavegur. 

Continuing to map and assess trees can significantly contribute to urban planning and policy dimensions related to safety, accessibility, environmental health, and urban biodiversity. Thank you Sarita for sharing your inspiring research!

Unveiling Touristification Patterns in Greek Islands: A Composite Index Approach, Kolade Otokiti (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of the Aegean)

Islands around the world are currently undergoing a process of touristification, driven by the forces of globalisation. This is a phenomenon that Kolade Victor Otokiti engaged with in his research.

The objective of this research has been to develop a composite index for assessing and monitoring touristification on the 48 islands of the south and north Aegean regions in Greece. To develop this index, indicators have been selected based on findings of an exploratory factor analysis. 

The research found distinct patterns of touristification based on the changes in rankings of the islands between the years 2012 and 2019. Some islands consistently maintain high levels of touristification, while others experience significant changes in their rankings. There are also islands with minor fluctuations in their rankings, and one island that consistently exhibits lower levels of touristification. Additionally, the study identifies two specific groups among islands with notable changes in their rankings: those experiencing emerging touristification and those facing declining touristification.

Importantly, the composite index is not only relevant to the Aegean islands, but has the potential for broader application, facilitating comparative analyses and contributing to the body of knowledge on touristification in islands worldwide.

Decoding the image of island urban sprawl: Insights from the Indonesian archipelago, Luthfi Muhamad Iqbal (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of the Aegean)

Urbanization in island cities poses a unique challenge as it involves balancing the tension between island-urban spatialities, which can manifest as either compactness or sprawl. This is a challenge that Luthfi Muhammed Iqbal has addressed through his research.   

Grounded in this research, he proposes a multidimensional spatial morphology assessment to decode urban sprawl in 15 Indonesian island cities. The assessment incorporates indicators of densities, land use composition, and settlement patterns, providing insights into the current state of urban sprawl in island cities. The findings of his study demonstrate that multiple sprawl typologies can coexist within a single island city. 

The proposed  multidimensional approach surpasses simplistic binary assessments, providing a comprehensive understanding of sprawl phenomena. The results underscore the significance of targeted strategies such as densification, land use diversification, and spatial rearrangement to address different types of sprawls. Furthermore, by considering municipal and insular levels, this study emphasizes the importance of adopting a regional-scale perspective to tackle sprawl effectively.

Language Regime of Deterrence in Lesvos, Greece, Vannak Khin (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of the Aegean)

In his research, Vannak Khin is examining the gap between the intentions of language policies meant to serve refugees and asylum seekers and the lived experiences of refugees and asylees under those policies. 

In this research, Vannak examines under what conditions policy-practice gaps emerge, how these gaps impact services for refugees, and how they align with the concept of deterrence in migration studies. The study has found that despite adequate policies for protections for refugees, in practice, neoliberalism in migration governance seeks to position language services outside the core role of the state. In parallel to a political regime of deterrence, states mobilize what can be understood as a language regime of deterrence which mitigates state responsibility, services, and care for refugees.

Parent’s Wise Home Moving – Home range analysis and resource selection for Icelandic Whimbrels, Meixu Chen (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of Iceland)

Meixu Chen presented her study on the habitat and conservation range of the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in southern Iceland. 

This research aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the habitat and conservation range, human activities that may affect their habitat, and successful conservation cases from around the world that could inform the development of a feasible conservation plan for Whimbrels

The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a migratory bird. It typically breeds in the sub-arctic from North America to Siberia and overwinters in South Africa, southern Asia and the Spanish coast, while Whimbrels breeding in North America fly to South America. Populations of Whimbrels have been declining due to habitat loss, predation pressure and disturbance. Currently, southern Iceland is an important breeding area for Whimbrels, particularly in the river plain habitats, where Whimbrels breed at much higher densities than in other habitats. 

Available tracking data suggest that Whimbrels in southern Iceland move several kilometers from their nesting sites during the breeding season, implying that they use and may rely on other habitats during the breeding season. While nesting habitats are known, habitats used far from nesting and breeding sites are completely unknown. Yet, it may be equally important to protect these habitats to maintain sustainable populations. 

Factors affecting entrepreneurial intentions among youth on islands: an empirical study in Greece, Minh Nguyen (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of the Aegean)

In her study, Minh Nguyen explores entrepreneurial intentions among young people on islands. Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in improving job opportunities, especially in countries facing high unemployment. In island communities, entrepreneurs are vital for economic development and countering depopulation by attracting and retaining young individuals. 

In the study, a survey from 129 young people on Greek islands was conducted and analysed using regression and structural equation modeling. The results from both the regression model and structural equation model indicate that risk tolerance, attitude towards entrepreneurship, self-efficacy, and gender significantly influence entrepreneurial intentions among youth.

Furthermore, while innovativeness do not have a direct impact on intentions, it exerts an indirect influence through policies and other factors. Notably, female participants demonstrated higher intention levels compared to their male counterparts, while age and education did not exhibit a significant effect on intentions. These findings contribute to understanding the role of different factors in shaping entrepreneurial intentions on islands and highlight the importance of policy interventions.

Rethinking island development pathways: the search for a new meaning of ‘island sustainability’ in Astypalea, Gabriel Araujo Njaim (ISLANDS student – University of Groningen & University of the Aegean)

Through his research focusing on the island of Astypalea, Gabriel Araujo Njaim he has searched for a new meaning of ‘island sustainability.

Processes of globalization and neoliberal governance, multi-layered as they are, permeate the borders of islands to varying degrees. Delving into the common development pathways currently undertaken by islands, and drawing on the case of Astypalea, Gabriel has critically addressed the idea of island sustainability. This Greek island currently stands at a crossroads, representing divergent paradigms and conflicting notions of development.Amidst tourism-driven development and prominent sustainability initiatives,  this research inquired into islanders’ own wishes and perceptions of sustainability. 

The study found that local islanders lean toward holistic sustainable development aligned with Astypalea’s sociocultural and environmental characteristics. The residents offer rich narratives rooted on appreciated dimensions of space, time and conviviality strongly associated with the condition of islandness and other existences of Southern thought in the Mediterranean.

We also had the pleasure of welcoming the esteemed keynote speakers, who gave thought-provoking insights into the study of islands. Prof. Thanasis Kizos from the University of the Aegean, who delivered an inspiring keynote on ‘Islands, Islandness, and Islanders: Sustainability and Accessibility for/on islands.’ Prof. Rodrigo Riera from Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, who shared profound insights on ‘Overcrowded Islands, problems, perturbations, and Challenges: the case of the Canary Islands.’ Dr. Joana Vasconcelos from Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, who presented her captivating research on ‘The primary sector in touristic islands: the case of artisanal fisheries in Madeira.’

On behalf of the conference chair and Islands MSc academic programme director and academic coordinator Prof. Dimitris Ballas and the local organising committee including Reinier Schoep (ISLANDS administrative coordinator and study advisor) and Sissal Dahl (Junior Researcher in Faculty of Spatial Sciences – University of Groningen), we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our esteemed keynote speakers. Our thanks also extend to our colleagues from the University of Iceland, Prof. Anna Karlsdottir and Marissa Sigrún Pinal, who joined the conference and chaired sessions. We would also like to warmly thank Prof Johan Woltjer, Dean of the Faculty of Spatial Sciences – University of Groningen for opening the conference and everyone else at the University of Groningen Faculty of Spatial Sciences who made this 1st ISLANDS conference possible!

To everyone who attended, thank you for being a part of this 1st ISLANDS conference and for enriching the event with your engaging questions and discussions. We are looking forward to next year’s ISLANDS conference!