Sustainable development is often stated as an objective of management strategies for small islands. However, relatively little work has explicitly considered what sustainable development means in the context of small islands. This article explores the nature of the development process on small islands and considers this in the context of different interpretations of sustainable development. A case study of the Galapagos is presented which considers the drivers and threats to development in these islands. The case study helps illustrate some of the multiple interpretations of sustainable development that are possible in a small island context. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.