The Great Lakes contain the largest, most diverse collection of freshwater islands in the world. Of the 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes, nearly twenty continue to host communities of people, typically a mix of year-round and seasonal residents and transient visitors.
While present-day island communities are uniquely distinct from one another in character, traditions, and geography, they share a number of complex, inter-related challenges, including: access to public services and quality education, supporting a diversified economy, and managing natural, cultural, and historical resources across public and private boundaries.
Underlying these challenges is the fact that island demographics are changing at great speed and dimension (size, age, seasonality, ownership, economic status, etc.). For these small and remote places, the relative impact of a rapidly changing society can be enormous.
These challenges are hurdles, not immovable barriers. In fact, some island communities have already independently developed their own “island solutions to island challenges.” Island communities are finding they often have more in common with one another than to their adjacent mainland. Thus, there is great value in islanders learning from other islanders about best practices that work, as well as those that don’t.
Great Lakes Island communities face unique challenges. As a result, these challenges require unique solutions. To help address island communities and their needs, a new collaboration, the Great Lakes Islands Coalition, is forming between multiple island communities with support from off-island partner organizations.
The coalition is being built off existing models of island collaboration in place elsewhere, but will be tailored to meet the unique needs of the Great Lakes region. This coalition will foster broader island-to-island coordination and dialogue, including regular sharing of tools and ideas. Participating islands will benefit from access to timely and accurate information, technical experts, and decision-makers. By coming together, island voices would be elevated and amplified, resulting in greater awareness and understanding on the mainland.
Awareness and understanding of island life is limited among many mainland decision-makers, such as governments, private organizations, and the general public. In a world driven by information, there are few, if any, programs or data sets specific to most Great Lakes islands—either individually or as a collective—by which to accurately inform management decisions and drive strategic actions related to social, economic, environmental, and other challenges.
The Great Lakes Islands Indicator project is a database of information collected for Great Lakes Island communities to capture what makes a community a good place to live, work, and play.
The first convention of Great Lakes island communities will be held on Beaver Island, Michigan, in September 2017. Representatives from all of the populated islands will be invited to attend, as well as key off-island partners from government, academia, and other sectors. Together they will help define their common needs and establish the foundation for a coalition.