Islands as Laboratories for Sustainability (ISLAs) Summer/Winter School

Islands as Laboratories for Sustainability (ISLAs) Summer/Winter School

Methodologically and scientifically, islands serve as ideal ‘laboratories’ for examining the intricate interplay of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Moreover, their often geographically isolated nature magnifies the importance of factors contributing to both vulnerability and resilience. The ISLAs Summer/Winter School series combines different perspectives and approaches to these complex processes of sustainability on islands. The objective is to provide participants with a unique blend of academic insights and real-world exploration, enabling a nuanced understandings of the sustainability challenges and possibilities island face.

The ISLAs Summer/Winter School series is organised by the international Erasmus Mundus Research Master Islands and Sustainability (ISLANDS) and the University of Groningen. Each year, ISLAs collaborates with an island-based university, where the school also takes place. This gives the participants an immersive island experience, as well as a learning environment of cutting-edge, island-specific expertise from scholars engaged in various relevant fields and topics. In 2022, ISLAs was co-organised by the University of the Aegean, and took place on Lesvos, Greece. In 2023, Gran Canaria, Spain, served as the island case, co-organised by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 

This year, ISLAs is collaborating with the Winter School series Small Island Planning, organised by Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) and Bali Tourism Polytechnic (PPB), as well as with Universiti Sains Malaysia and The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The Summer/Winter School will take place online on June 13th and 14th, and in person in Bali, Indonesia, from June 18th to 22nd 2024. This year, the theme of the Summer/Winter school is quality of life and happiness on islands, where we will delve into challenges and facilitators of cultural, economic, and social wellbeing, environmental and urban planning, tourism, and happiness – with Bali as the highly relevant island case. 

You can learn more and apply for participating in ISLAs 2024 via this link:

Continue reading to learn more about the last two ISLAs Summer/Winter schools! 

ISLAs 2022 – Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece

The very first ISLAs Summer/Winter school took place online in 2021 due to covid-19 restrictions. However, in May 2022, the first in-person ISLAs school was held in Lesvos, Greece, and organised in collaboration with the University of the Aegean. Hence, the real-world case of the summer school was the beautiful Mediterranean island of Lesvos, home to what is known as Aristotle’s lagoon, and described as the birthplace of the science of biology. It is an island well-known for its unique biodiversity, a petrified forest, and many scenic landscapes reflecting in its UNESCO Geopark status. The island has also long been a popular tourism (and eco-tourism) destination. More recently, it has been at the centre of global media attention as the crossing land of refugees’ flight to safety and key gateway to Europe. Consequently, the primary inquiry of the summer school revolved around the following question: How can sustainable development be achieved amidst starkly different island dynamics?

Participants of over 10 different nationalities came together to explore this question. They were greeted by scholars and professionals with diverse academic backgrounds from a variety of institutions, including the University of Iceland, Northumbria University, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Uppsala University, Technical University of Crete, and the Office of displaced designers.

The pictures below are a sample of the lectures given during the school. Amongst others, these lectures covered the refugee crisis on Lesvos with Prof. Dimitris Ballas (University of Groningen) and Shareen Elnaschie (The Office of Displaced Designers); why we should study islands with Prof. Thanasis Kizos (University of the Aegean); coastal ecosystems by Prof. Ricardo Haroun (University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) and dr. Rodrigo Riera (University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria); energy communities, democracy and co-creation with Prof. Theocharis Tsoutsos (TU Crete), Prof. Stefan Ivanell (Uppsala University) and dr. Heracles Poatidis (Uppsala University); and network analysis for stakeholder engagement with dr. Christina Prell (University of Groningen).

Although the week was packed with interesting and though-provoking lectures and seminars, there was also time for an excursion to the Petrified Forest! Furthermore, the discussions extended beyond the university setting, transitioning to informal gatherings over food and drinks.

ISLAs 2023 – Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands (Spain)

Last year, ISLAs took place in February in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria, Spain. It was organised in collaboration with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and the University Institute for Research in Sustainable Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (ECO-AQUA). The school was enriched by scholars with a broad scientific background, as well as participants from diverse nationalities including the United Kingdom, France, Peru, Nigeria, Brazil, and Spain. Together, their wide-ranging insights and experiences contributed to vibrant and engaging discussions throughout. 

Gran Canaria, situated at the heart of the Canarian archipelago, resembles a miniature continent boasting a variety of unique landscapes within the diverse archipelago. This has led UNESCO to award the island the Biosphere Reserve label, to actively support the conservation of the mosaic of ecosystems that define this microcosm. Nearly half the island’s geographical space has been included in this reserve, comprising six rural communities linked to traditional activities. This also underscores the significance of Gran Canaria as a case study for examining the complexities of sustainable development on islands.

A variety of topics were covered during the week in Las Palmas. For example, one issue presented and discussed, highly relevant for Gran Canaria with its high population density, is the disturbances that occur in the coastal environment. The challenges of managing conservation and preserving the species that form island ecosystems was also a key topic. Moreover, the importance of international collaboration to ensure sustainable development on islands in the current globalised economy and social system was extensively discussed.

In addition to lectures and interactive seminars, participants collaborated in teams to explore aspects of island sustainability. They developed ideas with practical applications specifically tailored to the context of Gran Canaria. However, the school also moved beyond the academic learning environment with an excursion across the island to Pasito Blanco in the south exploring the diverse geography of the island.

Join us in 2024 in Bali, Indonesia! Applications are open now: