The Aldabra Mangroves West Channels, photo by April Burt.

By April Burt, Ana Nuno, Lindsay Turnbull, Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, and Nancy Bunbury.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Island ecosystems have the most extinctions worldwide and a number of pressures threaten the weird and wonderful biodiversity that remains. These pressures include habitat destruction, over-exploitation of natural resources, introduction of invasive species and climate change, to name just a few.

Biodiversity is vital to island nations, providing economic and social stability through industries such as fishing and tourism. As such, conservation and management practitioners on islands around the world aim to preserve island ecosystems through active conservation practices like habitat restoration or invasive species removal, or by management practices like establishing no-take fishing areas or implementing fisheries catch quotas. Despite these efforts, there are many day-to-day barriers that practitioners face that often prevent them from achieving their conservation or management objectives. To find out what the main barriers are, we carried out an online questionnaire with 360 practitioners from 77 island nations. We wanted to know what barriers they had experienced most often and which were the main barriers to achieving their objectives.

We found that the three most common barriers practitioners report as preventing them from achieving more effective management are: (1) low staff capacity i.e. that staff don’t necessarily have the skills they need to achieve objectives; (2) difficulties turning data into useful information for management; and (3) a lack of a research strategy to guide efforts and measure progress. Practitioners overwhelmingly felt the main barriers to effective management were at the national level. The most commonly cited barrier at this level was ‘poor conservation policy implementation and law enforcement,’ with over 60% of practitioners experiencing this as a barrier to success. This perception of governance issues greatly influenced practitioner perceptions of national-level management effectiveness. While their experience of staffing and monitoring programme issues was more influential on their perception of management effectiveness within the organisation for which they worked.

These findings clearly show us that the majority of people undertaking frontline conservation of island ecosystems worldwide struggle to reach their potential as a result of barriers operating at multiple levels. Bridging these barriers requires immediate and direct investment in strengthening the capacity of practitioners and organisations. With this information we can more clearly make decisions on what can be done to bridge these barriers, especially to know which barriers, if bridged, would have the biggest impact on improving island ecosystem management.