SEACOLOGY: PRESERVING ISLAND ENVIRONMENTS AND CULTURES
The Importance of Islands throughout the World
Due to the high rate of endemism, islands have a disproportionately high number of endangered species. The Hawaiian Islands, dubbed "the endangered species capital of the world," are a case in point. Seventy-two percent of all the plant and animal extinctions ever recorded in the U.S. have occurred in Hawaii, a state that makes up less than two tenths of one percent of the nation's land area.
According to the recent IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Global Species Assessment report, of all recorded species extinctions since 1500 A.D., 62 percent of mammal, 88 percent of bird, 54 percent of amphibian, 86 percent of reptile and 68 percent of mollusk extinctions were island species.
In the last four-hundred years, Lord Howe Island, a small island located in the Coral Sea between Australia and New Zealand, has had more bird species and subspecies extinctions than Africa, Asia and Europe combined.
Many tropical islands are surrounded by coral reefs, often referred to as the "rainforests of the ocean" because of their astonishing diversity. Coral reefs are so endangered that it is estimated that 70 percent will cease to function as healthy ecosystems in the next 50 years unless remedial action is taken immediately.
Due to the self-contained nature of island environments, their ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to damage caused by introduced species. Destruction caused by feral pigs in Hawaii and the impact of introduced foxes and rats on seabird colonies of the islands of Alaska are but two examples.
Due to their low elevation levels, islands are particularly susceptible to the ill effects of rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Due to their small and isolated ecosystems, islands are ideal venues for scientific studies of Earth's environment. They serve as scientific "canaries in the coalmine" as the effects of habitat destruction and unsustainable development become all the more apparent.
Due to their typically small populations and ensuing small economies, most islands are not able to resist pressures from outside development nor can they afford appropriate environmental remediation procedures. As well, many islands do not have environmental NGOs or other types of advocacy available in the face of such outside pressures.