Island Biosecurity: All for One and One for All

On October 23, 2017, island managers from the California Islands gathered at Cabrillo National Monument to share experiences and solicit support to advance biosecurity efforts. The daylong workshop involved presentations and discussions, allowing the 15 participants to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities within not only their individual biosecurity programs, but also the interconnected biosecurity work ongoing throughout the California Islands.

The attendees of the California Islands Biosecurity Workshop represented the entire breadth of the California Islands: from the Farallon Islands, to the Channel Islands, and down to the Mexican Islands. As the participants trickled into the meeting area that Monday morning, the room gradually filled with the sounds of coffee being poured and introductions among those who had only met over e-mail.

The workshop began with an ice breaker – assigning individuals to teams, and asking that they find unique qualities about their team members. As the groups went around the room and shared what they had learned about their colleagues – whether it be that they had won a rhythmic gymnastics championship as a child, or that they manage an island only accessible by crane – everyone quickly realized the amazing diversity in the group. As island managers working on biosecurity, the passion for promoting diversity was the very thing that everyone had in common.

The day featured presentations from Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de las Islas, Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Navy, and Catalina Island Conservancy. While some biosecurity programs, like the one at the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, are just at the inception of their journey, others, like the Mexican Islands’, are well established, with a detailed national strategy to protect vulnerable island ecosystems. Regardless of where each program falls on the spectrum, each was able to contribute valuable information that would incentivize collaboration.

In addition to sharing updates and lessons learned through presentations and discussions, a main objective of this workshop was to identify priorities and opportunities for future collaboration among the island groups. One idea emphasized by every group touched on the importance of repetition when it comes to communicating biosecurity to a target audience. It’s important to remember that biosecurity is not at the forefront of the mind of most navy personnel, local island residents, tourists, or researchers.

The workshop attendees agreed that the information must be repeated frequently to ensure that the target audience truly understands the message, whether it be what they can do to help prevent invasive species introductions to the islands, or perhaps why they should help prevent introductions. By using a combination of written information and verbal reiteration, there is a higher likelihood that the individual will internalize the message. For example, visitors using the concessionaires to travel to the island should be exposed to the biosecurity regulations via the web page they are using to book their trip, along with signage at the dock, and a personal interaction with a staff member that reminds them one last time to clean and inspect their clothes and gear for seeds and insects.

As the group sat in a circle sharing experiences and hastily writing down notes, it became obvious that having everyone in the room together was a much more efficient and effective way to collaborate than sending e-mails back and forth. While it may be unrealistic to round up this group more than once a year, the idea of a staff exchange got everyone buzzing with excitement. This exchange could be used as a way to receive support on new projects, or perhaps to demonstrate a successful strategy that can be implemented on other islands. Bringing together two programs at a time would reduce some of the difficulty of aligning busy schedules, and would allow for a deeper dive into a neighboring island’s program.

At the end of the long day, everyone came together for a group photo. The man taking the picture joked, “Wow, what a diverse family you have!” Reflecting back upon that comment, I realize that he wasn’t wrong – this group of island managers is truly a family, finding ways to work together to protect the unique and wildly diverse ecosystems of the California Islands.

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