Report – By Pacific Media Watch
Pitcairn Islanders are about to be surveyed about what made them leave the island half-way between New Zealand and South America, and what would make them return.
Pitcairn Island’s population peaked at around 250 shortly before World War II, but has now reduced to around 50 permanent residents.
“It is essential to hear from Pitkerners and their families who do not live on the island to learn more about their views on returning or settling permanently on Pitcairn,” the British High Commission in New Zealand said in a statement.
The commission, which announced the survey earlier this week, has a responsibility to “support and protect” the Pitcairn Islands, according to its website.
The survey also welcomed views in general about the island’s future.
From 50 to 80
The United Kingdom government said it wanted to see the population increase to some 80 inhabitants by 2016.
Seventh-generation Pitcairn Islander Heather Menzies said people coming back to the island would find that it had “changed a lot”, but she said it was important for the island to increase its population.
“The island needs the energy and passion of the diaspora to ensure our heritage is sustained for another 250 years.
“The island still retains its beauty, subtropical climate, lush vegetation and pristine clear waters. But we are now part of a global community with internet, phones, regular shipping services, sound social services and regular travel to and from the island,” Menzies said.
Governor of Pitcairn Vicki Treadell encouraged Pitcairn diaspora and people who knew them to make contact with the survey coordinators.
“I am enthusiastic about strengthening Pitcairn’s population and economic viability and see this survey as a crucial step towards this goal,” she said.
Because of the small size and limited resources of Pitcairn Island, Deputy Governor Kevin Lynch emphasised that the growth in population could not be too big.
“We’ll be carefully monitoring any growth in population so that it’s sustainable,” he said in an interview with Radio New Zealand International’s Sally Round.
One of the ways Lynch hoped to increase the population was to improve the access to the island.
Pitcairn Island is arguably one of the hardest places to get to in the world. In order to get there, you have to first fly to Tahiti in French Polynesia, and then take another plane to the island of Mangareva.
The last leg of the trip is by a boat which only departs twice a month and takes 32 hours to reach Pitcairn.
“Obviously, some people might think that is a bit too much trouble,” Lynch said.
But he said increasing the frequency of transportation to the island would cost money, which could inhibit access to the island.
In the interview, Lynch defended the right of Pitkerners to remain on the island, despite UK taxpayers spending about $20 million in aid to the islanders over the last four years.
“The people on Pitcairn Island, as all people throughout the world do, have under UK law and international law, the right to live where they want to live. And that’s what we are dealing with.”
Pitcairn Islands consist of the atolls Ducie Island and Oeno Island, as well as the islands Henderson Island and Pitcairn Island.
Pitcairn Island, the only inhabited, has a total size of 4.6 sq km, whereas the entire territory of Pitcairn Islands measures 47 sq km.