International Day for Biodiversity: Celebrate the unique and wonderful nature of the world’s islands

22 May 2014 | News story

IUCN joins its member organizations and partners around the world in celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity, advocating the role of islands in addressing pressing global issues through ingenuity, innovation and use of traditional knowledge.

The United Nations proclaimed 22 May as International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. This year’s theme of Island Biodiversity was chosen to coincide with the designation by the United Nations General Assembly of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States.

Islands are a very special case in terms of biodiversity conservation, being particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, tourism and invasive alien species, as well as the over-exploitation of natural resources.

In Europe, islands are popular tourist destinations and the impacts of development on native species have to be carefully mitigated and when assessed, threatened species are given legal protection. The Mediterranean region in particular hosts a rich variety of species, and many of those can be found on the region’s numerous islands. Unfortunately, the European Red List, which assesses the species at European level, has shown that this rich biodiversity is at risk with many of these species are threatened with extinction.

The Sardinian Long-eared Bat (Plecotus sardus) was first identified on the island of Sardinia, Italy in 2002, and is listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN Red List. The species’ forest habitat is declining in quality due to forestry management activities and roosting sites are being disturbed by tourism. Thankfully, the Sardinian Long-eared Bat is protected by national legislation in most range states and is also protected through the Bonn Convention (Eurobats) and Bern Convention, as well as being included in Annex IV of the EU Habitats and Species Directive. Other examples of threatened species endemic to Mediterranean islands include the Ikaria Bright Bush-cricket (Poecilimon ikariensis) and the Cretan Orchid (Orchis sitiaca).

The numerous islands of the EU's Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories are also home to a unique diversity of species and ecosystems of global significance, which are highly vulnerable to human impacts and increasingly the impacts of climate change.

“Safeguarding Europe’s biodiversity is a challenge that policy-makers must address. On International Day for Biodiversity, we call on EU Member States to step up their conservation efforts and fully implement the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. We have to do our utmost to save these vulnerable island species, as well as many others, from extinction,” said Luc Bas, Director of IUCN’s EU Representative Office in Brussels.

The International Day for Biodiversity coincides with a high-level conference organized by the European Commission on Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES), which will look at progress by EU Member States to assess and map the status of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services on their national territory. Once fully completed, MAES will provide comprehensive information on the status of ecosystems in Europe and help devise adequate environmental legislation, and integrate biodiversity objectives into sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries.