Letter to the Editor: Uninhabited islands should be focus of conservation efforts

MPA News

Dear MPA News,

We write in response to your September 2008 issue, in which you asked what MPA planning and management will be like in 10 years.

The degradation of marine ecosystems, especially coastal systems such as coral reefs and mangroves, has been accelerating over the past half century. This is driven largely by human demographic pressures and consequent impacts on habitats and resources. In 10 or 20 years' time, we will have reached a point where effective conservation will demand that urgent, difficult decisions are made.

Complete and self-contained reserves with no human pressures will be one solution via a network of protected, scattered islands in the Indo-Pacific. There are hundreds of uninhabited islands, and increasing urbanization is creating more of these as populations leave small remote islands with limited economic prospects in search of a new way of life in large continental and island cities. These uninhabited islands will become refuges for wildlife and stepping stones that reach from the east coast of Africa across to the Americas, encompassing the whole Indo-Pacific region.

Even these uninhabited islands will be subject to climate change stresses, but they will have the highest resilience potential because there are virtually no anthropogenic stresses. Therefore governments, governmental organizations, and NGOs must consider now what possibilities exist to declare strict island wildlife refuges without any inhabitants and human activities. Governments then should act to declare those within their jurisdiction.

Bernard Salvat
Professor emeritus, French Coral Reef Initiative (IFRECOR), and French delegate to the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). E-mail: bsalvat [at] univ-perp.fr

Clive Wilkinson
Coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), Townsville, Australia. E-mail: clive.wilkinson [at] rrrc.org.au