Island Rescue is an initiative that emerged from the Island Arks Symposium – a national conference and workshop held in December 2009. Speakers from all over Australia shared their expertise on island issues including indigenous cultural values and partnerships, visitor management, management of invasive species, endangered species recovery, and conservation planning. The conference heard repeatedly about islands as National Icons, and as a special case deserving of greater focus and investment. A national summit meeting held after the Symposium resulted in formation of an alliance of people from across Australia who are working to secure island values through development of a detailed package of management frameworks and activities.
Of the 8,300 islands within Australia it is likely that the vast majority are directly relevant to one or more Matters of National Environmental Significance. Indeed, islands are critical habitat for 31% of Australia’s critically endangered and endangered fauna, and for 37% of the vulnerable fauna, including many endemics. Overall, 111 threatened fauna species occur on Australia’s islands, out of a national total of 325 (35%). Apart from these outstanding conservation values, Island Communities and their adjacent mainland regions rely heavily on income from tourism. Yet unfortunately, there is strong evidence that the natural capital that supports these regional economies is rapidly declining. This is of enormous concern because Australia’s islands contribute billions of dollars to the national economy. However, in some areas, there are innovative, novel, profitable, nature-‐based tourism programs that are positively contributing to the sustainability of islands.
Consultation continues across Australia, and has included investigating options from international arenas in order to design a framework for a nationally cohesive island management strategy that would see island values conserved but also, in many cases, available for sustainable use to support economic prosperity. Such consultation is critical because the overarching aim of Island Rescue is to implement high-‐level strategies to improve environmental, social and economic sustainability of Australia’s islands, with a strong focus on the recognition and protection of the rights and opportunities of Traditional Owners. As such, development of cross-‐sector and cross-‐cultural partnerships, and co-‐investment arrangements are critical.