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An international team of researchers has found that restoring and rewilding islands decimated by damaging invasive species benefits coastal and marine environments as well as the islands themselves.

A sea snake with thick black and white stripes and a yellow face slithers toward the camera
Yellow Lipped Sea Krait, a type of sea snake, in the in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji.

Islands support some of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, with a disproportionate amount of rare plants, animals, communities, and cultures found nowhere else. Healthy land-sea ecosystems depend on a flow of nutrients from oceans to islands and from islands to oceans, a process that “connector species,” such as seabirds, seals, sea snakes, and land crabs, facilitate.

A perspective published by the team recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Harnessing island–ocean connections to maximize marine benefits of island conservation” recognizes the critical link between island and marine ecosystems and identifies island and near-shore marine environmental characteristics that promote strong linkages in these ecosystems around the world. The research effort was led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the nonprofit Island Conservation, in collaboration with the USGS and partners across the US, UK, and New Zealand.

The result is a model for effective land-sea conservation and management decisions by governments, foundations, Indigenous peoples, local communities, NGOs and conservationists to harness the power of island-ocean connections that bolster ocean health. They highlight six essential environmental characteristics that can guide prioritization of island-ocean restorations: precipitation, elevation, vegetation cover, soil hydrology, oceanographic productivity, and wave energy.

USGS Western Ecological Research Center scientist Robert Fisher was an author on the paper. Fisher has studied the biodiversity of tropical islands of the Pacific Basin for decades, with a focus on reptiles and invasive species. These island ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change and other human-driven impacts. Fisher’s research explores how biodiversity in on these islands has evolved, critical information for managing modern biodiversity loss in the region.

“This paper is exciting because it really broadens how people think about the land-sea connection and what restoration can deliver for biodiversity.”, says Fisher. “Many of these types of projects have been targeted to recovering birds, but now we can see how much more benefit to sea snakes, sea turtles, and other species that make that linkage between land to sea to land as outcomes for these management actions.”

The insights put forward by the authorship collaboration of researchers, non-profit conservationists, government agency representatives, and others will inform island restoration into the future, helping determine where restoration will lead to the most impactful co-benefits for coastal and marine systems.

Access the publication here.

Click here to learn more in a press release from Island Conservation.

Click here to learn more about USGS reptile research in the Pacific Islands.

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