Sweden : Koster Islands


Of all the EU countries, Sweden has the most inhabited islands. The National Association for the Swedish Archipelago founded in 1982 represents some 15 grassroots organisations working for people residing permanently on the Swedish archipelagos. The Association's main task is to influence the national government and different agencies on better services for the approximately 80,000 people living and working in these archipelago areas that comprise both islands and parts of the coast. About 32,000 (2006) of them live on 574 different small islands, ranging from 1 person to 4,900 on the largest. 440 of the islands have less than 10 people. The biggest Swedish island, Gotland is not included since it is an administrative region in its own right. There are about 12,000 people living on small islands with a bridge to the mainland and 42,000 in rural coastal areas close to the islands. The archipelago region is found all along the Swedish coast, from the northern part of the Baltic Sea to the Norwegian border in the west coast. All the islands are part of local mainland based communes except one group on the west coast that is entirely an island commune. A report by the former Swedish National Rural Development Agency (Glesbygdsverket) has some useful facts and figures. This agency closed down on 31st of March 2009 and two new bodies, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis are now responsible for parts of Glesbygdsverket's former activities.

One of the biggest members of the Association is SIKO that covers the Stockholm archipelago. Since 1959 this more cosmopolitan region has had its own Archipelago Foundation whose main task is to make it possible for everyone to be able to experience and enjoy Stockholm's archipelago. It does this by helping to preserve the pastoral landscape of the islands through grazing animals and farming. In addition, it develops businesses within recreation and tourism by leasing their buildings out to archipelago entrepreneurs who run youth hostels, holiday villages, restaurants, guest jetties and more besides which all help to create jobs and offer a good service to visitors. The environment is also protected through using special toilet facilities, composting waste and utilising the natural eco cycle. The Island Bridge  is a useful site for more information about the Stockholm archipelago.

For the purposes of this case study we are going to concentrate upon Sweden's most westerly populated islands of North and South Koster. Around them lie the Koster archipelago with a large number of uninhabited skerries and rocky isles. South Koster has an area of 8 km and North Koster an area of 4 km. Both islands have a variety of landscapes dotted with red-roofed houses with lovely swimming beaches, moors, small forests and rocky coasts with clear traces of the Ice Age. These two main islands have 300 year-round inhabitants (240 of them at South Koster) and since both are virtually car-free, attract large numbers of cyclists and hikers in the summer particularly from Norway.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

In Sweden almost 50% of the total production of electricity comes from water energy, mainly from power stations in the rivers in the North of Sweden. Wind energy currently contributes only 0.7 % to the total electricity production and the power plants are mainly located on the mainland. However, the capacity of the wind power plants has doubled between 2000 and 2005 and the growth forecasts are favourable for the offshore wind energy sector as well. The Koster Islands are presently linked to the mainland electricity grid and there are no plans for any wind turbines. However, the camping site on North Koster has seven cottages within a nature reserve that were all built to strict ecological principles including the use of solar energy.

Water Management & Security

The summer population of the Koster Islands may exceed 4,000 and tourism is greatest when there is least rain. This places a tremendous strain on water and waste water systems. To help cope with the more than eightfold increase in water consumption during the summer (150 m3 per day up from 20 m3 per day in winter) ENWA has supplied the Koster Islands with a containerized solution with a water maker producing 100 m3 pure freshwater per day. This water maker is equipped with energy-saving membranes, consuming only 3.2 kWh per m3 and operating at less than 50 bar pressure.

The investigations undertaken by the Koster Health Project (see under IDP section) were comprehensive and detailed. It was found the chloride level in drinking water was continuously on the rise. An increased salinity and acidity in well water was favouring corrosion of household water supply pipes and release of metals into the drinking water. Such changes may contribute to, among others, stomach disorders in sensitive individuals and people with generally poor health.

The streams on Koster usually contain groundwater that may be mixed with domestic wastewater. Well water reacts locally with the water in the watercourses. The more water that is taken from such wells the greater the risk of pollution from domestic wastewater systems leaking in. When a great deal of water is consumed, as during the tourist season, the groundwater level may fall and salt water from the sea will infiltrate the water supply. These threats may be reduced by keeping the island population watchful and by encouraging the summer residents and temporary visitors to save water and to protect the limited water resources on Koster.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

The landscape of the main islands has seen significant change over the centuries. The main population centre is called Ekenas, meaning peninsula of the oaks, and this was the original climax vegetation. The forest was cleared for ship building and industrial uses before a mixed forest-clearing/grazed meadow landscape was established around 100 years ago. Small-scale farming still takes place in North and South Koster, but has been in decline for many years, along with the traditional landscape with which it is associated. In many places the land is bare and rocky but elsewhere it's highly fertile. Parts of the land used to be sea inlets but rose to dry out, depositing ground seashells in the soil and leaving it very alkaline and rich in plants. Of the two islands, the north is a little more rugged and untamed by farmers - there are clumps of heather and juniper bushes and a rockier shoreline.

Helena and Stefan von Bothmer run Kosters Tradgardar (Kosters Gardens) with a focus on sustainable development. Through permaculture they grow a wide range of produce that is then used to create an array of different Slow Food menus served in their restaurant. They also offer guided tours, run various training courses, host art exhibitions and provide live music concerts.


There are regular passenger ferries to the Koster Islands departing from the north harbour in Stromstad, adjacent to the square and tourist information centre. The journey takes around 40 minutes. There are two landings on North Koster: Vettnet on the east side and Vastra Bryggan in the Koster Strait. South Koster has three: Langagarde in the Koster Strait, Ekenas and Kilesand. Tickets are purchased on board and there is a charge for bicycles. There is a cable ferry between North and South Koster.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

The Koster Islands were one of seven partners in the Creation of Sustainable Tourism Destinations (CREST) project that took place 2006-2008 and carried out a variety of activities. These included creating a common definition of a sustainable tourism destination; researching national and regional policies; identifying the key issues; analysing good practices; and producing a Toolkit with recommended actions. The Municipality of Stromstad went on to produce a comprehensive plan to cover all CREST guidelines.

South Koster is a perfect island for cycling and bikes can be hired at every pier on the island. There is a range of accommodation types, for instance the Ekenas hotel offers high quality rooms and meals. Cabins, guesthouses and campgrounds are all available. Fresh seafood is part of the culture here and there is a fish shop and smokehouse at Ekenas and at Vastra Bryggan. There are beaches such as Rörvik outside Ekenäs and the kilometer long sandy beach at Kilesand. Valfjall, opposite the little wooden church, is a beautiful and tranquil viewpoint. The rare Bohus lime tree grows at Ekenas and nature lovers can also see a number of different orchids here.

The best way to get around North Koster is by foot, as the road network consists mainly of paths. The lighthouse has been restored and is now operational after over a century of disuse. The view from here is magnificent and well worth the walk.

Kosterfestivalen is an arena for cultural diversity, where music and art is introduced in a maritime setting. The festival is a collaboration between Norway and Sweden. Featuring international artists, it aims to combine the Koster Islands unique distinctive character and fauna with something equally beautiful culturally - chamber music for all.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

There is a nature reserve on both the main islands managed by the West Coast Foundation but now the unique sea life around the archipelago has been officially recognised and protected with restrictions on fishing, fuel type and anchoring, as well as a speed limit of five knots to discourage commercial shipping.

Sweden's first Marine National Park (Kosterhavet) was inaugurated on 22 September 2009 and the ceremony was shown live on national television. The guest of honour was the Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, who opened the national park by ringing a bell. Close to the bottom of the 200 meter deep Kosterfjord the high salinity (34-35%) and a low temperature (5-7°C) seawater is more typical of the open ocean than Swedish coastal waters. Sub-surface currents bring larvae of deep ocean species such as brachiopods and sponges from the Atlantic continental slope. Of the 6000 marine species that have been identified in Kosterhavet, about 200 are found nowhere else in Sweden. The park's northern water boundary is shared with Norway, and in fact Kosterhavet runs right into Norway's new marine national park, Ytre Hvaler, that opened at the same time. Together, both parks encompass about 300 square miles and represent one of the few transboundary MPAs in Europe.

Kosterhavet includes Sweden's only cold-water coral reef, which makes for excellent scuba diving - the rocky coast means that there are also a number of shipwrecks to check out beneath the waves. Above the water, a sea kayak is the way to look at Sweden's largest population of harbour seals, and from a respectful distance, admire nesting areas for Arctic terns.

The park supports an important local fishery for the northern prawn and the annual catch of 200 tonnes is landed from about 30 trawlers (mostly <12m length), providing direct employment for around 50 people. Fishing trawls dig into the seabed, leaving obvious tracks that have negative impacts on seabed species. In order to protect the unique benthic habitats of Kosterhavet, environmentally sustainable fishing methods have been developed in a joint agreement between local fishermen and the authorities.

The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences at the University of Gothenburg has several ships and two stations for research and education: Kristineberg by the Gullmarsfjord and Tjarno by the Kosterfjord. The Tjarno station has worked in the past with Universeum to produce the Koster Expedition educational web resource that has interactive games, slideshows, videos and tutorials about the people who live and work on the islands. In the summer research vessels from this Centre now run educational tours when species can be observed more closely in on-board tanks. A useful case study report was published in 2007 by a Scottish consultant on the development history of Kosterhavet.

Integrated Development Planning

The Koster Islands have provided an ideal opportunity for studying what impact a local population can have on the immediate environment and what impact environmental changes may have on the well being of human individuals. The Koster Health Project was an interdisciplinary research programme (1987-1999) run from Gothenburg University with a focus on human ecology. It used relatively simple methods of medical and odontological annual examinations to carry out a 10-year longitudinal study of how life situations and life style factors may direct the development of individual's health in a sparse, geographically rather isolated and socially static, rural population in which it is possible to compare older and younger generations. The project resulted in many publications and papers.

The team from Gothenburg University founded the Koster Health Foundation to conduct their research and purchased Kilesand farm where their annual health examinations were carried out and lectures given about the project. After their work ended this Foundation was unable to find a new use for the farm and sold it in order to help establish the Koster Foundation in 2006 that was working to create the Marine National Park. The Koster Foundation works in conjunction with the County Administrative Board of Vastra Gotaland, Stromstad Municipality and Nature Centre AB. It now has 20 part-time employees who undertake conservation work as proscribed in the management plan prepared by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency They restore historic grazing pastures, take care of about 100 sheep and 10 cattle, renovate buildings like the lighthouse, put up hiking trail signs, undertake fencing, heather burning, mowing for hay/silage, beach cleaning, garbage collection and snail control, as well as carry out small private jobs such as felling trees.

The Koster Board was first convened in 2000 at the request of Stromstad Municipality and now acts as a politically independent forum where all Koster residents over the age of 16 can elect in a secret ballot members of their choosing to represent them. This Board works closely with the Municipality on the in-depth comprehensive plan for Koster;  the Civic Association whose remit is to address social issues directly related to everyday life in the islands like schools, kindergartens, roads, retirement homes and housing issues; the Entrepreneur Association for the 60 odd companies on the island; the Historical Society plus various other associations and clubs.

One of the biggest challenges facing the archipelago is the lack of affordable housing particularly for young people and families who try to earn a living on an island. The conversion of permanent accommodation into holiday homes is a significant contributing factor in this respect. There are now plans to build 10 small locally affordable houses, reflecting optimism that the community will survive and jobs will be sustained or increase.

A major new visitor interpretive center for the Marine National Park is due for building on South Koster near the chain ferry pier. However, the Koster Board is locked in argument with the Minister of the Environment over the cost that has more than doubled since the original estimate. The Board wishes to see an architecturally inspired design built according to ecological principles with a large auditorium and exhibition, a laboratory for school classes, administration facilities and a café. The Minister believes conservation money should go primarily to protect nature and not on buildings.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

Climate change is a key issue in Sweden and their Environmental Protection Agency contribute towards reversing the concentration of global greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere through national and international measures. Vastra Gotaland has 40% of all environmentally connected research in Sweden. Public and private stakeholders together decide on more concrete measures and agreements and take responsibility for their implementation. For example, one of the county environmental objectives is to be independent of fossil energy by 2030. Through the Smart Energy climate change dialogue, Region Vastra Gotaland and the 49 municipalities have defined the challenges and determined what agreements are needed to make things happen. The dialogue has comprised six different focus areas, involving over 600 people from municipalities, trade and industry, higher education institutions and organisations. A regional climate strategy was adopted in autumn 2009 and four major agreements between stakeholders were launched. Several more will follow. The aim is to reduce climate effects while creating growth and jobs. It does this by supporting the market for energy-efficient building, including passive houses, and is investing in the development of bioenergy, mainly in the form of biogas but also solar energy and wind power. It also promotes organic and regionally produced food. Since 2004, all cars purchased have been eco-cars.