Spring 2019 – Perils in Paradise: Oceanic Islands

Perils in Paradise – The Clash of Nature and Culture            on Oceanic Islands
Presented by Dr. Anthony Davis
Tuesdays, April 2 to May 21, 2019 – 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon

Until recently oceanic islands were perceived as exotic, mysterious and remote. Their remoteness has conditioned the evolution of peculiar and vulnerable floras and faunas while that isolation and size have severely constrained human occupation. They are laboratories for evolution and succession as well as for human behaviour and for the testing of nuclear and biological weapons, serving as extensions of empire, prisons, asylums, places of quarantine, military bases, tourist destinations and offshore tax havens. None has completely avoided the consequences of settlement and some have become uninhabitable because of human impact. Although much damage can be attributed to European colonization, many islands were severely affected before that phase. Today, those that were colonies are having huge difficulty adjusting to the realities of independence and many face bleak futures. Immediate threats are consequences of global warming, notably rising sea levels.

April 2 Baptism by Fire – Iceland, Hawaii, the Galapagos
Island types and numbers. Oceanic islands are volcanic in origin. Their distribution is determined by plate tectonics. This produces island chains and hot spots. The natural hazards of island living.

April 9 The Peculiar Floras and Faunas of Oceanic Islands                               – New Zealand, the Galapagos
Islands have low species diversity, high endemism (species found nowhere else) and high vulnerability – largely a function of island size and degree of isolation. There are often distinctive and peculiar evolutionary responses (dwarfism, gigantism, flightlessness, etc.).

April 16 The Settlement of Islands – Phase 1
The human diaspora and island settlement. The peopling of the Pacific. Polynesian migrations; successes and failures. Navigation and boatbuilding. Widespread distribution of the Polynesian “package” (taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, the kiore). Ecological and environmental impacts.

April 23 The Settlement of Islands – Phase 2                                                          The Caribbean, Hawaii, Fiji
European colonization and extension of empire. Many islands were essentially plantations of sugar, tea, etc. The system brought genocide, disease, slavery and other social and economic legacies.

April 30 Islands as Prisons and Laboratories for                                                    Plants, Animals and People
Isolation has its attractions and problems. Islands as utopia, sanctuary and places of incarceration – St. Helena to Norfolk Island. Biological globalization and its impact on island plants and animals.

May 7 Islands at War and In Peace – Midway, Okinawa,                                      Diego Garcia, Bikini, Enewetak Atolls
Islands as strategic locations. Testing of nuclear and biological weapons and human displacement .

May 14 Paradise Lost and Preserved (For Now) – Madagascar,                        the Galapagos, Nauru, Rapa Nui
The use and abuse of island resources and the myth of sustainability. Disasters and success stories.

May 21 The Future of Island Nations and Their Biotas
The economic, health and environmental issues facing island nations. Old and new threats, tourism and global warming. Many are on the brink of social and economic collapse.