On the frontline – helping island states face up to climate change

05 June 2014 | News story

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are at the forefront of climate change — they’re the first to feel the impacts and are among those taking the lead in tackling this ever-growing threat.

Today is World Environment Day and the aim is to promote a greater understanding of the urgency of protecting island nations in the face of growing risks, not only from climate change. Many island communities rely directly on natural resources that are being degraded by a barrage of threats including development, over-fishing, resource extraction and invasive species.

To mark World Environment Day, IUCN is highlighting the work that it is doing to help island communities become more resilient. From the Pacific to the Caribbean we’re advising governments on how to integrate nature conservation into national sustainable development planning and working with communities to implement sound resource management.


Mangroves in Fiji. Photo by Padma Lal

Locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) are increasingly being established as a way for coastal communities to conserve the resources they depend on for food and income.

The LMMA Network has more than 500 participating villages in eight countries, including six in the Pacific: Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The approach has spread as far afield as Madagascar and other western Indian Ocean countries.

An example of a successful LMMA in the Pacific is the Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network in Vanuatu. This network includes 16 indigenous communities engaged in conserving more than 3,000 hectares of marine and terrestrial resources.

Each of the communities designated different marine conservation areas, including some off-limit tabu sites. In Unakap village on Nguna Island, three areas have been designated: a permanent reserve, where no fishing is allowed; a periodic reserve, where harvesting is only allowed for special community events; and a general use zone, which can be fished subject to bans on destructive fishing practices and over-harvesting. These measures have led to more species of fish and marine invertebrates in the community reserves compared to unmanaged areas.

IUCN is helping to improve protected area management, including the management of LMMAs, through the Pacific Island Roundtable for Nature Conservation, and the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) programme. IUCN and the LMMA Network are both members of the Roundtable, which helps organisations coordinate their conservation action. Across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and including in the six island states of the LMMA Network, BIOPAMA promotes the use of best available science and knowledge to build capacity and strengthen decision-making for protected areas.


Masked Booby. Photo by John Lyndon

European Union Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories (or Europe overseas for short) range from small islands to large stretches of land and are located across all major regions of the globe from tropical to polar latitudes. These territories cover an area of 4.4 million km², equivalent in size to continental Europe and are home to a unique diversity of species and ecosystems which are highly vulnerable to human impacts, particularly climate change.

To help these areas become more resilient, IUCN is implementing the European Commission-funded BEST Initiative (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of European overseas) which currently has 16 on-the-ground projects and is looking to expand. These projects range from valuing the benefits and services provided by marine protected areas in the Caribbean with a view to creating ways of paying for them, to restoring ecosystems such as forests and coral reefs, to eradicating invasive species that are decimating island biodiversity.

About World Environment Day 2104

World Environment Day is the United Nations’ main vehicle for promoting worldwide awareness and action for the environment. In support of the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), WED 2014 has adopted SIDS in the broader context of climate change as its theme. It aims to build momentum towards the Third International Conference on SIDS in September and encourage a sense of understanding in helping protect islands in the face of growing risks.