Welcome to GIN - the primary information source about islands worldwide
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Importance of Islands
  • Earth’s 175,000 islands (> 0.1km2) are home to more than 650 million inhabitants or about 10% of the world population;
  • 43 out of the world’s 195 countries are islands or archipelagos and over two thirds include islands;
  • Islands make up only 3% of the Earth’s land area, but harbour 20% of all bird, reptile and plant species as well as extraordinary cultural diversity;
  • Because of their isolation, islands have a disproportionately high number of endemic species. Madagascar has 8,000 endemic plant species, twice the number of the entire U.S. The Philippines 7,100 islands contain more endemic vertebrate species (460) than anywhere else on Earth. Cuba is home to 18 endemic mammals and the Seychelles has the highest level of amphibian endemism in the world;
  • Even small islands have large exclusive economic zones with huge territorial claims to surrounding oceans. Island people are stewards for one sixth of the Earth’s surface, including many of its most endangered species and vulnerable ecosystems:
  • More than half of the world’s marine biodiversity
  • 7 of the world’s 10 coral reef hotspots
  • A quarter of the ecological regions of highest terrestrial priority
  • 10 of the 34 richest areas of biodiversity in the world
  • 13% of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Sadly, due to the high rate of endemism, extinction rates are also exponentially greater on islands with 95% of birds, 90% of reptiles, 69% of mammals and 68% of plants. For example, 72% of all the plant and animal extinctions ever recorded in the U.S. have occurred in Hawaii. Many of these extinctions are caused by invasive alien species, such as feral goats and rats. However, once invasive species are removed from islands, native species and island ecosystems recover with little or no additional intervention.
A pioneering new Global Island Database (GID) was officially launched during the UN Commission on Sustainable Development SIDS Special Day of celebrations on 10 May 2010 in New York. The GID was developed in order to directly reflect five of the themes important for islands, as identified by the CBD IBPoW, namely biodiversity, climate change, invasive species, pollution and sustainability. It not only allows the visualisation of data relevant for islands but also provides added value through contextual information, data analyses and a networking platform for organisations to upload information about themselves and their work.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “High quality databases are crucial for addressing both the threats to biodiversity and economically important ecosystems, while maximizing the development opportunities from a more intelligent and sustainable management of these natural and nature-based assets. Islands may only cover 3% of the global land area, but they are a treasure trove of biodiversity and home to some of the rarest and most unique species that in turn hold valuable genetic resources. The 20th century was an industrial age: the 21st century will increasingly be a biological one. The importance of this database for island nations cannot be over stated, and is long overdue”.

GIN Directors, Dr Arthur Lyon Dahl and Dr Christian Depraetere, provided their two different datasets with complementary information on 70,000 islands for use in conjunction with Google Maps to form the core of the GID interface. UNEP-WCMC then added 37 other spatial datasets including one on invasive species in the Pacific Islands, developed by the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, Invasive Species Specialist Group, and Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk project. Other useful tools have been added like Wikipedia and Panoramio.

The GID has some functionality of a Geographic Information System through the Query Map tool whereby datasets can be individually selected from the menu bar thus enabling the user to view each of the layer attributes in a data box. The overall aim of GID is to enhance the participation and role of islands in multilateral environmental agreements by identifying and bringing together existing sources of data and information relevant to island systems, and presenting new analyses to aid resource managers and decision makers at the national, regional and international level.

Support is now being sought for the next development phase of the GID in order to strengthen the international recognition of islands in global biodiversity assessments and to promote sustainable ecosystem-based management approaches to islands. It is proposed that these tools and analyses are developed through expert consultation and needs assessment in order to ensure that they are of optimum relevance to the end-user.