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Build your own island getaway!

Build your own island getaway! Author explores the globe’s blissful utopias in a fascinating new book

  • Alastair Bonnett explores islands around the world in a new geography book
  • He visits The World, a collection of 300 islands off the coast of Dubai 
  • British author is met by staff complaining about the size of India’s representation

GEOGRAPHY

THE AGE OF ISLANDS    

by Alastair Bonnett (Atlantic £16.99, 256 pp)

If you stand on the coast of Long Beach, California, and gaze out at San Pedro Bay, you will see four small islands. They contain luxury buildings which are illuminated at night by coloured lights. There is also a waterfall. But don’t bother trying to book a holiday there: everything on view is fake, a frontage to conceal the fact that these man-made ‘islands’ are in fact oil rigs.

Why are we fascinated by islands? They’ve always had a certain magic. The word ‘utopia’ comes from a story by Sir Thomas More (as in Henry VIII, Hilary Mantel, etc) in which a king called Utopus creates an island to start a perfect society.

Wanting to ‘get away from it all’ is an understandable human trait, even if at the moment we’re all marooned on our own domestic islands.

Alastair Bonnett explores islands around the world in a new geography book (file image)

But if the idea is simple, a definition isn’t. It’s not only a question of size (when does an island become a continent?) — there’s also the matter of how permanently a piece of land stays above the water. The way the reefs near Jersey appear and disappear with the tides make it incredibly difficult to draw the boundary between the UK and France. It took 13 years of negotiations (ending in 2004) to settle the matter.

Not that anything is permanent. Sea levels are rising, partly because of the global warming caused by human activity, although some people aren’t worried. A meeting was held in Newquay to discuss the threat of flooding off the Cornish coast, but residents a little way inland said: ‘So those houses [nearer the sea] are going to go? Fantastic! We can have seafront properties!’

Man-made territories provide the most interesting moments in Alastair Bonnett’s tour of our planet’s many islands. They’re nothing new: the Lau fishing people built about 80 of them in the Solomon Islands by paddling out, every year for centuries, and dropping lumps of coral into the water. Their islands were refuges from attack by farmers on the mainland.

THE AGE OF ISLANDS by Alastair Bonnett (Atlantic £16.99, 256 pp)

The most bizarre example is The World, a collection of 300 islands built off the coast of Dubai, in the shape of … well, the world. Each one represents a different country, or part of a country. The project was launched in 2003, with the islands intended as play things for the world’s elite. Karl Lagerfeld and Richard Branson were allegedly signed up. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were said to have bought Ethiopia for their children.

But then came the 2008 financial crash. Only two of the islands have been completed. Bonnett visits one of them (Lebanon) and finds a member of staff complaining that the island representing his native India is smaller than the one representing Pakistan: ‘That is very wrong.’

My favourite fact was that Ellis Island (off Manhattan), where would-be immigrants to the U.S. were processed from 1892 to 1954, is ‘semi-artificial’. Its three acres were bulked out to 27 — largely with debris from the building of New York’s subway system.

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