Island Biodiversity

This year, the International Day for Biological Diversity is dedicated to “island biodiversity,” in line with the designation by the United Nations General Assembly of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States.

In September, Samoa will host the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States. UNESCO is helping to prepare this major event, which will help to shape a new global sustainable development agenda to follow 2015. This agenda must recognize the importance of Small Island Developing States for global sustainable development.

© Steven Percival. Intangible cultural heritage and respecting environmental sustainability are often closely linked (Samoa).

Unique biodiversity

Island biodiversity is essential here. Many islands and archipelagos have evolved unique biodiversity over time, with a high rate of endemism and particular conservation challenges, with species on small islands being particularly vulnerable to extinction.

The livelihoods and cultural identities of islanders have always been inextricably linked to biodiversity. However, with the presence of people and associated biodiversity — crops, livestock and pests — the risk of extinction to native biodiversity is especially high, and novel communities of species have largely replaced native island biodiversity in many places. Today, climate change, natural disasters, and skewed development are threatening the sustainability of human communities on islands as well as island biodiversity.

Taking action

UNESCO is acting to address these challenges. The sub Network of Island and Coastal Biosphere Reserves (20 members) and the Network for Pacific Biosphere Reserves (10 members) belong to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. The World Heritage Convention also includes many natural sites on islands.

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is building the leadership capacity of the directors of marine and coastal sciences institutes, with a focus on Small Island Developing States, where livelihoods depend heavily on marine resources.

© Dieufort Deslorges. La Selle Biosphere Reserve, where one of the main economic activities is fishery.


The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s Ocean Biogeographic Information System is a gateway to the world's ocean biodiversity and biogeographic data and information, building and maintaining a global alliance of over 500 institutions in 56 countries, including in Small Island Developing States.

Indian Ocean Sandwatch workshop: participants measure longshore currents in Male beach, Seychelles.

© Paul Diamond. Participants measure longshore currents in Male beach, Seychelles, during a Sandwatch Workshop.


UNESCO is also working through such initiatives as Climate Frontlines and Sandwatch, to build the capacities of islanders and to develop networks that help communities to self-organise and create their own resources that are culturally sensitive and scientifically sound. This includes initiatives to help conserve island biodiversity.

Throughout all of this, UNESCO is committed to working with all partners for the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, and the Organization is contributing full-steam to preparing a successful Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States.

As we shape the post-2015 development agenda, we must recognise the importance of island biodiversity and work together to ensure the conservation of this precious and irreplaceable natural resource, which is the basis of human well-being.

     Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO,
     on the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity 2014
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