By Suzanne Maxx ©
The Pacific Island Region seemed to call, and last year I went on an adventure to the islands of Fiji and Samoa. In the past, we had looked for a location in the United States where our non-profit organization 501 (C) (3) World Team Now (WTN) could go a step beyond Sustainability and demonstrate a renewable future. The answer to the search came with an invitation from a representative of the Fiji Government to visit the islands of Fiji.
World Team Now’s goal was to apply the experience of our Orangetown Green Microgrid entry in the New York Microgrid Prize and share the perspective gained from working on renewable energy and other related systems. World Team Now had previously succeeded with small alternative energy projects in our home state of California, such as helping the City of Malibu install Electric Vehicle Chargers in our EV Charging Campaign. In New York (where WTN is also registered), we did a net metering initiative that helped solar owners in Lake Placid, NY, finally get the right meters to profit from their solar installations. We were ready to do more.
I was on assignment for Environment News Service to keep on writing about Small Island Developing States, (SIDS, the UN acronym) and continued to do so while on this journey by writing about Eco Resorts in Fiji (click here to read articles).
Some colleagues referred to my experience in simultaneously seeking an island location for our World Team project as Dating Geography. What I discovered on this journey was surprising, and unexpected— and shocking that it took a year to assimilate. There are few words for the events that continued in this time of transformation.
Fiji and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) may end up leapfrogging the developed nations and become the model for a sustainable future to benefit us all. In this region, ecology and economy can grow to scale and this new development may more appropriately be called Large Ocean Island States (LOIS) in the future.
Blending the two words ecology and economy, the Small Island Republic of Fiji has leading Eco Resorts that stretch beyond the imagination. These Fijian Eco Resorts are leading with an Eco prowess formula for sustainability, and it is not just for the tourists’ benefit, or for profit, but for the benefit of all who live there as well.
Fiji is one of the few naturally pristine island chains left in the world. Located in the Pacific Island Region, Fiji is one of the rare places that still has beautiful coral reefs, flora, and fauna, along with a crystal clear view of stars and starfish alike from the more than 333 Small Islands that make up the Republic of Fiji. Recently, Fiji ranked at the top of Google’s search engine after Fiji’s 7’s won the Olympic Gold in Rugby, but surprisingly Fiji is also searched for happiness and world peace.
On the world stage, The Republic of Fiji has moved into global leadership and action, not just by their first local team win in Rugby at the Olympics, but also because, in UN terms, Fiji represents leadership action globally.
Fiji was the first United Nations (UN) member to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. His Excellency, Peter Thomson of Fiji, led the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for the year through September 2017. His UNGA leadership was a historical first for an island state, with many successes.
As the President of the 71st General Assembly, Peter Thomson held a High-Level Event, titled “Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda,” in collaboration with the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). So many UN Member States wanted to participate that another day had to be added to the one-day event. On May 18, 2017, H.E. Peter Thomson facilitated the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on financing the SDGs’ future. Along with Sweden, Fiji organized the UN-Ocean Conference in New York, June 5–10, 2017. World Team registered the UN Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Sustainable Solutions Ocean Opportunities on the Small Island States (SOS-IS) at the Ocean Conference. H.E. Thomson followed up the Ocean Conference with multi-stakeholder partners conference call on the Mangroves which we joined for the status update coming into his new role continuing with work for the Ocean. Watch the closing of the UNGA with the summary of H.E. Thomson’s accomplishments.
Fiji hosts the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCC’s COP23 from November 6–17, 2017 in Bonn, Germany (being held in Bonn, due to Fiji’s lack of capacity to host more than 20,000 guests in any one island area venue).
With a relatively new Constitution to govern the Republic, Fiji is in the process of petitioning to join the UN Council for Human Rights in 2018.
Of all the treasures Fiji boasts, the most valuable may be the welcoming character and loving (Bula) nature of the native people and their culture. Even industry, Fiji Airlines, for example, welcomes all in a BIG way.
The native culture’s hospitality yields care— coming from an organic, authentic lifestyle that lives close to nature and is intimate with the ocean. Like most island republics, the intimacy and relationship to the ocean are core and, like the breath inhales/exhales, ebbs and flows, the resources of fishing, eco-tourism, flora, and fauna provide what is needed for the people and the planet.
Yet, with the sea level rising, the increased frequency and scope of storms, ocean acidification, pollution, and climate change are all becoming intensified threats to the thriving natural existence of this paradise found. The region is highly susceptible to climate change— hit in 2016 with the record-breaking category 5 cyclone Winston, Fiji knows the ramifications of Climate Change. Living with and on the ocean becomes more challenging to the Fijian traditional way of organizing island life, and sustainable development becomes a necessity going forward. All these elements together make the Small Island Developing States more vulnerable.
This vulnerability of the Pacific Island Region is, however, becoming a leadership strength. They recognize that economy and ecology go hand in hand, and have prioritized sustainability in their development process that could set an example, and not just for island nations. The islands are fragile and vulnerable, yet because of their size and present state of development, they have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate true and lasting sustainability. The lessons learned from the industrially developed world, choosing to sacrifice living with the intimacy of nature in favor of profit, the Fijian sustainable development model is striving for a better balance.
This is a win/win for ecology and economy considering the future generation’s lives, and in terms of people, biodiversity, and our common home. Even within the rural locations in the developed world, the investment in antiquated infrastructure and a primary fossil-fuel-based electrical grid make the transition to renewable energy more expensive, slower, and harder, keeping the profits in the hands of the privileged and benefiting few. Fortunately, in the Small Island States, the policy, and regulatory structures are not now obstacles in the same way.
Since many small islands have been without water and electricity, it is both economically and ecologically beneficial to start with renewable energy systems. Fiji has embraced the changing times, planning for and allowing Climate Change refugees from neighboring islands in the Pacific Island Region, such as Kiribati, to arrive, and is welcoming them and other island natives to Fiji as their home.
Eco Resorts and Tourism’s business model seem to create a win-win-win for all— foreigners get to enjoy nature’s best in a peaceful, rich environment with cultural diversity. Natives benefit from the jobs created locally, and the economic and tax benefits for the republic end up building a more sustainable future.
From Nadi, a seaplane will take you to Turtle Island, a pioneering romantic honeymoon Eco Resort, developed initially for couples. Many of Turtle Islands Eco-design systems can be seen from the Turtle Airways seaplane.
For small islands that have been without water and electricity, resorts like Turtle Island have found renewable energy systems to be sustainable.
Turtle Island Resort is one of the leaders in renewable energy systems and living by cradle-to-cradle principles— much more than a desalination resort, it is a paradise found in sustainability.
The 500-acre island is kept in line with nature preservation as they move towards their net-zero island goal for renewable energy. The solar farm that primarily powered The Turtle Island Resort at the time of my stay was 1.2 megawatts of solar energy with battery storage.
Upon arrival at Turtle Island, you are carried from the seaplane to the shore by natives serenading with a local song, and it seems the whole island’s population joyously celebrates your arrival like a holiday. The heartwarming welcome, Bula, exclaimed by natives who live and work on the island, brings on a feeling of home in its purest sense because love is present and freely offered and everything is set up for you and your partner’s comfortable participation in sharing island life.
Water is harvested from the natural environment, with both rainwater (catchment) and seawater taking the salt out of the sea (desalination), to make fresh water. The fresh water is collected in a reservoir and stored in water tanks. It is not just the beauty of the famous surrounding Blue Lagoon shores, it is also the way they work with and use water— beauty from what is put within and all around at this Eco-luxury Resort.
Turtle Island is the brainchild of Richard Evanson, and now his son Richard Evanson Junior (Jr) who continues to expand and implement the vision of this island to preserve the natural habitat and enhance the natural beauty of the island, prioritizing sustainability. They have preserved wildlife by bringing in species and creating the breeding ground for these species to thrive, like, for instance, the colorful wild collection of tropical birds in flocks that include parrots, cockatoos, and parakeets.
According to Richard Jr., who continues the family legacy of Turtle Island, “The Island boasts guava, papaya, passion fruit, soursop, and coconut trees, with more than 900,000 thousand trees planted,” since his father Richard Sr. envisioned Turtle Island.
Jr. explained, “Dad strategically planted 60–75 thousand Mahogany trees, not only to preserve the land and prevent devastation by being organic, natural fire-damage prevention, but also to increase the land value… the trees support ecological biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, create windbreaks, and help the reforestation of indigenous forests.” Their family’s philosophy, explained Richard Jr, is that “Decisions and developments must make financial sense, have environmental integrity, benefit the local people, and celebrate the heritage and culture of a place.”
The Kava ceremony and native traditional dance and songs augment the heartfelt sharing with staff and island entertainment in the evenings.
In every breath at Turtle Island, there is the opportunity for intimacy, not only with your partner, but with the orchids, the birds, and the ocean. Whether you want to kayak or do stand-up paddle boarding into the sunset, dive or snorkel, meditate on the colorful patterns of the fish you swim with, or go for a horseback ride, all are captivating ways to relate romantically to the island and ocean and one another.
Intimacy on Turtle Island is prioritized to have all honeymoon expectations met, catering to personal desires, like, for example, just for you and your loved one, your own special menu for private dining on your own floating table while watching the sunset on the ocean, or dining under the stars.
Or the option to create your own private beach excursion and picnic meals. Food Director and world-renowned chef, Jacques Reymond use wild-caught, fresh seafood right out of the ocean to create culinary art which feeds all the senses. Think Pacific green lobster, snapper, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and prawns, integrated with fresh home-grown vegetables, coconuts from the trees, all combined together for culinary masterpieces, or look at the cuisine here. Each person’s dietary needs can be met, or custom made to the activity and the adventure or environment of the moment. It is more than the body that is fed, and the community-style meals bond hearts, with all else that is needed provided for in your Bure.
The 14 handcrafted native Bures are mostly constructed and carved from island-grown hardwoods. The Bures have an authentic Fijian design and are equipped with all the ideal creature comforts. In addition to having double showers, and bathrooms, tranquility reigns with the deck’s day bed by the ocean and the beachside hammock under the palm trees. The pristine pure scent of the tropical flowers, mixed with the salty ocean spray is intoxicating. The ocean and its bathwater temperature make each private Bure’s large sunken Jacuzzi just another version of the play in a warm water paradise.
There is a full-service Spa on the island— Vonu Spa’s four hands, two masseurs for one body, Lomi Lomi massage experience, with all-natural Pure Fiji, is to live for. Turtle Island is an exclusive paradise, with the perfect amount of luxury and openness to what is natural. Activities are optional, flexible, and can be tailored to your need, and they range from learning the Fijian language to native culinary delights, or Zen and the Art of Opening Coconuts.
Turtle Island not only looks like a turtle but is also a breeding and nesting ground for sea turtles, where turtles come onshore to lay their eggs at night. Turtle Island’s conservation program is in partnership with World Wildlife Fund, and you can learn more about their Sea Turtle Program here.
Paradise Found comes with also facing the reality of duality— nothing in form is perfect, or rather perfection lies in embracing imperfection, as well as the constant aspect of change. This includes the paradise found on Turtle Island Resort too. It is indeed the will to keep doing better, growing and improving that counts. Willingness to change is a quality that World Team Now embraces, as we have learned this makes for the extraordinary and is a key to the transformation of an island. Solutions that we suggested seemed welcomed in the intimacy of Turtle Island. It was a joy to see Monica Laurence, the niece of Richard Sr., embrace the suggestion to have the Farm to Table fresh home-grown food be Organic or even Bio. This happened because I had met a Fijian woman, Vitila Vuniwaqa of Vee’s Farm, with deep roots and contacts in the organic farm community, and introduced her to Monica. By now Turtle Island could be well on their way to being Organic Farm to Table. And we hope that, in the process, they have found a plant-based solution to approaching insects.
When the solar energy scales up further, and perhaps when hydrogen and other storage and energy sources we discussed are added, Turtle Island will reach the 100% renewable goal, operating 100% of the time. I had an island tour in one of the electric golf carts, which was one of the first alternative vehicles used on the island. With other alternative vehicles suggested, like electric and hydrogen fuel cell, cars, trucks, and trackers, all could be further integrated into the island’s transportation modes. Once these become economical to import, islanders will ultimately no longer need the diesel gas used; meanwhile, we discussed the possibility of biodiesel down the road. Fossil Fuel freedom is on the horizon for these islands that have developed by being in tune with nature.
It seems the goal of everyone on Turtle Island is to make each and every person feel like family and attend to their every need with a genuine kindness, not because it is their job, but because this is who the Fijian people are— happy, so they want to spread what makes them feel good. A family member died during my stay, and the support and kindness extended to me by the locals and the Evanson family made it possible for me to go forward there. Monica Laurence has carried the Turtle Island bond forward into future generations with Turtle Talks (watch here).
Turtle Island’s Bula spirit gives back to the communities and supports the education of islanders and some special programs that include island rugby. Turtle Island’s motto is “Ask for anything” within the sustainable resort experience. Turtle Island prioritizes a balance between the environment and culture, with the emphasis on couples, family legacy, and the willingness to give back to local communities with programs from rugby to education.
Turtle Island, Fiji ‘s legacy is true, Once Discovered Never Forgotten, see more from the fabulous new website here.
Eco Island Adventure To Be Continued…
Summary of World Team Follows as Fiji Leads in the Pacific Island Region Posts