Island Ecosystems In Peril Due To Sea Level Rise
November 14, 2013

Islands At Risk: Sea Level Rise Threatens Island Ecosystems

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Before he was deposed as president of the island nation of the Maldives last year, Mohamed Nasheed was a fierce advocate and proponent for addressing the seemingly inevitable environmental crisis coming about as a result of global sea level rise. President Nasheed and his efforts were chronicled in the 2011 documentary ‘The Island President.’

In addition to the threat of sea level rise, we were reminded this past weekend about the detrimental effect global warming plays in generating super storms when Super Typhoon Haiyan ravaged entire swaths of islands that comprise the nation of the Philippines.

[ Watch the Video: Super-Typhoon Haiyan Seen From International Space Station ]

In an article for the Mother Nature Network, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of a United Nations disaster assessment team that arrived in the area on Saturday, said, "The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami.” He continued, "This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed."

Research by C. Bellard, C. Leclerc and F. Courchamp of the University of Paris Sud examines how a rise in sea level is sure to bring catastrophe to the island habitats of the globe. As islands are submerged, the Earth can expect to lose a full 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity. In their study, they look at 3 possible scenarios ranging from optimistic to very pessimistic outcomes. They offer their work in the hope it will sound the alarm for the potential dangers we might expect from the worst of the scenarios. The study was published in the open access journal Nature Conservation.

To date, there has been no global assessment of sea level rise and its consequences on the world’s island ecosystems. These vulnerable regions would no doubt experience a near total reduction in habitat, leading to monumental loss of life and creating a refugee class unlike any the world has ever known.

The French researchers focused their study on 1,269 islands that were harbored originally by France. With sea level rise projections estimated anywhere from 18 inches to 18 feet by the end of the century, the islands of New Caledonia and French Polynesia were found to be the most vulnerable ecosystems.

For the more pessimistic scenario, the team claims 8 to 11 percent of the 1,269 islands they evaluated would be completely submerged, taking under the water the self-contained ecosystems they harbor and their inhabitants. The French maritime domain is ranked as the second most important in the world. These islands hold a significant proportion of the world’s biodiversity.

Extrapolating the studied islands to represent the rest of the world’s islands, the team estimates that roughly 10,800 islands would disappear beneath the surface should we experience only the rosiest prediction of an approximate 3 foot sea level rise. Of particular concern is the loss of already threatened biodiversity in many of these habitats.

"Losses of insular habitats will thus be relatively important in the future, probably leading to a major impoverishment of insular biodiversity. Given the implications of these results, decision makers are required to define island conservation priorities that accounts for sea level rise following climate change," comments the author Bellard.

Even in exile, President Nasheed has continued his crusade to alert the world of the situation faced by his beloved homeland.