In the Comoros, volunteers keep an eye on sea turtles as they nest, protecting the animals from predators and poachers. Photo Credit: UNEP/Frank Papuska

World - Small island states fight back against nature loss, climate change

Day was dawning over the Comoros when two self-described eco-guards found the great bulk of a sea turtle motionless on the beach. The animal had laid its eggs in the sand and was gathering the strength to bury them before hauling itself back to the sea.

Had the men discovered it earlier in their patrol, they would have stayed to keep the turtle and its shallow nest safe until dawn, whether from natural enemies such as snakes – or nocturnal hunters lured by the turtle’s meat.

“This one has laid its eggs and is just trying to protect them,” said Chamse Said Mansoib, the leader of the patrol and chairman of a local development association. “But it is nearly half past five now, and people are up and starting to go about their work. So we can safely move on and let it return to the water on its own.” With daily life beginning on the island, chances are lower that people or animals would take the precious eggs.

Safeguarding endangered turtles in the Comoros is just one part of a gathering effort in small island developing states (SIDS) across the globe to protect and restore their unique and precious ecosystems for the benefit of both people and nature.

Many island nations are struggling to escape poverty just as climate change accelerates the degradation of the natural resources that underpin their economies. Coral reefs and fish stocks are in decline. Sea level rise is leading to the salinization of rivers and lakes, thus making freshwater scarce on the islands. Rising sea levels are also eroding coastlines battered by intensifying storms.

Being at the frontline of climate impacts, island nations are leading by example in tackling global environmental crises. For example, SIDS leaders pressed the international community to set the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the most ambitious target under the Paris Agreement. They have also turned chunks of their territorial waters into marine protected areas, making them vital players in global conservation, delivering on the new Montreal-Kunming Global Biodiversity Framework.

"To some, these islands are mere dots on the map," said Sai Navoti, chief of the SIDS unit at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). "But together they show that they are not only small and vulnerable, but indeed are large ocean states."

In recognition of the frontline role played by SIDS, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restorationhas chosen an initiative covering three island states – Vanuatu in the Pacific, Saint Lucia in the Caribbean and the Comoros in the Indian Ocean – among its first 10 World Restoration Flagships. These ambitious initiatives, announced during a star-studded ceremony in December 2022, are designed to showcase the far-reaching benefits that come when communities revive degraded natural spaces.

A grand vision

The UN Decade seeks to scale up and accelerate ecosystem restoration in order to address the interlinked environmental crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Flagship initiatives are chosen to showcase best practices and demonstrate long-term results.

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