Twenty UPEI researchers present at international small islands conference in Aruba

| Academics
UPEI participants at Turning the Tide conference
Dr. Laurie Brinklow, front row right, with some of the UPEI participants at the recent Turning the Tide conference in Aruba

The University of Prince Edward Island was well-represented at the second international conference on small island states and subnational island jurisdictions, titled “Turning the Tide: Climate Change, Social Change, and Islandness” in Oranjestad, Aruba, from October 23 to 26, 2023.

Twenty UPEI students and faculty members gave presentations in person or online at the interdisciplinary conference, which was co-hosted by the University of Aruba and the University of Prince Edward Island. They joined dozens of speakers from the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe, and the Americas. In all, there were over 80 papers, panels, roundtables, and keynote speakers addressing the latest research insights and discussions on climate change and social change in an island context. 

The conference builds on relationships forged between UPEI’s Institute of Island Studies and the UNESCO Chair in Island Studies and Sustainability, and programs at the University of Aruba during the first international conference on small island states and subnational island jurisdictions in March 2019.

“Islands are at the front lines of climate change,” said Brinklow. “With close proximity to the oceans, they are often the first to experience land loss due to sea-level rise and erosion. The effects of extreme weather events and changes in seasonality and temperature change on land and in the ocean are life-changing and often catastrophic. But what of social change on islands brought about by climate change? How are the effects of climate change impacting islandness?” 

UNESCO Chair Dr. Jean Mitchell and Institute of Island Studies Chair Dr. Laurie Brinklow co-organized the conference with representatives of the University of Aruba—Dr. Eric Mijts, director of the Sustainable Island Solutions through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (SISSTEM) program; Dr. Viola Huetger, rector; Patrick Arens, business manager; and Anouk Mertens, KU Leuven postdoctoral researcher. Megan Lane MacDonald, MAIS graduate student intern, worked with Kristen Haime, Centre for Lifelong Learning Coordinator, and Charisse Hoen, Student Affairs and Marketing Department Coordinator, both at the University of Aruba, to organize the program and logistics.

The conference featured a wide range of world-class speakers and experts, including the UPEI participants. Along with Brinklow and Mitchell, they included graduate students Mahir Abrar, Mah Ara Ahmadi, Tristan Atkins, Ross Dwyer, Eliza MacLauchlan, Andrew MacPherson, Jenelle Maillet, Donna Miller-Ayton, Kelly Rivera, and Tianxiang Zhou; Dr. Nick Mercer, assistant professor of island studies; Andrew Halliday, MAIS sessional instructor; Ryan Drew, sessional instructor in psychology; Dr. Susan Graham, associate professor of business; Dr. Joshua MacFadyen, Canada Research Chair in Geospatial Humanities; Dr. Mike van den Heuvel, professor of biology; Krystal Pyke, Climate Sense Learning coordinator; and Dr. Kimberly Wishart Chu Foon, a graduate from UPEI’s PhD in Environmental Sciences. 

Keynote speakers included Dr. Stacey Mac Donald, Conservation Action in the Caribbean Netherlands; Natasha Silva and Tyson Lopez, Biodiversity of Aruba and the Challenges of Nature Conservation in Small Island Contexts; Charissa Granger and Francio Guadeloupe, Human-ing Out Loud: Ontologies of Disorder in a Musically Exemplified Trans-Caribbean-Thought; and Vishal Prasad, Journey to the International Court of Justice: Taking Climate Change to the World’s Highest Court.

Prasad’s talk engaged with ideas of youth engagement and activism. A Pacific-led campaign to seek an International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion has seen great support at the international level. The campaign was started by a group of students, the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, and has culminated in the adoption of a UNGA resolution requesting the ICJ to provide an advisory opinion.

Prasad discussed the origins of the campaign by focusing on the specific elements of the campaign that remain at the heart of the youth and civil society movement—human rights and intergenerational equity—and how this campaign can help catalyse greater climate action and ambition. He also spoke about how the advisory opinion campaign is important in shaping the development of international law to be capable of responding more holistically to the challenges brought about by both the climate and the ensuing human rights crisis.

UPEI gratefully acknowledges a Connections Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for “Turning the Tide.” For more information about the conference, visit


Dr. Laurie Brinklow
Coordinator, Master of Arts in Island Studies, and Chair, Institute of Island Studies

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Anna MacDonald
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