Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India

Volume 14 Issue 2

Island ecosystems and conservation with particular reference to the biological significance of islands of the lndian Ocean and consequential research and conservation needs.

Hugh F.I. Elliott

The ' Islands Project' of the Conservation of Terrestrial Communities Section (CT) of the International Biological Programme (IBP) was launched by a Resolution of the Eleventh Pacific Science Congress, meeting at Tokyo in August 1966, following on the presentation of a paper by E. M. Nicholson (Convener of IBP/C!T) and M. W. Holdgate. In the first instance, it was directed and confined to the oceanic islands of the Pacific Ocean, but the need to bring within its scope the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, including off'-shore islands in all seas, and thus to complete world coverage by the Project, was clearly envisaged. The particular importance and problems of the Indian Ocean were, of course, highlighted during the ensuing months by the controversy aroused by proposals to establish an airfield

at Aldabra.


The exposition of the special value of Pacific islands for biological research and of the conservation problems involved, the general and particular aims of the project, and the strategy for realising these aims, as originally put forward in 1966 and briefly recapitulated

in this paper, have needed little modification in the intervening years and are equally applicable to the Indian Ocean and its associated seas. Inevitably, and largely for the usual

logistic reasons—shortage of staff and funds, publication delays, etc.—implementation of the timetable laid down has in some respects fallen somewhat behind schedule, although otherwise proceeding according to plan.


In the particular case of the Indian Ocean, with which we are now concerned, a start was made with Stage I, the survey and inventory of oceanic islands with particular reference to their biological features and those islands or parts of islands which are still comparatively undisturbed by human activities, in a paper prepared by and presented on behalf of D. W. Snow at the 11th Technical Meeting of lUCN, held at New Delhi in November 1969, and covering the eastern half of the area. The annexe of the present paper, which will be tabled at the Cochin Conference, will review this material in the light of the Delhi discussions, re-assemble it in the form and under the headings established by the IBP/CT Pacific Islands survey, and extend its scope to cover the islands of the western Indian Ocean. It is emphasized that this only disposes of Stage I to the extent that the information reflects the literature and also some unpublished information, but it may well be that, where the material is long out of date, it will still be necessary to organize additional field work before the Stage can be considered as satisfactorily completed.


The present Conference affords an opportunity for carrying out, at least in part. Stage II of the Project, namely the circulation, critical analysis and revision of the Stage I material and, above all, the provisional selection of the ' islands for Science', for which some form of international recognition and guarantee is recommended.


Responsibility for Stage III, namely the measures necessary to secure such recognition and guarantees, rests with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (lUCN). At the time of writing lUCN's programme in this regard is still under discussion, the original proposal for the drafting of a Convention or Treaty, for which an excellent precedent exists in the Antarctic Treaty, and its consideration at the New Delhi meeting in 1969, having proved impracticable. Preliminary approaches have been made to certain Governments and, in the light of these, it is probable that the formula ultimately adopted will involve both international and bilateral agreements. This in tiu-n should facilitate the development of Stage IV of the project, although this is a continuing one, with which a start has already been made. In brief, it is to ensure that, when islands are set aside for science, the opportunities are not allowed to go by default, thus undermining the whole purpose of the exercise. In particular, it is to be hoped that the Association of International Biological Stations, recommended by a Resolution of the IBP General Assembly held at Rome on 2 October 1970, and which the IUCN has been formally invited to service, will number among its more important constituents the research stations established or to be established on islands. The present Conference could well consider what contribution can be made to this world-wide objective in the Indian Ocean area.


Date : 30-12-1972