Islands of the Western Indian Ocean - unite!

21 October 2010 | News story

The islands of the Western Indian Ocean and coastal areas of Eastern Africa are home to 30 million people who rely on their coastal environment for food and income. But overfishing, overdevelopment, pollution, environmental degradation and climate change are seriously threatening the natural resources that fuel the region’s economic activity. A burning question is will the region’s governments and civil society work together to respond to these challenges?

 

The rich waters of the Western Indian Ocean boast some of the world’s most vibrant coastal cultures and biodiversity including coral reefs, globally important populations of whales, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and highly productive fisheries.

Moheli is the smallest island of the Comorian Union, a nation in the Mozambique Channel. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world, with about 38,000 inhabitants who rely on its diverse natural resources: the lagoon hosts dugongs, turtles and dolphins and along the sandy beaches, large fruit bats fly from one coconut palm tree to another. The island is on the ‘tentative list’ for nomination as a World Heritage site.

Moheli island seems to be an ideal place for the development of sustainable tourism that would help support local communities. Sadly, the reality is different: “When you live on an island, climate change is a reality that you face every day”, says H.E. James A. Michel, President of the Republic of the Seychelles and Co-Chair of the Global Island Partnership. Every day the island’s inhabitants fight for survival faced with a wide range of challenges that they have no control over, such as complex regional governance and political instability.

But their everyday lives – and the lives of those living on neighbouring islands - could be made easier and more secure if they could work closely together, exchange knowledge and experiences and learn new ways of responding to new challenges. With the region’s enormous cultural and natural diversity, this is not an easy thing to do. But it’s not impossible.

“The Western Indian Ocean region contains more than 1,500 islands and islets within the territories of 13 countries, of different geological and governance settings,” says Olivier Tyack, IUCN’s Programme Officer for Islands. “This diversity of the environment, people and history does not allow for a holistic approach in managing the natural resources of the region. But climate change impacts and the ongoing degradation of the environment are pushing the conservation world to overcome this barrier.”

This is the objective of the Western Indian Ocean Partnership (WIOP)*, to be launched during the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, currently taking place in Nagoya. WIOP comes under the Global Islands Partnership (GLISPA) of which IUCN is a key member and aims to promote national and regional action to safeguard the resilience of the region’s ecosystems so that they can continue to help address climate change and provide security to itspeople.

Ambassador Ronald Jumeau of the Seychelles stated, “We refuse to be defined by the small size of our countries: we will be defined by our drive, ambition and determination and the Western Indian Ocean can lead the way.” The Ambassador added that “We, the Seychelles and islands of the Western Indian Ocean region, need to reach out beyond our borders, beyond our waters to ensure our safety and security.”

A series of events about islands, their biodiversity and the threats they are currently facing, is being organized in Nagoya by the Global Island Partnership. Find out more about them from the Island Journey brochure.

Listen to Neville Ash, Head of IUCN’s Ecosystem Management Programme explain why islands are important and what threats they are currently facing:

For more information please contact:

Olivier Tyack, IUCN’s Programme Officer for Islands, e-mail: Olivier.Tyack@iucn.org

*The main partners and members supporting this partnership are the region’s governments and regional development and conservation organizations such as IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Global Invasive Species Programme, United Nation Development Programme, The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Wildlife Fund, the Convention on Biological Diversity secretariat, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, PCI Media Impact and others.