Systems biology promises to revolutionize medicine, yet human wellbeing is also inherently linked to healthy societies and environments (sustainability). The IDEA Consortium is a systems ecology open science initiative to conduct the basic scientific research needed to build use-oriented simulations (avatars) of entire social-ecological systems. Islands are the most scientifically tractable places for these studies and we begin with one of the best known: Moorea, French Polynesia. The Moorea IDEA will be a sustainability simulator modeling links and feedbacks between climate, environment, biodiversity, and human activities across a coupled marine–terrestrial landscape. As a model system, the resulting knowledge and tools will improve our ability to predict human and natural change on Moorea and elsewhere at scales relevant to management/conservation actions.