Skelmes ?Iwotoko. Islas de Esperanza, Islands of Hope. The 10th California Island Symposium lived up to its aspirational title.

The four-day conference held in early November in Ventura featured presentations on the natural, cultural, and social science of the islands, from the largest, Santa Cruz (Limuw) to islets and rocks off the California and Baja California coasts.

Researchers from the U.S., Mexico, and as far as New Zealand shared recent findings with more than 500 attendees.

We learned, for example, that Argentinian ants have been nearly eradicated from four California islands, where they’d wreaked havoc for nearly 100 years. Native ants are now back on duty fulfilling essential roles which the invaders neglected.

We discovered ERES (Early Research Experience for Students), which provides remarkable hands-on science opportunities for first generation and low-income undergrads on Santa Cruz Island. Students from earlier years of STEM opportunities such as this are now leading important research, to the pride and gratitude of those accomplishing long careers on the islands.
Bookending the symposium’s lectures and panels were a planning workshop on Monday and islands field trips the following weekend.

The Nature Conservancy’s Lara Brenner led the workshop to help natural resource planners bridge the uncertainty surrounding climate change. She guided us through a methodology developed by the National Park Service to prioritize forward-looking actions when past conditions are not a reasonable guide.

The framework, called RAD (Resist-Accept-Direct) presents a “simple set of distinct management options that decision makers can consider when responding to ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change.”

Take the Argentinian ants. (I mean, PLEASE take the Argentinian ants!) The harm caused by these ants and the likelihood of success made Resist a reasonable response.

Scientists resisted the trajectory of change by eradicating the invasive ants, working to restore previous ecosystem processes.

Another Resist example is requiring island visitors to clean their shoes and equipment before arriving. This practice reduces the arrivals of invasive species.

Bird migrations and habitats have been affected by changing climate. Elegant terns, 90% of whom once nested on Isla Rasa, off Baja’s east coast, are now bunking in astonishing numbers in the busy port of San Diego.

Brown boobies, tropical nesters, began arriving on rocks off Santa Barbara Island in the 1990s and are now nesting there.

These species’ changes are currently “managed” by accepting the altered nesting patterns. This necessitates managers cooperate along ecological rather than political or administrative boundaries.

The direct rubric is appropriate where resisting change is considered futile. The hope is that clearly defined nudges can achieve a new, self-sustaining ecosystem.

A couple examples might be prescribed burns or grassland seeding, each under appropriate conditions.

Workshop participants considered how to apply the template to their areas of resource management. Their enthusiasm for the islands was palpable, as was their earnest determination despite the uncertainties.
Driving home on the final day, I called my mom to describe my full week at the symposium.

“At the symphony?” she repeated, straining to hear over my car phone. “No, the symposium.” A couple more repeats were required to get the word across.

Later, I decided the symposium was rather like a symphony. I emerged from the experience replete, enlightened and inspired.

The symposium was music to my ears.

Karen Telleen-Lawton is an eco-writer, sharing information and insights about economics and ecology, finances and the environment. Having recently retired from financial planning and advising, she spends more time exploring the outdoors — and reading and writing about it. The opinions expressed are her own.