If Climate Change May Sink These Islands, Should We Save Their Biodiversity?

Mar 4th, 2014 | By | Category: Biodiversity, Flood, News, Vulnerability

aec18107-76cb-483c-94af-31807f10af56_650x366It’s not news that as a result of climate change, oceans could literally swallow many low-lying islands if sea-level rise continues at its current pace.

Four years ago, the small island nation of Maldives, population 393,988, held its cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the problem, hoping the backdrop of coral would raise alarm bells about a rising Indian Ocean. Several islands off of India have all but disappeared, lost under the waves for years only to reemerge on satellite images.

In many cases, it’s no longer a question of whether this will happen, but when. A new paper in the March Trends in Ecology & Evolution asks a different question about these islands, particularly those acting as sanctuaries for species, where invasives have been eradicated: What happens to the animals on these places, and if climate change will sink the islands anyway, are they ecosystems worth saving?

Researchers from the New Zealand’s University of Auckland, France’s University of Paris Sud and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization looked at more than 600 islands where invasive-species eradication has been successful. They found that should the ocean waters rise just 3 feet, 26 of the islands will be submerged, The New Zealand Herald reports.

Of 4,500 islands in what are considered biodiversity hotspots, up to 19 percent of those could drown, according to Grist.

The researchers don’t conclude that the animals should be left to swim or sink. And they don’t propose halting efforts to remove invasive species from these islands. Rather, they suggest a new approach that considers changes in levels of the sea: “The full spectrum of climate change, especially sea-level rise and loss of suitable climatic conditions, should be rapidly integrated into island biodiversity research and management,” they write in the abstract to their paper.

“It may be that eventually we will be faced with some tough decisions about whether we move species in order to save them or whether we do nothing and let them go extinct,” James Russell, one of the researchers from the University of Auckland, told the Herald. Now, he added, is the time to determine which species most need our help “and the options for saving them.”

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