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A private island is a disconnected body of land wholly owned by a single private citizen or corporation. Although this exclusivity gives the owner substantial control over the property, they still fall within the jurisdiction of national and sometimes local governments.
Compared to property on the mainland, an island property has much more restricted access, both by potential trespassers and by the residents, who need to transport all supplies by boat or aircraft. Livestock has often been kept on islands, because an island is a natural enclosure, preventing the escape of cattle and sheep.
There are many thousands of uninhabited islands in the world with potential for commercial development of tourist resorts or private recreational use. Commercial development of uninhabited islands can raise ecological concerns, as many have a fragile environment. Some islands can be bought undeveloped, while others already have roads and/or houses. Islands are also available for rent. Some celebrities have their own private islands.
There are widely varying government policies regarding private islands: for instance, islands off the coast of China (and real estate in general[clarification needed]) cannot be purchased outright, but only leased from the government for a maximum period of 50 years. Virtually all islands in the world are claimed and governed by some national government. That nation's laws apply, and any attempt by the owner to claim sovereignty would generally be unrealistic. Nevertheless, some people still try to set up their own micronations on islands. Since islands can, under international law, only be claimed if they are at least 30 cm above the high tide point, some have even attempted to build sovereign islands, like real-estate millionaire Michael Oliver's attempt at building a libertarian city-state called the Republic of Minerva in the southern Pacific Ocean.
"Private" islands in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile and other countries are not legally entirely private – any foreshore, such as beaches, is owned by the state, and is hence publicly accessible property, despite what the owners of the land on the island may wish to claim. The same applies to freedom to roam in Nordic countries: only the yard of a house and the immediate vicinity is legally protected against trespassing, and the water bodies around the island are freely navigable.
Historically, some cruise lines provided passengers with access to small, undeveloped islands. This led to cruise lines purchasing islands to achieve greater control over them, to improve the quality of experience of their passengers.
The real estate market for private islands varies globally. Prices tend to be lower in Nova Scotia, parts of Michigan and Maine, and parts of Central America; and higher in Europe, the Bahamas, and Oceanic countries like French Polynesia. Islands with amenities have higher market value and are not sold as frequently. Some are available for travelers to rent, a trend which increased in the 2000s with economic recession making it more difficult for some owners to maintain them. In So Kwun Wat, Hong Kong, the Pearl Island is a privately owned gated community.
In the 2000s, the United States housing bubble increased the cost-per-acre for private islands. The effect was fueled by the advent of the Internet, which provided greater access to island inventories. Conservation groups' efforts to restrict development reduced the supply of private islands in the market, raising prices.
Southeast Asia has numerous islands, with Indonesia being an archipelago of 17,000 islands and the Philippines having around 7,100. Real estate laws restrict foreigners' ability to buy property in the geographical area, and many islands either have unclear ownership rights or are already settled. Private islands that are available in Southeast Asia's real estate market are also prohibitively costly due to being in high demand by hotel developers. Developments address these difficulties by selling private islands that have villas and neighbor islands that have high-end hotels; the proximity keeps costs of habitation down.
Europe has hundreds of thousands of islands many of which are privately owned. With 17,000 islands in Finland, 221,831 islands in Sweden and thousands in Croatia, Europe is increasingly becoming a hotspot for private island holidays. Many islands, although privately owned, are not suitable for development, due to legal and governmental restrictions or due to the physical characteristics of the island.