Alien Invasive Species: Helping Islands Adapt
Nairobi, 18 May 2010
Delegates and colleagues,
Thank you for inviting me to part of your side event, an important follow-up and report back from the previous workshop, relating to invasive species and island biodiversity, held in April in New Zealand.
Workshops and side events like these are crucial to highlight successes, deepen connections within regions and facilitate exchange of experiences, showcasing how victories can be major gains for conservation and development.
From case studies and success stories, we need to accelerate and expand national, regional and international action on invasives and drive effective management from local to regional and global levels.
We are beginning to grasp the true cost of invasive species and their devastating effect on biodiversity, livelihoods, development and trade. Invasive species are of course, part of overall biodiversity loss and their presence is contributing to a worrying ongoing trend - bringing us closer to a number of potential tipping points - all of which would vastly reduce the capacity of ecosystems to provide essential services.
In a recent BBC article, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner warned that "Far too many governments have failed to grasp the scale of the threat from invasive species." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8615398.stm)
Perhaps this should be our starting point. On a global scale, Alien invasives are thought to be harming the global economy to the tune of $1.4 trillion (£913bn) a year, if not far more.
So as we count the economic cost... the human cost for the farmers, fishers, pastoralists is perhaps incalculable as food supplies dwindle, crops are ruined, days are spent removing swathes of hyacinth from clogged waterways in Africa, soils are poisoned and new infections proliferate.
Overall losses to invasives may amount to more than $12bn in respect to Africa's eight principle crops.
Alien invasive species are also challenging the UN's poverty-related Millennium Development Goals.
Water hyacinth is now exploding into across African lakes and waterways, affecting shipping, reducing fish catches, hampering electricity generation and human health.
The plant has now invaded more than 50 countries around the world. Annual costs to the Ugandan economy alone may be $112m (£73m)
Perhaps, shockingly, the true scale and nature of the problem is only now unfolding.
If governments have failed to grasp the true threat globally, then perhaps it is fair to say the urgency is even more pronounced for islands as they have an acute Achilles heel. They are even more vulnerable to the spread of invasives given their small size and fragile ecosystems.
An obvious example - the lionfish, originally from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is currently spreading throughout the Caribbean Sea and endangering native biodiversity surrounding these islands. According to certain experts, it may be one of the most devastating marine invasions of history, and is virtually unstoppable.
Islands have already been disproportionately impacted by invasive species with damaging environmental, economic and social effects.
Introductions of mammals like goats, cats, mongooses, rabbits and rodents have long been threats to native bird, reptile and plant species. This list of biological invaders also extends to snails, reptiles, fish, ants, wasps and a range of pathogens.
A key question with regard to island biodiversity and invasive species is how to define the criteria to measure the tipping point beyond which it will be impossible return to a natural ecosystem.
The tipping point for actual biological impact is after an invasive species establishment and spread, whereas the critical tipping point for where corrective action can be most effective is just prior to or after an introduction.
If it is imperative for Islands to tackle this problem quickly and efficiently, what must be done-How can meetings like this really advance our action to find a solution to a common challenge-
Firstly - let's see what we have in common and where we can work together. Some facets that make islands so vulnerable, particularly their size and relative isolation, also makes them candidates for more successful invasive species eradication and environmental restoration.
The majority of successful invasive species eradications have been on islands. As an example, GEF funding and co-finance has allowed the eradication of several animal and plant species from the Galapagos Islands. The list includes goats, cats, donkeys, feral pigs, dogs, and rats.
Secondly - Alien invasives do not work in silos, nor must we. It is time to work more with regional institutions and strengthen them to share knowledge, case studies, common tools, databases and assistance. That means talking across the Caribbean, to the Indian Ocean, to the Pacific. It must truly global communication. Where solutions exist on one island, we must help facilitate and use this knowledge to assist other islands. It means working through regional instruments, conventions and agreements as well as soft law instruments that include guidelines and resolutions.
New tools are also being developed all the time. I am sure you are all aware of the new Global Island Database (GID) aimed at boosting sustainable management of nature - based assets found on islands across the globe.
This database will we hope, also assist island governments to play a more central and pivotal role in international negotiations and decision-making in respect to the management of island resources.
Dealing with invasives is a little like dealing with a virus. Most importantly, they affect all sectors of society - agriculture, trade, health and environment. We cannot just label them (invasives) as environmental problems without an understanding that many institutions within islands and across artificial borders need to work more cohesively together.
It is time to work in tune with the natural world and not solely define much needed action and decisions through historical or political ties and associations.
It may be true that far too many countries globally have failed to grasp the threat or are far too casual in their response to invasives. However, this is an area where Islands can truly show leadership and a way forward.
Let us not create or perpetuate artificial barriers to dealing with this critical challenge. As achievable goals, can we articulate and commit to decisions and actions by CBD in November to facilitate development of national invasive species strategies and actions plans-
Can we use islands as an opportunity to develop and improve invasive species policy and management practices- There is much work to be done and a strong role to play.
If I leave you with two thoughts today before we begin the report-back, these are:
Islands are too small to continue working in isolation and on a positive note, we must remember that when governments take decisive action on this issue, we see positive and fruitful results.
Have no doubt - this is an area for Island leadership, commitment and action within the frameworks of regional collaboration. I am very much looking forward to working with you and hearing the feedback, lessons and results from your regions.