The small nation of the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean is creating two new marine parks with the Nature Conservancy’s help. In the first debt-swap deal of its kind, the Conservancy will pay off $21 million USD of the nation’s estimated $500 million debt in exchange for the marine-park designation. The deal will therefore cut the Seychelles’ debt load by around 4 percent.
The two parks will cover around 81,000 square miles (210,000 square kilometers), around the country’s Aldabra and Amirantes island groups. The government plans to heavily curtail both tourism and fishing within the area, which represents around 16 percent of the nation’s ocean territory. Even more promising, they plan to double the protected area by 2021. The protected total will ultimately include around 30 percent of the Seychelles ocean territory.
Seychelles Islands reefs facing environmental pressures
The issues in the Seychelles are the same facing oceans and coral reefs across the world. Bleaching, warming waters, overfishing, marine debris and lack of conservation all plague the small country. The coral reef fringing Curieuse Island, once a leper colony and now a national park, suffered from severe bleaching in 2016 according to The Guardian.
David Rowat, a marine scientist and dive-school owner for 30 years says storms and bleaching events are becoming more frequent. “The biggest changes are climate change,” he told The Guardian.
“The ‘nemos’ all went,” he says. As the reef recovered, the 2016 bleaching was a “kick in the teeth.”
Two protected areas
The to-be-protected Aldabra atoll is one of the world’s most biodiverse marine environments, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The islands and waters are home to spinner dolphins, mantas and humpback whales. Nurse, lemon and tiger sharks, as well as hawksbill and green turtles and endangered dugongs also share the waters. Around 100,000 rare giant tortoises roam the land of the atoll. The largest of the two protected areas will center on this island group, encompassing 28,500 square miles (74,000 square kilometers). It will prohibit all extractive uses, from fishing to oil exploitation and exploration.
The second protected area, much larger at almost 52,000 square miles (134,000 square kilometers) will center on the main island of Mahe. The government will allow controlled activities in this area, but will ban “fish aggregating devices,” which concentrate fish but increase bycatch.
How the deal works
These two new marine parks are the result of a deal wherein The Nature Conservancy purchased around $21 million of debt owed to the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Italy at a discount. Conservancy donors also raised an additional $5 million to pay off part of the debt. The money raised will help cut the interest rate the Seychelles government is paying on the outstanding loan. Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation also donated $1 million to the debt swap. Because of this, $12 million has been freed up over the next 20 years to help execute the new marine-park plan.
“The Seychelles is positioning itself as a world leader in ocean governance,” said environment minister, Didier Dogley to The Guardian. “But we are not doing this because we have such a great ego but because we truly believe these initiatives will create prosperity for our people, conserve critical biodiversity and build resilience against climate change.”
Other nations potentially following suit
Many conservationists will be anxiously watching the Seychelles deal take shape, hoping to replicate the effects in other island nations. Rob Weary of the Nature Conservancy spearheaded the deal. He hopes to close a $60 million debt-swap deal with Grenada this year, as well as others in the Caribbean. Mauritius could make a similar deal, reports The Guardian.
“In the next three to five years we could potentially do a billion dollars of these deals,” he said to The Guardian. “We have a sight line to that.”