Island Institute’s new head lays out long-term sustainability goal

Posted 2021-10-18

After spending his first month as Island Institute president in listening mode, Anthony Chatwin aims to spend the next decade helping Maine’s seaside economy contribute to the fight against climate change by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

“Ten years from now people are going to be looking at the carbon footprint of products and services, and we want to prepare Maine’s marine and coastal economy to be able to say they are offering products and services of high quality that are providing jobs and have a low carbon footprint,” he says.

Chatwin has set a 2033 deadline for achieving that goal to coincide with the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary. The institute, founded in 1983, seeks to help Maine’s 120 island and coastal communities tackle environmental and socioeconomic challenges. Specific programs address areas including broadband access, aquaculture development, the creative economy and building a future workforce.

Rejecting the notion that the Institute is moving away from its original economic development mission, Chatwin says that “decarbonization is part and parcel of sustainability.”

Other priorities include ongoing efforts in workforce development; expanding broadband connections for island and rural coastal communities “so they can develop those industries”; and supporting the creative economy by helping artists make a living by selling their works at the Institute’s Rockland store as well as online — where the Institute expanded during the pandemic.

Chatwin, whose love of the water was sparked by growing up on the shores of a lake in Brazil, joined the Island Institute by way of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C., where he led grant projects and developed strategies for marine conservation and nature-based solutions for carbon reduction.

He also established several public-private partnerships, including a fund to help fishing communities around the country become more sustainable.

Noting the Island Institute’s role in that effort, Chatwin says he hopes to forge similar partnerships in the future, saying they are “excellent ways to move forward and leverage funds from both the private and public sector so we can have the impact and scale that’s needed.”

Asked about the biggest challenge for island communities, Chatwin points to several from climate change to rising ocean levels and the sea’s changing chemistry.

“All of those have impacts on the economic activities that islanders depend on, so there’s a lot of change, and that’s why we’re focused on helping these communities navigate change,” he says. “That’s no small task, but I do think this organization is well-positioned to work with others to address these challenges head on.”

Underscoring the importance of Maine’s island and coastal communities to the entire state, he adds, “Maine is for Mainers, and part of what makes it incredible is that it has this amazing coastline with inhabited islands, and an incredible marine economy. We should be thinking about what the state as a whole needs, and the Island Institute’s role is to pay attention to the island and coastal communities so that we can be effective in contributing to the bigger picture.”