Ilha da Culatra (Culatra Island) is a large sandy island located just South of the cities of Olhão and Faro in Portugal. The island is part of the Ria Formosa National Park and therefore has to follow strict rules for its development. There are no paved roads on Culatra - once you reach the island by ferry, you will get to know it by foot. The island is about 6 kilometres long, and its width ranges from 100 to 900 meters. Its 1000 inhabitants mainly live off fishing and shellfish culture.
Fishermen pushing for a clean energy transition
If you want to experience the traditional Portuguese fishermen lifestyle, this is the place to be. You will find idyllic small fishermen houses all over the island. The main attraction of Culatra however is its long, white sandy beach reaching all the way from the West to the East of the island, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches of the Algarve.
The island consists of three parts. Culatra, located on the eastside, is the largest village on the island mainly inhabited by fishermen. The entire village has 759 inhabitants who are all connected to the grid. Farol, to the West of the island, has 84 permanent residents and is partially connected to the grid. The island’s third village, Hângares at the center, has very little infrastructure and is only rarely visited by tourist. It has 103 inhabitants, and most of the houses generate their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines.
Culatra and Farol are easy to reach by ferry within 30 minutes from Olhão or Faro on the mainland, but Hângares can only be reached by foot. There are no roads for vehicles on the island so the only way to explore the island is by foot, on wooden paths.
Culatra Island is part of the municipality of Faro, one of the 16 municipalities of the Algarve region. In order to create a common vision for the region, the Algarve Intermunicipal Community (AMAL) developed the “Intermunicipal Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change”. The plan is focused on identifying the main current and future climate vulnerabilities and the solutions that municipalities can implement.
As Culatra is part of a national park, it has significant challenges in the areas of waste management and human pressure on natural habitats during the high season. Being a relatively flat island, Culatra is extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise and storms.
Uniting with local experts to transform the island's energy system
Aware of the clean energy opportunities on Culatra, the local community decided to take their future into their own hands. Partnering with the University of Algarve, the Culatra Island Residents Association (AMIC) is planning to design a roadmap and implement a clean energy transition framework on the island. Their common goal is to convert Culatra into the first Portuguese clean island community.
The vision of the local community is to introduce a decentralized system of electricity production, and to create a community spirit that will empower the population of Culatra Island. The main focus areas are the production of renewable energy to become energy independent, finding efficient ways to treat and manage the island’s waste, and produce water for self-consumption. In order to successfully implement all different project phases, the University of Algarve is planning to launch a participative process in collaboration with the local and national government that includes the local community. During this process, the island stakeholders will decide together on appropriate technical solutions and develop cost-benefit analyses for each solution, taking into account the specificities of the island context.
Secretariat visits pilot community "Culatra 2030"
In March 2019, the Clean Energy for EU Islands Secretariat visited the Faro region and pilot island Culatra to kick off the Secretariat's pilot island activities. As part of the 26 islands selected for support by the Clean Energy for EU Islands Secretariat, stakeholders on Culatra island will be working together to develop an island-wide transition agenda.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the University of Algarve, the Association of Residents of Culatra Island, the Coordination Commission for the Algarve Region, Faro Municipality and the EU Island Secretariat to set forth a common understanding of the collaboration. The ceremony, which took place on the 26th of March in the Coordination Commission for the Algarve Region, was attended by a wide range of stakeholders from local businesses and industry, academia, public authorities and community organisations. It was followed by an open consultation to evaluate barriers and opportunities on the island related to clean energy.
The second part of the visit took place on the island of Culatra itself, during which representatives of the Secretariat assessed the energy situation and held interviews with the local community. The Secretariat visited the elementary school, the community centre and the island's resident association in the town of Culatra. Members of the resident association explained the island's history and described the ongoing development process on the island. The Secretariat further visited the island's other communities, Farol and Hangares.
The collaboration between Culatra and the Secretariat is part of a larger initiative called Culatra 2030, which aims to create a pilot community in renewable energies on Culatra Island.