Motivated by growing concern as to the many threats that islands face, subsequent calls for more extensive island nature conservation and recent discussion in the conservation literature about the potential for wellbeing as a useful approach to understanding how conservation affects people's lives, this paper reviews the literature in order to explore how islands and wellbeing relate and how conservation might impact that relationship. We apply a three-dimensional concept of social wellbeing to structure the discussion and illustrate the importance of understanding island–wellbeing interactions in the context of material, relational and subjective dimensions, using examples from the literature. We posit that islands and their shared characteristics of ‘islandness’ provide a useful setting in which to apply social wellbeing as a generalizable framework, which is particularly adept at illuminating the relevance of social relationships and subjective perceptions in island life – aspects that are often marginalized in more economically focused conservation impact assessments. The paper then explores in more depth the influences of island nature conservation on social wellbeing and sustainability outcomes using two case studies from the global north (UK islands) and global south (the Solomon Islands). We conclude that conservation approaches that engage with all three dimensions of wellbeing seem to be associated with success.