Skip to main content Accessibility help

Exploring ‘islandness’ and the impacts of nature conservation through the lens of wellbeing



Motivated by growing concern as to the many threats that islands face, subsequent calls for more extensive island nature conservation and recent discussion in the conservation literature about the potential for wellbeing as a useful approach to understanding how conservation affects people's lives, this paper reviews the literature in order to explore how islands and wellbeing relate and how conservation might impact that relationship. We apply a three-dimensional concept of social wellbeing to structure the discussion and illustrate the importance of understanding island–wellbeing interactions in the context of material, relational and subjective dimensions, using examples from the literature. We posit that islands and their shared characteristics of ‘islandness’ provide a useful setting in which to apply social wellbeing as a generalizable framework, which is particularly adept at illuminating the relevance of social relationships and subjective perceptions in island life – aspects that are often marginalized in more economically focused conservation impact assessments. The paper then explores in more depth the influences of island nature conservation on social wellbeing and sustainability outcomes using two case studies from the global north (UK islands) and global south (the Solomon Islands). We conclude that conservation approaches that engage with all three dimensions of wellbeing seem to be associated with success.


Corresponding author

*Correspondence: Dr Sarah Coulthard email


Hide All
Abernethy, K.E., Bodin, Ö, Olsson, P., Hilly, Z. & Schwarz, A. (2014) Two steps forward, two steps back: the role of innovation in transforming towards community-based marine resource management in Solomon Islands. Global Environmental Change 28: 309321.
Abdallah, S., Michaelson, J., Shah, S., Stoll, L. & Marks, N. (2012) The Happy Planet Index: 2012 report. New Economics Foundation [www document]. URL
Agarwala, M., Atkinson, G., Palmer Fry, B., Homewood, K., Mourato, S., Rowcliffe, J.M., Wallace, G. & Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2014) Assessing the relationship between human well-being and ecosystem services: a review of frameworks. Conservation and Society 12: 437449.
Alkire, S. (2002) Dimensions of human development. World Development 30: 181205.
Amoamo, M. (2013) Empire and erasure: a case study of Pitcairn Island. Island Studies Journal 8: 233254.
Andersen, A.B., Thilsted, S.H. & Schwarz, A.M. (2013) Food and Nutrition Security in Solomon Islands. Working Paper: AAS-2013-06. Penang, Malaysia: CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems.
Anderson, M.-L. (2003) Norfolk Island: Pacific periphery. Island 92: 4753.
Baldacchino, G. (2006) Warm versus cold water island tourism: a review of policy implications. Island Studies Journal 1: 183200.
Baldacchino, G. & Berttram, G. (2009) The beak of the finch: insights into the economic development of small economies. The Round Table 98: 141160
Bainton, N.A. (2009) Keeping the network out of view: mining, distinctions and exclusion in Melanesia. Oceania 79: 1833.
Ballu, V., Bouin, M.-N., Siméoni, P., Crawford, W.C., Calmant, S., Boré, J.-M., Kanas, T. & Pelletier, B. (2011) Comparing the role of absolute sea-level rise and vertical tectonic motions in coastal flooding, Torres Islands (Vanuatu). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108: 1301913022.
Ban, N.C., Mills, M., Tam, J., Hicks, C.C., Klain, S., Stoeckl, N., Bottrill, M.C., Levine, J., Pressey, R.L., Satterfield, T. & Chan, K. (2013) A social–ecological approach to conservation planning: embedding social considerations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 194202.
Barnett, J. & Campbell, J. (2010) Climate Change and Small Island States: Power, Knowledge, and the South Pacific. Routledge, New York, NY/London, UK: Earthscan Climate.
Briguglio, L. (1995) Small island developing states and their economic vulnerabilities. World Development 23: 16151632.
Burholt, V., Scharf, T. & Walsh, K. (2013) Imagery and imaginary of islander identity: older people and migration in Irish small-island communities. Journal of Rural Studies 31: 112.
Byron, M. (1999) The Caribbean-born population in 1990s Britain: who will return? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 25: 285301.
CBD (2016) Convention on Biological Diversity [www document]. URL
Cinner, J.E. & Aswani, S. (2007) Integrating customary management into marine conservation. Biological Conservation 140: 201216.
Cohen, P.J. & Steenbergen, D.J. (2015) Social dimensions of local fisheries co-management in the Coral Triangle. Environmental Conservation 42: 278288.
Cohen, P.J. & Alexander, T.J. (2013) Catch rates, composition and fish size from reefs managed with periodically-harvested closures. PLoS One 8: e73383.
Conkling, P. (2007) On islanders and islandness. Geographical Review 97: 191201.
Connell, J. (2013) Islands at Risk?: Environments, Economies and Contemporary Change. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Coulthard, S., Johnson, D. & McGregor, J.A. (2011) Poverty, sustainability and human wellbeing: a social wellbeing approach to the global fisheries crisis. Global Environmental Change 21: 453463.
Coulthard, S. (2012) What does the debate around social wellbeing have to offer sustainable fisheries? Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4: 358363.
Depraetere, C. (2008) The challenge of nissology – a global outlook on the world of archipelago part 2: the global and scientific vocation of nissology. Islands Studies Journal 3: 1736.
Foale, S.J. (2001) Where's our development? Landowner aspirations and environmentalist agendas in Western Solomon Islands. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 2: 4467.
Foale, S., Cohen, P., Januchowski-Hartley, S., Wenger, A. & Macintyre, M. (2011) Tenure and taboos: origins and implications for fisheries in the Pacific. Fish and Fisheries 12: 357369.
Gillis, J.R. (2014) Not continents in miniature: islands as ecotones. Island Studies Journal 9: 155166.
Gough, I. & McGregor, J.A. (eds) (2007). Wellbeing in Developing Countries: From Theory to Research. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Govan, H. (2009a) Achieving the potential of locally managed marine areas in the South Pacific. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 25: 1625.
Govan, H. (2009b) Status and Potential of Locally-managed Marine Areas in the South Pacific: Meeting Nature Conservation and Sustainable Livelihood Targets Through Wide-spread Implementation of LMMAs: World Fish Study Report [www document]. URL
Guillotreau, P, Campling, L. & Robinson, J. (2012) Vulnerability of small island fishery economies to climate and institutional changes. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4: 287291.
Gustafson, P. (2001) Roots and routes: exploring the relationship between place attachment and mobility. Environment and Behavior 33: 667686.
Hay, P. (2006) A phenomenology of islands. Island Studies Journal 1: 1942.
Hicks, C.C., Crowder, L.B., Graham, N.A., Kittinger, J.N. & Cornu, E.L. (2016) Social drivers forewarn of marine regime shifts. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 14: 252260.
Hiscock, K. & Breckels, M. (2007) Marine Biodiversity Hotspots in the UK: Their Identification and Protection. Woking, UK: WWF-UK.
Howe, C., Suich, H., Vira, B. & Mace, G.M. (2014) Creating win–wins from trade-offs? Ecosystem services for human well-being: a meta-analysis of ecosystem service trade-offs and synergies in the real world. Global Environmental Change 28: 263275.
Hviding, E. (2003) Contested rainforests, NGOs, and projects of desire in Solomon Islands. International Social Science Journal 55: 539554.
Igoe, J. & Brockington, D. (2016) Neoliberal conservation: a brief introduction. In: The Environment in Anthropology (Second Edition): A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living, eds Haenn, N., Harnish, A. & Wilk, R., pp. 324331. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Jeffery, L. (2013) We are the true guardians of the environment: human–environment relations and debates about the future of the Chagos Archipelago. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19: 300318.
Jentoft, S. (2004) Institutions in fisheries: what they are, what they do, and how they change. Marine Policy 28: 137149.
Keppel, G., Morrison, C., Watling, D., Tuiwawa, M.V. & Rounds, I.A. (2012) Conservation in tropical Pacific Island countries: why most current approaches are failing. Conservation Letters 5: 256265.
Kennedy, J.C. (2006) Island Voices: Fisheries and Community Survival in Northern Norway. Delft, The Netherlands: Eburon.
Kerr, S.A. (2005) What is small island sustainable development about? Ocean & Coastal Management 48: 503524.
Mackenzie, F. (2010) A common claim: community land ownership in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. International Journal of the Commons 4: 319344.
Malm, T. (2007) No island is an “island”: some perspectives on human ecology and development in Oceania. In: The World and the Earth System: Global Socioenvironmental Change and Sustainability since the Neolitic, Hornborg, F. & Crumley, C.L. (eds), pp. 268279. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
McCall, G. (1994) Nissology: a proposal for consideration. Journal of the Pacific Society 63: 93106.
McGillivray, M., Wim, N. & Santos-Paulino, A.U. (2010) Vulnerability, trade, financial flows and state failure in small island developing states. The Journal of Development Studies 46: 815827.
McGregor, J.A., Camfield, L. & Woodcock, A. (2009) Needs, wants and goals: wellbeing, quality of life and public policy. Applied Research in Quality of Life 4: 135154.
McGregor, J.A., Coulthard, S. & Camfield, L. (2015) Measuring What Matters – The Role of Wellbeing Methods in Development Policy and Practice. Project note for the Overseas Development Institute [www document]. URL
McNamara, K.E. & Gibson, C. (2009) We do not want to leave our land: Pacific ambassadors at the United Nations resist the category of ‘climate refugees’. Geoforum 40: 475483.
MA (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-being. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Milner-Gulland, E.J., McGregor, J.A., Agarwala, M., Atkinson, G., Bevan, P., Clements, T., Daw, T., Homewood, K., Kumpel, N., Lewis, J. & Mourato, S. (2014) Accounting for the impact of conservation on human well-Being. Conservation Biology 28: 11601166.
Mountz, A. (2015) Political geography II: islands and archipelagos. Progress in Human Geography 39: 636646.
Nisbet, E.K., Zelenski, J.M. & Murphy, S.A. (2011) Happiness is in our nature: exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies 12: 303322.
Nunn, P.D. (2004) Through a mist on the ocean: human understanding of island environments. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 95: 311325.
Nurse, L.A., McLean, R.F. & Agard, J. (2014) Small islands. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Barros, V.R., Field, C.B. & Dokken, D.J. (eds), pp. 16131654. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
OECD (2011) Social cohesion and development. In: Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World. Paris, France: OECD Publishing [www document]. URL
Okamura, J.Y. (2008). Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai'i. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Palmer Fry, B., Agarwala, M., Atkinson, G., Clements, T., Homewood, K., Mourato, S., Rowcliffe, J.M., Wallace, G. & Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2017) Monitoring local wellbeing in environmental interventions: a consideration of practical trade-offs. Oryx 51: 19.
PANG (2016) Defending Pacific Ways of Life: A Peoples Social Impact Assessment of PACER-Plus. Suva, Fiji: Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG).
Petrosillo, I., Costanza, R., Aretano, R., Zaccarelli, N. & Zurlini, G. (2013) The use of subjective indicators to assess how natural and social capital support residents’ quality of life in a small volcanic island. Ecological Indicators 24: 609620.
Pieraccini, M. & Cardwell, E (2016) Divergent perceptions of new marine protected areas: comparing legal consciousness in Scilly and Barra, UK. Ocean & Coastal Management 119: 2129.
Pitt, D. (1980) Sociology, islands and boundaries. World Development 8: 10511059.
Podgorelec, S., Gregurović, M. & Bogadi, S.K. (2015) Satisfaction with the quality of life on Croatian small islands: Zlarin, Kaprije and Žirje. Island Studies Journal 10: 91110.
Randall, J.E., Kitchen, P., Muhajarine, N., Newbold, B., Williams, A. & Wilson, K. (2014) Immigrants, islandness and perceptions of quality-of-life on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Island Studies Journal 9: 343362.
Reenberg, A., Birch-Thomsen, T., Mertz, O., Fog, B. & Christiansen, S. (2008) Adaptation of human coping strategies in a small island society in the SW pacific – 50 years of change in the coupled human–environment system on Bellona, Solomon Islands. Human Ecology 36: 807819.
Royle, S.A. (2007) Islands off the Irish coast and the “bridging effect”. In: Bridging Islands: The Impact of Fixed Links, Baldacchino, G. (ed.), pp. 207222. Charlottetown, PE: Acorn Press.
Schilling-Estes, N. (2002) On the nature of isolated and post-isolated dialects: innovation, variation and differentiation. Journal of Sociolinguistics 6: 6485.
Stiglitz, J., Sen, A.K. & Fitoussi, J.P. (2009) The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress Revisited: Reflections and Overview [www document]. URL
The Guardian (2014) Shetland may reconsider its place in Scotland after yes vote, says minister [www document]. URL
UNEP (2014a) GEO Small Island Developing States Outlook. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme.
UNEP (2014b) Statement of the Executive Secretary for the Convention on Biological Diversity Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, on the occasion of World Environment Day 5 June 2014 [www document]. URL
UN-OHRLLS, UNESCO & UN-DOALOS (2014) Report of the Expert Group Meeting on the Significance of Marine Science and Technology for SIDS: the Transfer of Marine Technology Transfer to SIDS to Support Sustainable Development, May 14–17, 2014. New York [www document]. URL
Weeratunge, N. (2012) Transforming aquatic agricultural systems towards gender equality: a five country review. Working Paper: AAS-2012-21. ICLARM-World Fish [www document]. URL
Weisler, M.I., Bolhar, R., Ma, J., St Pierre, E., Sheppard, P., Walter, R.K., Feng, Y., Zhao, J.X. & Kirch, P.V. (2016) Cook Island artifact geochemistry demonstrates spatial and temporal extent of pre-European interarchipelago voyaging in East Polynesia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 11: 81508155.
West, P. (2006) Conservation Is Our Government Now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham, NC/London, UK: Duke University Press.
White, S.C. (2010) Analysing wellbeing: a framework for development practice. Development in Practice 20: 158172.
White, S.C. & Blackmore, C. (2015) Cultures of Wellbeing: Method, Place, Policy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Woodhouse, E., Homewood, K.M., Beauchamp, E., Clements, T., McCabe, J.T., Wilkie, D. & Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2015) Guiding principles for evaluating the impacts of conservation interventions on human well-being. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 370: 20150103.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Exploring ‘islandness’ and the impacts of nature conservation through the lens of wellbeing



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.