The Seychelles government announced on February 22nd, 2018 the creation of a vast protected marine area within the archipelago, in the Indian Ocean, to preserve its waters, essential to the development of its economy. The protected area will have an area of 130,500 square miles, or approximately 15% of Seychelles’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
This reserve is part of the concept of “blue economy”, in which Seychelles, very dependent on fishing and tourism, want to base their future. “Our ocean creates opportunities for development, but also responsibilities,” said Seychellois Environment Minister Didier Dogley. “Our ocean is central to our development and the future of future generations”. He described the creation of this reserve as “a paradigm shift in the way we manage and use our coastal and marine resources”.
The mechanism was made possible by an agreement concluded in 2016 on the purchase of $21 million of public debt, thanks to the intervention of the American NGO Nature Conservancy which confirmed the creation of the marine reserve. “This bold step is a great step forward, the result of four years of extensive consultation and engagement between government, industry experts, local businesses, leaders and scientists,” writes the NGO. It lent money to the Seychelles government and mobilized private donations, including one from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, to finance the debt buyback. The latter was also conditioned by the creation of the reserve, which allows the archipelago to protect its 115 islands against the effects of climate change, including warming, rising and acidification of water.
“This effort will help Seychellois protect their ocean for future generations, and serve as a model for future marine protection projects around the world,” said American actor and conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio, who chairs the Foundation. “These protections mean that all species living in or passing through these waters are now better protected from overfishing, pollution and climate change,” he added. On Twitter, the American star congratulated “all those who made this possible.”
Nearly one-third of the new reserve will be closed to all types of fishing. And the rest of the area will be accessible only by small local fishermen and prohibited to the big trawlers of an industry which brings 300 million dollars per year to the country. This reserve also includes the Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is used as nesting ground for seabirds and is home to hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), giant tortoises and dugong.
By 2020, nearly one-third of Seychelles’ waters will normally be protected, which will prevent unregulated or illegal fishing, oil and gas exploration, and deepwater mining and dredging. Nature Conservancy President Mark Tercek predicts that Seychelles will be a model for the rest of the world. “What you see today in Seychelles is what we plan to introduce in the Caribbean and other oceanic regions facing the threat of climate change.”