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2019, április 22 - 19:00

Seychelles seals $22m conservation deal

Celebrations broke out at the Savoy Resort on Wednesday evening when Seychelles sealed a deal – the first of its kind in the world – that saw The Nature Conservancy (TNC) buy up nearly $22 million of Seychelles’ remaining $406 million sovereign debt.

This is in return for the country designating a third of its marine area as “protected”, which was effected by the gazetting of special regulations for the purpose by Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Didier Dogley.

Top officials of the US-based conservation group told Seychelles NATION that Seychelles has become the first country in the world to clinch such a deal for marine protection.

“There have been other such deals for land protection but this is the very first ever involving the ocean,” said Robert Weary, TNC’s product development director, who has been leading efforts to raise the funds.

“Seychelles is well-known around the world for conservation and for spearheading the Blue Economy Concept, so other countries are keen to follow these islands’ example,” he said in an exclusive interview, naming Kenya and Mauritius as nations that have already shown interest in following suit.

The event attracted top scientists and reporters who have been in Seychelles for a week to witness damage done by climate change, for example coral bleaching, and a decline in the sizes and quantity of fish caught in the artisanal sector.

Protecting the designated areas will ensure fish can spawn and grow without threat of being caught prematurely, before they swim outside the zone where fishermen can catch them, an idea supported by many fishers like fisherman Graham Green, 29, whom we met on Praslin.

“Long ago you would fish for just a few hours and not far out to sea and get a good catch of well-sized fish. But these days what you used to get in just one hour takes you a whole day,” he said, adding as fish spawning and growing in the protected areas will rejuvenate artisanal fishing.

Under the deal, the first 210,000 square kilometre area being conserved that was announced on Wednesday, limits activities like commercial fishing, oil exploration and large-scale development in the most fragile habitats and allowing them under certain conditions in one area.

Minister Dogley said: “Never before has there been so much funds available to support marine based economic activities, the conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity and adaptation to climate change.”

“Work on the Marine Spatial Plan started in 2014.  At the time most of us had not heard of such a tool.  However, thanks to the excellent work of Dr Joanna Smith and her unwavering patience and commitment we all came to understand and appreciate the usefulness of such a tool.

“When in 2010, the then president, President James Michel made the pledge to put aside 50% of our terrestrial area and 30% of our EEZ for the protection of biodiversity, he made it on condition that Seychelles is able to raise sufficient funds to greatly improve the governance and management of our terrestrial protected areas and our EEZ.

“The government of Seychelles understood the necessity of having the necessary means to manage the protected areas and our blue capital,” said Mr Dogley.


Historical background


Seychelles created 210,000 sq km (81,000 sq miles) of Marine Protected Areas as part of a groundbreaking conservation finance deal designed by The Nature Conservancy and funded by public and private donors including the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Close to one-third of that ocean area is now so strongly safeguarded that only very limited activities including research and closely regulated tourism are allowed, and then under strict conditions to conserve the ecosystem in the face of climate change uncertainties.

The deal, completed in 2016, turned sovereign debt repayments into conservation funding. It was the first such ‘debt conversion’ designed to protect marine environments.

Oceanic nations like Seychelles are among the most vulnerable to climate change because their economies are often almost totally reliant on marine resources. Failing to plan how to sustain those resources as the climate changes could eventually be ecologically and economically disastrous.

By demarcating large areas to be both protected and properly managed, Seychelles is now better prepared for the unknown effects of warming and rising waters, ocean acidification, and increased and illegal fishing.

“This effort will help the people of Seychelles protect their ocean for future generations, and will serve as a model for future marine conservation projects worldwide,” said Leonardo DiCaprio, chairman of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

“These protections mean that all species living in these waters or migrating through them are now far better shielded from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.”

The areas of the Indian Ocean now fully protected include the waters around the remote islands of the Aldabra Group that are critical foraging areas for some of the world’s largest seabird nesting colonies. Two of four sea turtle species there are endangered, including the critically-endangered hawksbill turtle.

The archipelago includes the world’s second-largest raised coral atoll — a Unesco World Heritage Site – that, like Galapagos, is a window into evolutionary processes in an ecosystem barely touched by human activity.

It is home to the most endangered animal in the western Indian Ocean, the dugong, and 100,000 rare giant tortoises — on an island nearly 1,000 km (620 miles) from the nearest large land mass.

A second area covers busier and economically more productive areas closer to Seychelles’ main islands, where some activities are allowed but under strict new conditions.

Jobs in Seychelles’ leading foreign income earners — fishing and tourism — will now be more secure into the long-term thanks to significantly stronger conservation of the marine ecosystems that sustain them. Together, these businesses employ 43% of the country's workforce.

Without these Marine Protected Areas, activities like oil and gas exploration, deep-sea mining, dredging, and controversial fishing techniques, could take place in one of the planet’s most pristine, biodiverse oceans with little or no restriction or direction.

Now, with the Marine Protected Areas, there is a unified and integrated list of binding conditions governing activities threatening this vulnerable swath of ocean, agreed upon after three years of public consultation with more than 100 parties, including Seychelles’ citizens, businesses, government, and scientists.

Seychelles chose to increase the protected area of its ocean from 0.04% to 30% as the significant component of the debt refinancing it designed with The Nature Conservancy and key stakeholders. The Marine Protected Areas announced on Wednesday amount to the first 16% of that area to be secured.

Seychelles was able to pay off an outstanding sovereign debt with $21 million The Nature Conservancy raised.

The transaction means a portion of Seychelles' debt repayments will now finance innovative marine protection and climate adaptation projects, funded via the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT).

“This milestone MPA designation demonstrates how very important conservation outcomes can be generated with new financial tools,” said Mark Tercek, president and chief executive of The Nature Conservancy. “This is a critical

accomplishment in our mission to bring conservation to scale across the globe; what you see today in Seychelles is what we expect to introduce in the Caribbean and other ocean regions facing the threats of climate change.”

Two further phases of zoning, concentrating on both shallower inshore or ‘territorial sea' waters and remaining deep ocean areas, are due to be completed by the end of 2018 and the end of 2020, by when Seychelles will have designated 30% of its waters in Marine Protected Areas.

Critical to the success and completion of this deal was creating the Marine Spatial Plan. The government of Seychelles leads this initiative with planning, science, and facilitation managed by The Nature Conservancy with the GOS-UNDP-GEF Programme Coordinating Unit.

The Plan covers all 1.37 million sq km (529,000 sq miles) of Seychelles’ territory — technically, its Exclusive Economic Zone and Territorial Sea. It is the second-largest area of ocean in the world to be covered by such a plan, after one in Norway, and the first marine plan designed to address climate change and sustain a national ‘Blue Economy’.