Earth is home to over 100,000 islands, which support 20% of global biodiversity. The characteristics of size, shape and degree of isolation make many of these islands ecologically and culturally unique.
However these same characteristics also make islands fragile and vulnerable ecosystems. Islands have the highest proportion of recorded species extinctions. Eighty percent of known species extinctions have occurred on islands and currently 45 percent of IUCN Red List endangered species occur on islands.
As well as ecological value, the terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems of islands provide important natural resources necessary for the economies and cultures of many island communities. Balancing national priorities with sustainable practices and environmental protection in the use of these resources poses challenges. These challenges can often be made more difficult by isolation and limited human resources.
The Island Ecosystem Thematic Group provides specialist expertise on terrestrial and marine island ecosystems. The Group is a global network of dedicated experts who provide informed guidance on research, policy and management, in order to promote effective biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in island environments.
The Group will be working in line with the overall mission of the Union, bringing together ecosystem science, protected areas management and socio-cultural contexts relevant to islands. Recognising that invasive alien species, climate change and unsustainable development are among the major drivers of biodiversity loss on islands, the Group’s focus areas include:
• Invasive alien species: developing and strengthening collaboration to manage invasive alien species including tools and approaches for effective monitoring and eradication of invasive alien species on islands, with particular consideration to biosecurity approaches.
• Climate change adaptation and mitigation: helping to create resilient island ecosystems in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.
• Protected Areas: working towards improving networks of representative marine and terrestrial protected areas, including support for community-based approaches, such as indigenous and local community conserved areas.
• Sustainable development: supporting the important role of indigenous and local communities in the sustainable use of biodiversity including through fisheries, forestry, agriculture, and tourism industries.
The Group plans to work with the input of traditional and cultural knowledge and skills of local and indigenous communities. It will also collaborate with other specialist groups within the Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), including the Red List of Ecosystems, Climate Change Adaptation, Ecosystems and Invasive Species, Ecosystem Restoration. The IUCN Island Initiative Program and other IUCN Commission Groups including the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) will all be included in the collaborative network to build synergies across sectors.
Island communities have demonstrated leadership and commitment to protect, manage and sustainably use their island resources, the Group looks forward to contributing to and strengthening this commitment.