EarthTalk: Conservation Efforts for Species on Sinking Islands

Thanks to rising sea levels, land forms that sustain wildlife may no longer be above water or otherwise suitable for some species who may be hard pressed to find places to go. Pictured: a Galapagos penguin, one of thousands of endemic island species facing likely extinction unless we can get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions in short order. EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Are there any conservation efforts focused on animal species endemic to islands likely to be submerged by rising sea levels? — H. Wyeth, Anahola, HI

Islands are indeed likely to be the areas hardest hit by our warming climate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of leading climate scientists from around the world convened by the United Nations to assess the ongoing risk of global warming, predicts a global average sea level rise of between 3.5 and 34.6 inches over the next century. And the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 42 small island and low-lying coastal countries that have banded together to lobby United Nations policymakers, reports that warming-induced sea level rises could threaten the very existence of some island nations including the Maldives, Kiribati and parts of the Bahamas.

Those low-lying nations that do manage to hang onto some land will contend with not only continuously rising seas and stronger more frequent storms, but also declines in the productivity of their agriculture and fisheries. Salt water intrusion will limit the amount of freshwater available for crops and in some cases undermine the integrity of the soil itself. And as coral reefs die off, the abundant marine life that once congregated around them will disappear.

As for wildlife, it’s unclear just how much certain endemic species will be affected by rising sea levels and other environmental hazards exacerbated by global warming. Clearly the biggest threat is habitat loss: Land forms that once sustained certain animals may no longer be above water or otherwise suitable for some species. Those fortunate enough to be on big continents may be able to move away from shore to neighboring areas that can provide the resources needed for survival. But animals on islands may be hard pressed to find places better to go to where they can keep on keeping on.

The IPCC lists a few examples among thousands of endemic island dwellers facing likely extinction unless we can get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions in short order: the Tuamotu sandpiper of Tuamotu Island, the Bristle-thighed Curlew of French Polynesia, the Manus fantail of Papua New Guinea, the lorikeet and rail of New Caledonia, the moorhen and Savai’i of Samoa, the Santo Mountain starling on Espiritu Santo, penguins in the Galapagos, petrels in Bermuda and seabird colonies from the Kerguelen, Crozet and outer Hawaiian islands, among others. The IPCC adds that endemic flora may fare even worse, which will in turn drive more animal extinctions.

What can be done to stem this rising tide of endemic species loss? According to the IPCC, the establishment of terrestrial, marine or coastal reserves has been found to be a “useful management option.” Results from existing model reserves on islands across the Caribbean (including Dominica, Bonaire, the Grenadines and St. Lucia) have shown promise. Groups including Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Nature Conservancy and others, are working to create more such reserves in other biodiversity hotspots, including many non-threatened islands around the globe.

Conservation International
Wildlife Conservation Society
Nature Conservancy

Image Credit: Wikipedia


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Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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  1. Thank you for this informative article, as I often think about the threat to low lying nations who are dealing with these issues on a daily basis. I so appreciate you highlighting this issue and sharing with us what kinds of solutions may help.

  2. Since the sea rise has been about a constant 2mm a year for the last 200 years, I see no cause for alarm as the evidence points to natural causes. These pineapple governments want a handout.

    Animals have adapted in the past and will in the future. The IPCC’s prediction are based on flawed computer programs are not predictors. The Earth has been warming since that last glacial. Woho!

    And the sea rise has significantly slowed in the last 3 years:

    And those people who live on small islands barely above sea level, time to move.

    • Wow Scotter – quite an assessment there. So you’re proposing entire nations simply “move.” Any suggestions as to where?

      You also may have missed the point of this particular post – but never mind.

      Finally, can you cite any evidence of the flawed IPCC computer “programs” (as you call them) or explain how your reference to the University of Colorado research shows that sea level rise has been consistent for the past two centuries?

  3. Wow Thomas

    {The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of leading climate scientists from around the world convened by the United Nations}

    The IPCC a group of credible scientists? They are a political group:

    McKitrick et al. 2007:

    “While we are often told about the thousands of scientists on whose work the Assessment reports are based, the vast majority of these scientists have no
    direct influence on the conclusions expressed by the IPCC. Those are produced by an inner core of scientists, and the SPMs (Summary for Policymakers) are revised and agreed to, line-by-line, by representatives of member governments. This obviously is not how real scientific research is reviewed and published.

    These SPMs turn out, in all cases, to be highly selective summaries of the voluminous science reports, typically 800 or more pages, with no indexes (except, finally, the Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007), and essentially unreadable
    except by dedicated scientists.”

    So the IPCC is a political Arm for the UN.

    And if you bothered to go out to the Colorado site you would see the graph is sourced from the TOPEX/POSEIDON and Jason systems:

    The average sea level rise average has been 3.2+/- 0.4mm/year. Jason-1, launched in late 2001 as the successor to T/P, continues this record by providing an estimate of global mean sea level every 10 days with an uncertainty of 3-4 mm.

    Wow, lot of leeway there for accuracy.

    The empirical data has proved time and time again that the computer programs the IPCC uses have over predicted the warming and sea level rise. Their leading computer Guru, Dr. Trenberth, even admits it:

    “As Dr. Trenberth recently acknowledged to Nature journal’s Climate Feedback blog, June 04, 2007, IPCC models cannot predict future climate because they don’t reflect reality: “None of the models used by IPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate.” he stated. “Moreover, the starting climate state in several of the models may depart significantly from the real climate owing to model errors. In fact there are no predictions by IPCC at all. And there never have been. The IPCC instead proffers “what if” projections of future climate that correspond to certain emissions scenarios.”

    So the IPCC is predicting a sea level rise of anywhere between 3.5 and 34.6 inches over the next century. So how can they blame humans for global warming since they can’t even predict a concise sea level rise?

    So since the last 10,000 years the estimate has been 2mm a year, and on that basis, Islanders on low level islands should plan on moving…. due to natural warming that can’t be prevent by curtailing CO2 emissions as there is no evidence that the present warming is caused by CO2 emissions which have come mostly from the oceans outgassing.

    “Holgate (2007), using data from worldwide coastal tidal gauge records, shows that the rate of sea level rise is decreasing. Specifically, the mean rate of global sea level rise was “larger in the early part of the last century (2.03 ± 0.35 mm/yr 1904-1953), in comparison with the latter part (1.45 ± 0.34 mm/yr 1954-2003).” [NOAA puts normal rise at 1 to 3mm per year, about the thickness of 1 or 2 pennies.]”

    For you to be ignorant of the facts is just ingenuous Thomas.

    And for trying to save the animals, throughout the Earth’s entire history 98% of all species have been eradicated before humans even came on the stage of creation. So why mess with the natural part of nature due to natural events? The Earth is an ongoing ball of entropy and change beyond the scope of present human factors.

  4. Wow Scotter… Okay, I’ll stop that. Didn’t realize you’d parrot me on that. I guess I deserved it, eh?

    Don’t you think that the IPCC is the scientific arm (even if a politicized one as you subtly assert) of the political body called the UNFCCC? If you’re going for accuracy… (BTW – why didn’t you make clear your information comes largely from the Heartland Institute?)

    I had actually thought you had gone away, Scotter. I’m impressed that you went to so much trouble there, but was it just to couch your insult there at the end? You know, for the article I wrote here? Not that I wish to deflect insults hurled my direction – but go back and read the very first sentence. This is a response from someone interested (oddly enough for you I guess) in conservation efforts on low level island nations, posed to E Magazine.

    Anyway, that really isn’t important. You seem to think that anyone (or perhaps just the IPCC) should be able to offer a “concise” projection of sea level rise over the next century (or maybe that’s what the Heartland Institute thinks). Okay (could it be that you miss the point of IPCC model projections? No? okay.)

    You seem to think that human activity has absolutely no impact on the entropic ball we live on, in which we’re all ultimately doomed anyway. Okay

    Empirical evidence of the rapid acidification, warming, and, expansion of ocean has nothing whatsoever to do with human activity and everything to do with natural cycles (you might want to take a closer look at NOAA research). Okay.

    Any population on a low-lying island nation (and though you didn’t mention it, I’m sure that you did some research into these population, maybe even contacted a representative from one or two, studying the human and natural history) should just move (“where” remains in question – will you take some refugees in?). Okay

    Animals, schanimals. Okay.

    You took the time to cite your sources (though ambiguously attributed), and I can’t begrudge you that. I may not be as ignorant of “the facts” as you imagine, just your interpretation of them.

    I’m not a scientist, but I did read the summary report from the IPCC 4th assessment. It isn’t that hard (ay’ know, for “political documents n’ all). But I didn’t even write this article (though stand behind it as the editor of this blog), and as I said before, it’s answering a direct question about wildlife conservation efforts on AOSIS. I guess you didn’t like the answer.

    Is it possible for you to imagine that you’ve assembled your citation here only to support your own foregone conclusions of an idea only tangentially related to this post? (There are a lot of articles on this blog, IMHO, where you could put your Heartland talking points to better use) You obviously have no respect for the IPCC, don’t believe in AGW, and think I’m full of shit. Didn’t you think all of that before you took the time to assemble your barrage here? Or is this just the thoughts of the Heartland Institute? Is it possible there is an agenda in all of this since, like I said in my first comment, you may have missed the point of the post here.

    But you’ve been able to tell us what you think, nonetheless.

  5. Thomas

    Still assuming my sources when I clearly stated where they came from? No, the info did not come from the heartland institute, but even if it did then it’s because they sourced it from a peer reviewed scientific paper.

    I just explained why you can’t take the IPCC reports for face value since their reviewers are largely non climate scientists and cherry pick the extracts from the submitted reports to support their political derived conclusions for searing up more funding. Their computer programs are a joke. Their predictions have consistently been off and have such a wide error band they can’t really predict very much, as their GCM guru Trenberth said, they’re mainly research tools.

    The climategate emails show that the scientists connected with NASA, NOAA and CRU were clearly cooking the data and trying to portray accelerated natural warming toward the end of the 20th century. They tried to suppress the warming happening in the 40s when CO2 emissions were just beginning to ramp up.

    And Now Jonathon Coleman shows how NASA and NCDC manipulated data to induce a warm bias in the US temperature graphs.


    ClimateGate arrives in the US

    this means that all the climate data sourced from these above mentioned research groups is corrupt and the IPCC has based their projections and climate models on flawed, sexed up data.

    Now Thomas, we have climate scientists in the government approve research groups receiving millions and billions of dollars from various government sources in order to carry on their flawed, self interested research.

    For example:

    Mr. Mann is the creator of the famous hockey stick graph, which purported to show some 900 years of minor temperature fluctuations, followed by a spike in temperatures over the past century.

    More than $2.4 million is stimulating the career of none other than Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. Mr. Mann came by his grants via the National Science Foundation, which received $3 billion in stimulus money. Both grants say they were “funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”

    Notice this does not come from the Heartland Institute. I actually read it on, an excellent source of climate news from all over, they are the newmax of climate news.

    So who funds most of IPCC, the US through similar grants via the UN. They are like our esteemed congressional sellouts who for special interest pocket money dole out money for ridiculous studies, research grants and subsidizing industry in the name of constituent welfare and wellbeing. Regrettably, most of the climate enviro movement has morphed into a political ponzi scam to scare up research grants. why do you think the original founder of Greenpeace left the group and started his own organization called Greenspirit.

    Since you continuously refer to the IPCC as a reference source, I see no good reason to pursue the other articles related to this site as it has been my past experience, from hardcore enviros like yourself, they will cherrypick those articles that support their views, or take info therein out of context. It a known fact that if scientists or research group can’t scare up research money they will soon find themselves out of work. Research, whether from groups or educational positions, means big money from government grant monies and I have read that from several blogs with no connections to special interest groups. Why would they lie.

    But from your response you would link me with conservative sites like Heartland Institute and perhaps even label me a ditto head that got Hanitized too. Well jest to get things straight I am a deist who used to listen to NPR and watch 60 minuets when i found them to be less then forward with the facts and truth. But I find bias on both sides.

    So you can continue to fantasize about the credibility of the IPCC while the real climate facts are coming out with the planet disobeying the IPCCs predictions. Nature is not Disneyland, but I do support the reasonable preservation of wild places for heritage, recreation and environmental health, but for the past 30 years enviros have gotten ridiculousness in their mantra to save the planet. You just can’t save it all from natural climate changes or the Earth’s occasional temper tantrums. Climate and the Earth is always changing. And some places will be mined, tilled or built on for human progress and accommodation. That star trek utopia is a long way off. And we may be in for a huge volcanic event in Yellowstone.

    And hey, if your so worried about human footprint invasion in nature then all you enviros should be promoting zero population growth against the industrial- political raping of the environment. Trying to demonize carbon emissions as the problem is just bone headed wrong.

    I hope Thomas you can find your senses through your conscious and not be misled through corrupt political groups. I care about animals too but not at the wholesale sellout of the human populations. Get off the IPCC mantra, I hate seeing people mislead.

    • Scottar,
      I hate seeing people misled as well. And where in the post upon which you have launched your attack on the IPCC and “hard core enviers” like myself (more on that in a bit) are people being misled? It was simply a question from a reader of E Magazine asking about animal conservation on low-lying nations threatened from sea-level rise. Only tangentially does it refer to the IPCC, and if you don’t like their data, then go to Tuvalu or the Maldives and check it our for yourself.

      I said I had read the IPCCC Summary, I didn’t say I constantly refer to it in this blog as infallible or am engaged in a “mantra” – that exists in your mind. Before you go off thinking you know of which you speak about me or what I have done in my life to arrive at my value system, you might not be so quick to make assumptions. Or go ahead. It really is of no consequence to me, but if you think I am merely an apologist for the IPCC you could have taken the time to see that I am not. It wouldn’t take too much digging. But you’ve already got me figured out, and you assume I have done the same about you. In fact, at least one of your citations does come from the Heartland Institute, but the point is taken that you personally didn’t get it from there.

      You are saying that there is absolutely no risk involved in the massive burn-off off geologic carbon into the atmosphere. Millions of years gassed up into the air in barely two centuries. Forget the science for a moment and just consider the risk scenario. If you are truly comfortable with this unprecedented experiment, then I will certainly not change your mind.

      You certainly don’t know me or what I have done – you’ve apparently only seen one post (that I didn’t even write) on this blog. If you did have even the slightest knowledge of who I am, you’d know you don’t need to suggest I push for zero population growth or stopping the industrial/political raping of the environment (like all those other “hard core enviros should”. You make wild assumptions about me and my intentions/beliefs that are – to use your own words – bone-headed wrong. Are you really so sure that you aren’t (wittingly or not) cherry-picking facts to support your own beliefs? Yes, you are? Well then never mind.

      If you are so sure that every bit of climate data that does not conform with your beliefs is wrong, that is certainly your right.

      If I expect you to even entertain the idea that there is indeed evidence to the contrary – that what is empirical, observed, and projected is not due entirely to natural forcing – than I must be willing to entertain the notions that you are proselytizing upon this poor woman’s innocent question about animal conservation on lonely, sinking islands (BTW-how is that a sellout of any human population?). In other words, if I expect an open mind in you, a willingness to seriously consider an idea that you are not comfortable with, then you have the right to expect that in me. Yet you’ve already got me pegged as something I am not – you assume things based on your own preconceived notions. That makes anything approaching a reasonable discussion difficult.

      Am I guilty of making similar assumptions? Yep. But I have tried repeatedly to have reasonable discussions about this and more often than not I am told to go to hell and not worthy of humanity – and it goes downhill from there (and generally these attacks come from nowhere). I appreciate that you have not exactly resorted to that and it appears as if you have given some thought to the issue. Yet you dismiss out-of-hand the possibility of an opposing view not falling into these assumptions after leaving a comment largely unrelated to the post on which your were commenting on.

      It’s hard not to start “profiling” I guess, but I didn’t start this, you did.

      If you feel compelled to keep this going, you can call me Tom.

  6. Tom;

    When you referenced the IPCC for the concern of rising sea levels that raised my hackles. Most people know that the IPCC accuses, let me emphasize that, ACCUSES- that the sea level rise is due to human emissions…. particularly CO2, when sea level rise has been mostly and relatively constant…. since even before the industrial revolution of the 1900s. Islands sink and rise every century, some due to tectonic activity. Coral atolls like Tuvalu keep abreast of the sea rise by adding more coral to their base which traps more sand. It’s like those people who build on spits of sand island of the coasts of Louisiana or the Carolina Outer banks, the occasional storm that comes their way will wipe them out and then they look to the government to bail them out. They are now trying to use global warming as an excuse. Ridiculous, it’s a scam.

    The second thing is that you assumed after my fist response that I got my evidence from the Heartland institute. Well the Institute gets it’s evidence from other areas that publish an article in this case the McKitrick et al. 2007 was also published on the site. Heartland sourced the article from that site. When ever i look at material of a site I look at who published it and where it cam from, just because it shows up at any of the climate skeptic or conservative sites does not mean it’s biased material. but from reports of many current or former IPCC science contributors the IPCC does not operate on a peer review level, they operate on a political level. but I don’t have time to go into that now.

    So the conservation efforts to save wildlife from a natural event of rising sea-levels is not conservation, it’s animal humanitarianism and i hope it’s not funded by public funds. Conservation is preventing the development or over development of wild and rural areas for the welfare of the public and some aesthetic values. it’s not tyring to preserve an area in a pristine state like parklands. but even parklands suffer some human interaction.

    As far as the million of tons of fossil fuels going up in smoke, It’s less then 5% of natural emissions. Reconstruction of paleoclimatological CO2 concentrations demonstrates that carbon dioxide concentration today is near its lowest level since the Cambrian Era some 550 million years ago, when there was almost 20 times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as there is today without causing a “runaway greenhouse effect.” Greenhouses pump CO2 to three times the ambient levels to help plant growth. Concentrations in auditorium lecture rooms or meeting rooms is often 1000 ppm or greater. It has been measured at 6000-11,000 ppm in submarines with no ill effects.

    NASA satellites tell us we have had a 30% increase in greening during the recent decades, in part due to better plant hybrids, but also due to the natural warming, and increases in CO2. More vigorous plants are more drought resistant. It means better crops to be able to feed millions more people.

    So why you believe in this hyped mantra that rising CO2 levels will cause a runaway greenhouse effect just confounds me. You come across as gullible on it. But people are just as gullible about nuclear energy thinking that all the nuclear facilities are Chernobyl time bombs because of all the media hype and mis-information.

    It’s your tone and attitude which insulted me Tom. You are acting on a humanitarian level instead of a scientific, factual level. So I am pointing out the flaws of your sources and convictions. Environmentalism has more and more been morphing into a quasi religious, political movement instead of a rational effort to improve environmental conditions for humans. The fact that it would sacrifice human welfare over hyped- up issues like CO2 and water vapor emissions for the end game of getting more funding. And trying to regulate those emissions, besides being ludicrous would cost over a trillion dollars. It’s like trying to regulate the Sun.

    It’s like the Christian movement of the 1000 to 1700s where the church officials where concerned about losing their power and influence over their subjects so they demonized other religions like Jews, and Witches who where actually herbologists. I’m sick of the environmental and climate snake oil distortions at many people’s expense.

    So that’s my rant, take it or leave it. And I don’t have you pinned down yet Tom, haven’t researched you.

  7. Now I have you pegged:

    Tom Schueneman
    Tom is the editor and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal. He began writing this blog in June of 2006 – the same week that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth was released, but please don’t blame Al. The buck stops here!

    Tom has studied environmental issues, and particularly climate change, for over two decades. He is also an associate editor and lead writer for the popular blog TriplePundit and a contributing writer for the Green Options Network. Tom also the publishes the HistoryBlogProject.

    Explain to me Tom how global warming can produce so much snow and cold?


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