How do you create a sustainable economy in an island with declining and aging population? How do you attract young people back to the island and maintain critical services such as hospitals and schools with small population?
These are some of the questions the leaders of Kumejima town of Okinawa are struggling to answer and seeking innovative ways to address.
“We estimate that by 2025 our population will drop to 6,800,” says Vice Mayor Hideo Toubaru of Kumejima island of Okinawa, Japan. With a population of about 7,000, 35% of which are 65 years and over, a visitor population of nearly 100,000 and a few industries, Kumejima is facing similar situations that many small island states face including Palau.
To address some of these challenges, Kumejima turns to innovative technology, the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion technology as means to generate green energy as well as spur new innovative industries using the clean by product of such technology, the cold deep ocean water.
OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) uses the difference between cold deep ocean water and warm shallow ocean water to generate energy.
A OTEC research plant located at Kumejima is not only giving the town clean energy, it is also helping to create new industries utilizing the by product of the OTEC plant, the cold deep ocean water.
Mr. Shin Okamura of OTEC explained that the cooler ocean water pumped out from 600 meters below, is very clean, high in nutrients and once it has gone through their system, can be reused by other industries such as prawn aquaculture, sea grapes aquaculture, cultured oyster production, sake distillery, cosmetics production and spas.
OTEC plant employs are lot of towns people as well as helping to create jobs by supporting growth of new industries.
Still the challenge of attracting people back to towns such Kumejima from cities like Tokyo is difficult and the island is looking at the looming loss of its population and is looking to obtain workers from other countries such as Vietnam, Philippines and others to supplement its workforce.
“We are working with regional government, local government and schools to promote Kumejima,” assured Vice Mayor Hideo Toubaru.