Celebrating the Year of Island Biodiversity

World Environment Day - June 5

A couple of weeks ago, on May 22nd, we celebrated the International Day of Biodiversity, and today, June 5th, is World Environment Day.  Both of these days dedicated to raising global awareness have adopted the theme of Island Biodiversity, to coincide with the United Nations designating 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States. This designation is meant to raise awareness of the unique and critical environmental, economic and social issues facing Island Nations throughout the world.

Islands and their surrounding aquatic habitats are unique hot spots for biodiversity.  Many species of wildlife, plants and birds are unique (or endemic)  to particular islands.   One tenth of the world’s population live on islands, which mean they depend on island resources for their livelihood, food, water, and other ecological services.  Island populations and economies tend to be small, and are the most vulnerable to disruptions to ecological processes, changes in climate and weather events, as well as economic and cultural shifts. 

Ontario Context: Great Lakes Islands

Small Island Developing States refer to Island Nations in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Logically, the term “islands” tends to conjure up images of tropical beaches, aquamarine waters, exotic creatures, and balmy breezes.  While many islands do fit this description, there are less typical hot spots of island biodiversity, some of them right here in Ontario.  As a province that borders four of the five Great Lakes, Ontario has islands of its very own.   The Great Lakes are host to over 32,000 islands, which is the largest collection of freshwater islands anywhere on the planet! 

Overview of the Great Lakes, Photo courtesy of NASA & Wikimedia Commons

Whether tropical Island Nations, or freshwater islands in our own province, there is no question that islands, with their unique ecosystems, and vital genetic resources, are of importance to the planet, and face unique challenges; challenges from development, climate change, habitat loss and invasive species.  2014 is an important year to work together to increase awareness of the risks these ecosystems face, and the important contribution they make to the planet’s biodiversity. 

Over the coming weeks, we’ll feature articles on the blog around islands; the biodiversity they support, the unique challenges they face, and what’s being done in support of these ecosystems in Ontario and beyond.

Islands in the Classroom

BEAN will shortly be releasing a new curriculum-linked lesson plan on Island Biodiversity for Ontario educators.  This resource addresses islands in a literal sense – small, isolated pockets of biodiversity in our marine and freshwater habitats.  It also highlights metaphorical “islands of biodiversity” – habitats and biodiversity hot spots isolated in the midst of developed urban areas, roads, housing, and industry.  It provides resources for speaking to students about the threats, challenges unique to islands, and the ways that we can protect, conserve and improve biodiversity. 

Visit BEAN’s Education Resources page to stay up to date on new lesson plans and existing curriculum resources. 

Click here for more information on Island Biodiversity.