Island biodiversity matters, but is often neglected

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN’s) warning that 83% of Madagascar’s palms are “threatened with extinction, putting the livelihoods of local people at risk”, has implications that go beyond conservation. “This (Madagascar) situation cannot be ignored,” Jane Smart IUCN’s global director, biodiversity conservation group, who released IUCN’s latest update on the ‘Red List of Threatened Species this week in Hyderabad.

Besides being global biodiversity hotspots, islands are also extremely vulnerable to climate change, and their local small-scale, natural resource-dependent economies are vulnerable to global economic shocks. They are home to unique and endemic biodiversity, whose loss can be irreparable. Some bear the brunt of unsustainable tourism, habitat destruction, and invasive alien species.

Island biodiversity stands threatened. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Consider what Oliver Hillel, programme officer on islands biodiversity at the CBD secretariat, has to say about islands: 30% of conservation hotspots are in islands; extinction rate in islands is upto 177 times higher than on mainlands; and more than 70% of recorded vertebrate extinctions are in islands mostly.

Conservation programme managers are beginning to see islands as a model for testing ecosystem-based management approaches, as their small area makes it easier to manage ecosystem projects, I heard today (18 Oct).

Islands also intersect concerns of UN conventions on biodiversity and climate change, and national strategies to address one have spill-overs or the other.

The tiny Caribbean island of Bonaire, with 16,000 inhabitants, meanwhile, is helping develop international guidelines of sustainable island economies (GSI).  It all started with Bonaire’s ambition to become a model green island. Aided by the Dutch government, in 2010 it tried to address a range of issues, from waste and water management; to renewable energy, sustainable tourism, and behavior and youth education.

The Dutch project in Bonaire soon realized the need to link the various initiatives into a more coherent sustainability strategy and so emerged guidelines on GSI, Annalien van Meer, from CREM, a Netherlands-based organisation working on sustainable development, said.

But sadly, unlike climate change negotiations where islands (or the small island developing states or SIDS) receive particular attention, and are a vocal group, islands tend to get side-lined in discussions on biodiversity, say some observers of international negotiations on biodiversity. Maybe we should get the island climate change group over here, given the common concerns over climate change and biodiversity loss.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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