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2797Pitcairn: Some lessons for Tristan

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  • Bob Conrich
    Jul 11, 2014
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      A reader (thank you, James) has submitted an interesting Wall Street Journal
      article about the future of the Pitcairn community. Articles on this Yahoo
      Group should relate directly to Tristan in some way, or else we may soon be
      debating Middle East wars or human rights in The Gambia. But some of the
      economic problems in this Pitcairn article are rather similar to those in
      Tristan, and tell us how vital the lobster fishery and a functional harbour
      are to the sustainability of the Tristan community.

      WSJ articles are not available online to non-subscribers, and posting the
      article would be a violation of their copyright. I will summarise the
      relevant points below. My added comments are in [brackets].


      Robert S. Conrich, ACIArb
      Box 666
      British West Indies bob@...

      Excerpts from:
      South Pacific Island of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' Fame Running Out of People
      By Daniel Stacey
      July 8, 2014

      Only 49 people live on the remote Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, including just one woman of
      childbearing age. [As in Tristan, all the people live on one of the islands.]

      Pitcairn residents battled for generations to establish and sustain their tightknit community, which
      traces its roots to the 18th-century mutiny on the HMS Bounty.

      But with only 49 inhabitants left, many past retirement age, the British Overseas Territory is
      facing extinction.

      Island leaders have scaled back their immigration ambitions even though no one moved there at all
      last year.

      "People here are very xenophobic, and have been for two centuries," said Kari Young.

      Pitcairn's remoteness, 3,300 miles east of New Zealand, has shielded it from much outside
      interference, but is increasingly proving a handicap as the aging population requires more access to
      health care.

      [Or perhaps DFID is blaming remoteness for its failure to fund adequate health care.]

      Population peaked at more than 200 in the 1930s, then gradually declined to around 50 in the 1980s,
      where it had more or less stabilized.

      But today, children are scarce and there is only one woman of childbearing age still living there.
      Even keeping the lights on may become tougher as the one qualified electrician is soon to retire.

      About 10 men are still fit enough to help winch and operate the long boats that ferry in supplies,
      but the ramshackle harbor needs to be upgraded to encourage more tourists, especially from passing
      cruise ships.

      [Have we heard potential tourists saying "We decided to go to Brighton this year because Pitcairn
      has a ramshackle harbour"?]

      "Pitcairn is too isolated and it will never pay its own way," said a consultant. [Pitcairn is not
      in the wrong place. It is where it is, and its value is not defined by estate agents. Bob]

      The island relies on aid from the U.K.—5.5 million New Zealand dollars ($4.7 million) in 2013—for
      95% of its revenue. But the U.K. government now fears life there won't be sustainable in 15 to 25
      years unless Pitcairn opens itself up to immigration. [Life is easily sustainable there. It's the
      economy that's the problem. And HMG's misleading terminology.]

      Some residents are finding that hard to swallow.

      "Pitcairn Islanders are very hospitable people," said Meralda Warren, an artist who lives in
      Adamstown, the island's one settlement. But, she added, they "don't need to become open to migrants."

      Efforts to attract Pitcairn's diaspora home have largely come to nothing, partly due to the lack of
      jobs. [There are millions of economically sustainable pensioners who are not looking for "jobs".
      There must be other problems.]

      The allure also was dulled by a sex-abuse scandal in 2004. Several Pitcairn men were convicted of
      charges relating to the sexual assault of young women and jailed. [That I leave this as part of
      this article is not intended to imply that Tristan has a similar problem.]

      A U.K.-funded survey of Pitcairn diaspora found that of the 33 respondents, only three signaled an
      interest in returning. Many said they were ashamed of their heritage because of the scandal, and
      that they no longer publicly identified themselves as "Pitkerners".

      The island council passed an action plan in 2012 targeting a 60% increase in the population by 2016.

      A revision last year called only for maintaining the existing population. So far, they are off
      target. Despite more than 550 inquiries on the island government's website, no formal applications
      from potential immigrants have come in.

      The island use to get by on stamp sales but those collapsed in the 1990s and demand for
      commemorative coins dipped.

      A proposal from the U.S.-based Pew Charitable Trusts to turn a stretch of ocean near Pitcairn into
      one of the world's biggest marine parks could boost tourist numbers. But the project needs U.K.
      funding, which so far hasn't been forthcoming.

      [The Environmental Audit Select Committee has spoken strongly in favour of an HMG-funded Marine
      Protected Area. This seems like a good thing, but MPAs don't of themselves attract tourists.]

      Other plans rest on the possibility of an airstrip and even a dedicated airline, although Mr.
      Solomon notes "everybody on the island would have to get on the plane for every flight" to make the
      idea economical. [This was a theme park idea that I thought would be an environmental disaster.]

      Another solution, creating a port to service Pacific fishing vessels, makes little sense as the
      island is at least a two-to-three-day sail away from rich tuna grounds. [And has one of the worst
      ports in the known universe.]

      The island boasts an alluring mix of rare giant ferns, unique bird life, snorkeling pools and
      ancient petroglyphs.

      But even relatives and friends find it hard to justify visiting, Ms. Warren said. It can cost more
      than 5,000 New Zealand dollars to get there from New Zealand, requiring travel by air and boat.

      One economic bright spot in recent years has been the sale of web registration to sites related to
      the "Hunger Games" franchise. By chance, the .pn domain for Pitcairn matches that of the dystopian
      dictatorship of Panem.

      [Right. They also sell a few jars of local honey to passing cruise ship tourists.]