As the ferry rocked against the concrete pier on the Isle of Eigg, there was a delay in passengers disembarking.
Sailors carried boxes and packages from a boat to the ferry and double-checked the bow to make sure they didn’t forget anything.
The last package was a wad of newspapers, rolled up and individually labeled.
As they moved the newspapers back and forth, one rolled toward the steps leading to the water. The boot of one of the ferry crew stopped him just before reaching the edge.
Although it was only a newspaper, those who had just arrived perceived the risk of losing it and shared the relief of the islanders at seeing that it had been recovered.
Eigg is part of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, called the Small Isles.
It is located 24 kilometers from the mainland and relies on a ferry that runs several times a week for supplies and transportation, depending on weather conditions.
Here, waste is not an option and sustainability is a necessity.
“Sustainability has always been part of island life and the farms here,” explained Norah Barnes, a ranger at the Scottish Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust on Eigg.
“You’re a little more conscious of what you’re wearing. You can’t just go to a store down the street to get something. “Everything we want, we literally have to move by boat.”
The Small Islands are Eigg, Canna, Sanday, Rum and Muck. Together they have a population of just 150 to 200 people.
Eigg measures eight by five kilometres. Although it is the second largest, It is by far the most populated, with around 110 residentswhich has helped them foster a community that collectively takes charge of the island’s future.
Getting off the ferry, I walked a short distance to An Laimhrig, the center of the pier.
Recently expanded and refurbished to serve the growing number of islanders and visitors, the resort is at the heart of community life.
As I oriented myself with a map, islanders came and went, picking up deliveries, dropping off letters, and buying supplies at the island’s only grocery store that doubles as a post office.
In addition to a cafe and grocery store, the complex houses a craft store, bike rentals, as well as public toilets and showers for those camping outdoors or staying in community-owned tents.
There is the stone monument that commemorates the community purchase of the island in 1997.
The mysterious donor
With landowners absent or uninterested in the island’s development, residents of Eigg became convinced that community ownership was the only way to ensure the future of the island.
“The inhabitants of the island realized that we were not going to have a great community unless we made it ourselves”said Maggie Fyffe, secretary of the organization that owns Eigg.
When the island went up for sale in 1996, locals began raising money.
“Residents contributed and we had a great fundraising campaign. We Had The Famous Mystery Donor Who Finally Donated Over A Million Dollars and thanks to that we closed the deal.”
Although visitors come for many reasons, Eigg is ideal for those interested in outdoor activities.
Its most famous places are the Singing Sands beach in the north of the island, where the movement of quartz sand makes a characteristic sound, and the imposing stone ridge of An Sgurr, formed about 58 million years ago from a volcanic eruption that occurred in the east of the island.
In between are rugged plains, moors, forests, miles of coastline and white sand beaches that look like those in the Caribbean, and even a small section of temperate rainforest.
The island has been largely unaffected by the industries that altered the landscape across much of Britain.
“We don’t have very intensive agriculture here,” Barnes explained. “The landscape is conducive to wildlife. There is no commercial fishing or large-scale agriculture and the beaches and sea have clean, clear waters.”
To take advantage of the clear sky and the view from its summit, I decided to climb An Sgurr.
This mountain seems invincible, with imposing black stone walls. A path offers a relatively easy climb to the top.
At almost 400 metres, the views from the summit are incredible, stretching towards Rum, Skye and the mainland.
Nowhere else offers a better view of Eigg. As the wind picked up, I watched as the island’s wind turbines stirred the air.
Pioneers in energy
In 2008, Eigg became the first community in the world to live off-grid; energy comes from wind, water and solar energy.
The three systems complement each other so that almost any weather condition is conducive to producing electricity.
To guarantee supply, there are still backup generators, but the vast majority come from renewable sources.
“The amount of renewable energy we use varies depending on the climate, but we have used up to 90%,” Fyffe explained.
The benefits of the new renewable system have been numerous.
The island previously relied on diesel generators, which was a logistical headache, Barnes warns.
“The diesel had to be shipped, transferred into barrels, taken home and filled the generator. It was a huge job. The use of renewable energy has greatly improved people’s daily lives and the environment.”
It is also a step towards self-sufficiency. With the global energy crisis driving up prices around the world, Fyffe explained how this model has helped protect the island from rising costs of living.
“The price (of energy) here was higher than on the mainland, but it is probably cheaper now. We raise it a little from time to time, but we haven’t done it in the last few years because it has been very difficult for everyone.”
Eigg continues to work to become more sustainable.
“We are involved in another feasibility study that analyzes how we could become carbon neutral”said Fyffe.
“We hope to build a house and renovate the old doctor’s office to rent out and we are going to test air source heat pumps to see how efficient they are. Then, people will be able to move there,” she detailed.
“We will need more supply for this, probably three large turbines, although we are still at an early stage.”
Options for reforestation
Most of the island uses wood stoves for heating.
Eigg is running a sustainable forestry project to ensure timber supplies, felling trees to provide firewood for island residents and timber for export, but at the same time planting new trees and expanding forests.
“A nursery was created to replant trees where the old ones were cut down”Barnes explained. “Some will be used as fuel wood and some will be conserved for wildlife. Native trees are being grown.”
The island’s population is the highest it has been in at least half a century.
Eigg also appears to have been able to avoid the problem of communities becoming empty in the winter as residents move away to second homes.
In fact, The main challenge appears to be providing a permanent home for residents living in caravans or temporary accommodation.
“We are trying to provide homes for the people who live here. We have quite a few people in temporary accommodation, so we are trying to increase the properties available for rent,” Fyffe said.
“There are a lot of people waiting for a rental property to appear.”
As infrastructure improves, this growth and demand for housing is a positive sign that counteracts the threat of depopulation many islands face.
And this optimism seems to be shared by the wild animals in the area.
“Four years ago a pair of sea eagles returned to the island after becoming extinct on Eigg,” Barnes said.
“They were reintroduced to Rum but returned to Eigg and have produced offspring for the past three years.”
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.
Do you already know our YouTube channel? Subscribe!