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What Is Island Conservation?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Island conservation is the effort to preserve and protect the ecosystems within or immediately surrounding islands. As with other types of conservation, island conservation seeks to prevent the loss of species and their habitats. This is especially important with islands because the surrounding waters can prevent natural introduction of living creatures to the environment.

This type of conservations requires the efforts of qualified conservation workers such as rangers. These workers usually have a degree related to conservation, life science or biology, as well as specialized, extended training in the factors involved in island ecosystem development. The tasks of island conservation usually needs many more people than these trained workers. Thus, island conservationists enlist the aid of volunteers, supervising them in basic conservation tasks.

In addition to conservation workers, conservation on islands also calls for legal workers such as police. These workers help the conservationists enforce the local conservation and wildlife regulations. Multiple jurisdictions often must be involved, because violators of conservation and wildlife law sometimes can use watercraft vessels to escape and thus are not always confined to the island.

Often, professional conservationists who work on islands are supported by government programs. In other instances, conservationists must form nonprofit organizations which depend on contributions from the public to operate. Often, nonprofit groups are specialized, focusing on just one problem area on or near the island. For example, the Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund of Mexico focuses on protecting the great white shark population.

Regardless of where the support for conservation originates, island conservation uses a variety of methods to get results. For example, conservationists patrol regulated areas, release animals or fowl, plant seeds or seedlings, tag wildlife and encourage methods of recycling and pollution reduction. Even though conservation takes an enormous number of people, some methods of island conservation can be isolating, such as when a conservationist conducts a field study in a remote area of the island. People who work in island conservation thus have to be able to serve as both leaders and independent scientists.

Island conservation is a concern because species often are unable to travel across large bodies of water to leave an island. This is of scientific interest because some islands have species that exist nowhere else in the world. Through island conservation, these species are protected from extinction. Perhaps the best example of this is the Archipiélago de Colón, better known as the Galápagos Islands, whose wildlife helped Charles Darwin hypothesize about survival of the fittest and form his famous theory of evolution.

The geographical characteristics of islands mean that it also is challenging for members of species found both on the island and other lands to move to the island. This matters because island species that suffer significant drops in population cannot gain back their numbers easily without the intervention of people. Island population drops do not necessarily mean these species will become threatened or endangered overall, but removing even one species from an island can create an isolated area where the ecosystem no longer is stable.

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