Maine islands are very special but challenging places to live year-round. In the last 100 years we’ve gone from 300 to just 15 year-round island communities.

So we’re especially fortunate to have the Island Institute, which focuses much of its attention on island issues and challenges. I love the institute’s regular Working Waterfront newspaper, which I receive online, and I learned a lot from their interesting stories in the new edition of their magazine, Island Journal.

In the new edition, I particularly enjoyed Howie Montenko’s astonishing photos, using a technique known as “light painting.” He assembles a crew of islanders at dusk to shine handheld flashlights that “paint” the scene with light while Monteko creates a long-exposure photo. They are absolutely stunning.

The list of island challenges is lengthy, from no broadband and extremely high energy costs to rising tides and warming oceans to maintaining schools and year-round jobs. Thankfully, the Island Institute is working on all of these challenges.

I’ve been intrigued by some of their initiatives to bring efficient energy to the islands. Their Energy Planning for Island Communities Initiative is providing technical resources and tools to communities to help achieve their clean energy goals.

In July of last year experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory met with energy leaders and community members on Isle au Haut and Monhegan islands to learn about their priorities and identify cost-effective ways for those islands to transition to clean energy systems. Island Institute also crated the Spark! Fund, a competitive grant program providing awards of up to $2,000 for island and coastal energy projects.

The institute’s Aquaculture Business Development Program is helping aspiring seaweed and shellfish farmers get started. Nine new businesses were launched in the first year of this program. In the next five years they expect this project to have an $8.3 million impact on Maine’s economy.

And I have a friend working in Frenchboro on Long Island as an Island Fellow. The institute has many fellows working on our islands in a variety of jobs and projects, including schools, energy efficiency, town management, fire and safety, elder care, and more.

Their educational programs are very important, including Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative, scholarships and Island Scholars Network, and Distance Learning Technology. In the latter program, they partnered with tech company EPlus in 2009 and again in 2014 to secure significant USDA-Rural Development grant funds to install cutting-edge teleconferencing and video recording equipment at 24 sites, including Maine’s island and remote coastal schools and other rural coastal community schools in Alaska and St. John, Virgin Islands. The equipment allows for highly interactive networking among students and connects them to resources at universities and other educational organizations. Wonderful!

Maine’s islands are life-changing places for many. If you read the Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns that Linda and I write, you know we love Monhegan island. In the new edition of the Island Journal, there’s a great interview with Mott Feibusch, a young man who first visited Monhegan in the summer of 1990 and moved there to live year-round in 2015. When asked if he had a favorite story or memory of Maine, this is what Mott said.

“I visited Monhegan for the first time in winter about 10 years ago. I made frames and painted with the artist Ted Tihansky for a couple of weeks. During that time, there was a blizzard on the island, and we ate fresh shrimp from a five-gallon bucket. We also had a Valentine’s dinner for 12 people, hiked out to Burnt Head and painted the moon rising on found pieces of tile, made bracelets of discarded copper pipe, and torched sculptures and frames chasing an aesthetic unique to Ted. It was a great introduction to the community I had known from only one perspective. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Today, Mott is the island’s third assessor and assistant fire chief. He works for the power company, pours beer at the island’s wonderful brewery, and owns a woodworking business. With his partner, Carley Mayhew, Monhegan’s postmaster, Mott is now roasting coffee, hoping to turn that into a year-round business. Yup, year-round residency on our islands requires lots of jobs.

You can learn more about the Island Institute at Prepare to be inspired.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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