It has been announced that 13 new Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) covering more than 410,000 sq km will be designated in the Seychelles. This will make up almost a third of Seychelles’ ocean, an area larger than Germany, and will ensure its protection against unregulated economic exploitation.
This significant milestone delivers on the world’s first debt refinancing for ocean conservation co-designed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Government of Seychelles.
“Seychelles is ultimately an Oceanic State and our people are connected to the ocean,” President Danny Faure said. “By protecting these large areas we are not only safeguarding our marine environment but balancing economic growth through the management of the resources that the sea provides. We realise we are not the only island nation that faces these challenges. We are proud of this accomplishment and hope that other nations will follow suit.”
Oceanic nations like Seychelles are among the most vulnerable to climate change due to the fact that their economies are often almost completely reliant on marine resources. Failing to plan how to sustain those resources as waters heat, rise or acidify could have a devastating ecological and economical impact.
The Seychelles’ new MPAs now cover more than 30% of its waters. High biodiversity zones cover 15% and all extractive uses are either excluded or highly restricted including the waters around the Aldabra Group that, like the Galapagos Islands, offer a window into evolutionary processes in a relatively untouched ecosystem.
The rest are assigned as ‘medium biodiversity and sustainable use’ zones, where enterprises vital to Seychelles’ economy will continue to operate, under new sustainability regulations. More than 200 consultations with Seychelles’ citizens, scientists, and key businesses guided this process.
“Seychelles’ economy is highly dependent on tourism revenue, as are many of its neighbours in Africa,” said Matt Brown, TNC’s Africa Program Director. “The COVID-19 crisis is a stark reminder that when tourism dollars dry up, communities are left vulnerable, putting lives and livelihoods at risk. Crucial sources of income for conservation efforts are also at risk, and the damage to nature and natural resources that people need, such as fisheries, can be profound and long-lasting. TNC is working with partners and governments like Seychelles to diversify essential conservation funding sources to ensure a climate resilient future, even during tough times. Leveraging what we’ve learned from Seychelles, it is our hope that we will be able to scale up and bring this kind of debt conversion work to countries elsewhere in the world.”
Corals in cooler waters are now far better protected and could recolonise those reefs that might be affected by bleaching events in the future. Species including the Indian Ocean’s only dugongs, Southern Ocean humpback whales, turtles, manta rays, sharks, and economically vital fish such as tuna are now under increased protection.
The MPAs form part of a whole-ocean Marine Spatial Plan that will cover all of Seychelles’ ocean, addressing increased management of all marine resources, regulatory attention, and unified government coordination to support the country’s Blue Economy.
The announcement delivers on a ‘debt-for-conservation’ deal that Seychelles signed with TNC in February 2016, the first for marine conservation and climate adaptation. The Seychelles Government bought back $21.6 million of its sovereign debt at a discount, using private philanthropic funding and loan capital raised by The Nature Conservancy’s NatureVest arm.
The Government now repays those loans to a local trust, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), with a portion of repayments funding marine conservation and climate change preparation projects and to implement the MPAs.
Photographs by Ian Badenhorst and Thomas Lipke.
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