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Union Island, St Vincent and the Grenadines. © Jacob Bock / Fauna & Flora

Union Island, St Vincent and the Grenadines. © Jacob Bock / Fauna & Flora

Our work with Small Island Developing States

Explained

What is a Small Island Developing State?

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is the umbrella term for a group of 39 nations – and 18 associate members – that face a distinct set of social, economic and environmental challenges. The vast majority of Small Island Developing States are islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, but the list also includes countries such as Belize, whose low-lying coastline and many offshore islands are affected by the same issues.

Small Island Developing States share certain key characteristics: relatively small size; remoteness and isolation; resource scarcity; heavy dependence on a healthy, bountiful ocean; and extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Many small island communities are highly dependent on fishing for food and income. © Jeff Wilson / Fauna & Flora

© Jeff Wilson / Fauna & Flora

Many remote small island communities are completely dependent on fishing for food and income.

What challenges do Small Island Developing States face?

A shortage of land area, particularly when combined with a rapidly growing population, means that many resources are naturally scarce, placing severe pressure on fragile biodiversity.

A lack of economic diversity means that sources of income and sustainable development are limited, and often heavily dependent on tourism and fishing.

Their isolation and remoteness from international markets make it harder for Small Island Developing States to trade with other nations, while high transportation costs make it more expensive to import the goods that are in short supply.

Many Small Island Developing States are popular holiday destinations, with tourists drawn to the white sand beaches, local culture, spectacular landscapes and historic ports. But the impact of tourism is disproportionately high; shortage of space, limited resources and lack of infrastructure make it difficult to accommodate large numbers sustainably.

The natural scarcity of fresh water, exacerbated by increasing demand and compounded by climate change, is a constant challenge to the islanders’ way of life.

Development in St Vincent and the Grenadines. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

© Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Tourism development is vital for the economies of small island nations such as St Vincent and the Grenadines, but has a disproportionately heavy impact due to the lack of room to accommodate the necessary infrastructure.

Why are Small Island Developing States vulnerable?

Small Island Developing States are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – despite being responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Rising sea levels pose an existential threat to low-lying island nations. In the shorter term, sea-level rise reduces the availability of fresh water by contaminating rivers and lakes with salt water.

Small Island Developing States are vulnerable to biodiversity loss, especially among marine life. Traditionally, islanders have relied largely on an abundant and seemingly limitless supply of fish and other marine species. Today, those vital marine resources are under severe pressure from unsustainable levels of exploitation. Destructive, large-scale commercial fisheries threaten the livelihoods of small-scale local fishers who have no alternative sources of food and income.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and volcanic eruptions have always been a fact of life for many of these nations, but extreme weather events are becoming increasingly frequent.

External economic shocks have a disproportionately high impact on Small Island Developing States, especially those dependent on tourism. As a group, these nations suffered the steepest falls in GDP in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why are Small Island Developing States important?

Small Island Developing States are home to an estimated 65 million people. They are cultural melting pots, each with their unique traditions and natural heritage. Their inhabitants are the custodians of globally important biodiversity, and vast marine ecosystems that play a pivotal role in the health of the planet. Collectively, they steward one third of the global ocean.

What impact does biodiversity loss have on Small Island Developing States?

Biodiversity underpins the tourism and fisheries industries on which the economies of many Small Island Developing States depend. It also holds deep cultural and spiritual value for many islanders. Crucially, biodiversity loss deprives these communities of tangible benefits they have enjoyed for centuries: food, clean water, reduced beach erosion, soil and sand formation, and protection from storm surges.

Barreiro fishers hauling their boat ashore on the island of Maio in Cabo Verde © Jeff Wilson / Fauna & Flora

© Jeff Wilson / Fauna & Flora

Barreiro fishers hauling their boat ashore on the island of Maio in Cabo Verde.

How is Fauna & Flora addressing the challenges facing Small Island Developing States?

Fauna & Flora works with local and international partners to support Small Island Developing States in reversing local biodiversity loss, adapting to the impacts of global climate change, building economic resilience and achieving sustainable development.

Where is Fauna & Flora working with Small Island Developing States?

From the Caribbean and Central America to Cabo Verde in the Eastern Atlantic, Fauna & Flora and our partners are currently working to save nature, together, in more than a dozen Small Island Developing States. Our specific focus depends on local needs and context, but typically involves landscape restoration, species protection, climate adaptation, community livelihoods, influencing policy and strengthening the capacity of local institutions.

Students helping with Sombrero revegetation project. © Farah Mukhida / Anguilla National Trust

Students helping with Sombrero revegetation project. © Farah Mukhida / Anguilla National Trust

Students helping with a revegetation project as part of ecological restoration efforts on Sombrero Island in Anguilla.

Magnificent frigatebirds and recovering vegetation on Anguilla's Dog Island following removal of invasive species. © Jenny Daltry

Back to the future

Fauna & Flora and our partners in small island nations are working together to reverse biodiversity loss and ensure resilience against the worst impacts of climate change. Please support our combined efforts to restore more of these incredible landscapes to their former glory.

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Magnificent frigatebirds and recovering vegetation on Anguilla's Dog Island following removal of invasive species. © Jenny Daltry