Seychelles Reaches 30 Per Cent Target For Marine Protected Areas
The government of Seychelles has signed into effect protection for 410,000 square kilometres (158,000 square miles), almost double that of the 210,000 sq km (81,000 sq m) that were designated as protected in 2018. The new marine protected areas (MPAs) fulfil the island nation's ambition to see 30 per cent of its waters protected by 2020.
The drive to increase Seychelles' MPAs began in 2016 when the government signed a unique 'debt conversion deal' with the US-based Nature Conservancy. Under the agreement, Nature Conservancy, backed by philanthropists such as Leonardo DiCaprio, agreed to buy $21.6 million of Seychelles' sovereign debt, in return for increasing the protection of its Exclusive Economic Zone from 0.4 to 30 per cent by 2020.
Seychelles President Danny Faure said: 'Seychelles is ultimately an oceanic state and our people are connected to the ocean. 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.'
The new protected areas are to be split into two zones. Zone 1, the High Biodiversity Protection Area, will limit all human activities that extract resources from the ocean such as fishing and mining, but will still remain accessible tourism. Zone 1 will be centred around the Aldabra islands, the world's largest coral atoll and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the most biodiverse regions of Seychelles marine habitats and a population of giant Aldabra tortoises being slowly re-established from the brink of extinction.
Zone 2 is the 'Medium Biodiversity Protection and Sustainable Use Area', which will allow limited take of resources and include catch and release fishing, a popular tourist activity in the archipelago - and other activities considered essential to the Seychelles economic security. Zone 2 covers the Amirantes islands and the Mahé Plateau, home to some of the region's most extensive seagrass meadows.
'Seychelles’ economy is highly dependent on tourism revenue, as are many of its neighbours in Africa,' said Matt Brown, the Nature Conservancy’s Africa Programme 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 such as 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.'