The nation of Seychelles traded $21 million in national debt in a deal to protect 81,000 square miles of its flourishing marine habitat.
Seychelles, an island nation of 99 percent water located north of Madagascar, is home to some of the world’s most pristine marine habitat. The area is rich with biodiversity and heavily influenced by tourism and fishing industries.
On Feb. 21, the Government of Seychelles and The Nature Conservancy announced two new protections, the first of which encompass 81,000 square miles of habitat.
Seychelles Marine Sanctuary: A Unique Agreement
To protect the habitat, Seychelles worked with The Nature Conservancy to rid itself of national debt. They performed the first “habitat-for-debt” exchange of its kind. The Nature Conservancy bought the debt and worked with private investors and governments to raise $21 million.
This protection, phase one of the Marine Spatial Plan, will roll out in 2018. Phase two adds 77,000 square miles to the total. The sanctuary will protect the entire area in 2020.
With these sanctuaries combined, 30 percent of Seychelles will be protected.
Private funders include the China Global Conservation Fund of The Nature Conservancy, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Lyda Hill Foundation, Oak Foundation, Oceans 5, Turnbull Burnstein Family Charitable Fund, and the Waitt Foundation.
The Beauty of Seychelles
The new Marine Protected Areas cover 81,000 square miles of the ocean. Home to the Indian Ocean’s only dugongs, critically endangered turtles, and spawning grounds for rare and economically vital fish species, laws will now protect against destructive human activities.
Within the protections is the Aldabra archipelago. It is home to spinner dolphins, manta rays, humpback whales, a variety of sharks, and more than 100,000 giant tortoises. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is barely touched by humans and can be compared to Galapagos.
The Nature Conservancy also claims the protections help prepare the Seychelles for “the unknown effects of warming and rising waters, ocean acidification, and increased and illegal fishing.”
Previously, oil and gas exploration, deep-sea mining, dredging, and controversial fishing techniques had little to no restriction.
Seychelles’s Controversial Fishing Decision
Stakeholder groups made their cases for various uses, such as fishing and extraction. Regulators then created two levels of protection for marine areas: high and medium biodiversity.
In the high biodiversity protection zone, regulations will not allow fishing or other extractive activities. The medium biodiversity protection zone is suitable for some fishing and extraction.
Fishing and tourism dominate the country’s economy, employing 43 percent of its workforce.
“We are worried. They want to make a lot of regulated areas where we can’t fish,” said one such Seychelles fisherman, Richard Bossy, to The Guardian. “Fishing is already harder, and we are going to lose a lot.”
The decision leaves some fishers upset and others hopeful, like Graham Green.
“If the fish are protected where they are spawning, I’ve heard they will get bigger,” Green told The Guardian. “We need to do it if we are going to be catching fish in 20 years.”