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Short report 16th ISISA Islands of the World Conference 2018

The Dutch city of Leeuwarden and Island of Terschelling were the setting for the 16th ISISA Islands of the World Conference 2018, held from 10 to 14 June and entitled ‘The changing futures of islands’. More than 140 researchers involved in studying small islands worldwide came together for discussions and knowledge-sharing. The Waddenacademie was the conference’s main organiser.

Every other year, the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA) holds a conference focusing on life on small islands: what it’s like to live and work on an island, the identity of islanders, island economy, island housing, the relationship with the mainland, and island tourism. All islands have natural habitats that they must manage, and all are affected by climate change.

Leeuwarden 2018

‘Scientific findings in these areas are of crucial importance for the policy and management of the Wadden Sea Region as a World Heritage Site,’ explains Executive Secretary to the Board Klaas Deen. ‘That was why the Waddenacademie wanted the conference to take place in the Netherlands in 2018, the year in which the city of Leeuwarden will be the European Capital of Culture.’ The official kick-off took place Sunday June 10 at the Blokhuispoort Building, the epicentre of the ‘Leeuwarden 2018’ festivities.

Climate change

Climate change was an important topic of discussion at the conference. ‘Many islands around the world are dealing with it, including the Wadden Islands,’ according to Deen. On June 11, the Waddenacademie and the Programme Towards a Rich Wadden Sea (PRW) presented the initial findings of a study of the relationship between sea-level rise, subsidence and sedimentation in the Wadden Sea.

The conference participants remained in Leeuwarden until Monday afternoon. After an enlightening bus tour around the Province of Friesland with commentary by Joop Mulder, including a stop in the village of Hegebeintum to view the largest terp in the Netherlands, they travelled on to the Island of Terschelling for the remainder of the programme. 

Covered wagon

In addition to the conference sessions held at the Willem Barentsz Maritime Institute and Hotel Schylge, participants had an opportunity to tour the island on Wednesday afternoon. They set off on their adventure in no less than nine covered wagons. Many of them considered this the highlight of the conference.

The participants toured Gèskieker Farm at Kinnum, where Neeke Buren-van Zwol talked about life as a farmer on the island. The group also visited artist Marc van Vliet’s ‘Expedition’ project. The work consists of a line of 160 stakes that cuts across the island and visualises forecast water levels in the 22nd century. They also went on an excursion with the State Forest Service through the dunes near Paal 8 seaside hotel.


Before the participants made their way home, the culture aficionados among them had the opportunity to attend a performance of the piece ‘Prikkel’ by AM.OK Collective in the Bubble, a transparent performance space in Formerum woods. Although the Waddenacademie regularly organises conferences, this one was different, Deen believes. ‘Having people travel here from around the world made it very special. We can look back on a successful conference.’ In two years’ time, the 17th ISISA conference will be held in Canada.