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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, private islands remain under the jurisdiction of national and sometimes local governments.
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, like real-estate millionaire Michael Oliver's attempt at building a libertariancity-state called the Republic of Minerva in the southern Pacific Ocean. There are widely varying government policies regarding private islands: for instance, islands off the coast of China, like any other land within the country, cannot be purchased outright, but only leased from the government for a maximum period of 50 years.
"Private" islands in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile and other countries are not legally entirely private – any foreshore, such as a beach, is owned by the government, 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.
There are many thousands of uninhabited islands in the world with potential for commercial development of tourist resorts or private recreational use. Some islands can be bought undeveloped, while others already have roads and/or houses. Islands are also available for rent. Many celebrities have their own private islands.
Commercial development of uninhabited islands can raise ecological concerns, as many have a fragile environment.
Since 1992 a number of cruise lines have acquired "private islands" to offer their customers exclusive beach experiences. Such islands (or sections thereof) were further developed to have restaurants and perhaps additional attractions such as parasailing, waterparks, zip lines, horseback riding, spas and more. Some islands have piers, others are reached by tender. The purchase of an island allows the cruise line to achieve greater control over the venue and to influence the quality of experience of their passengers. Certain private islands may be used not only by the cruise line that bought the property but also by associated lines.
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 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.
The Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic feature a number of private islands typically run as sheep raising family farms and tourist destinations. Prominent among these is Weddell Island, one of the largest private islands in the world with a surface area of 265.8 km2 (102.6 sq mi). While the Hawaiian island of Lanai is still bigger at 364 km2 (141 sq mi), technically it might not qualify as part of its territory (about 2%) does not belong to the principal owner.