Anse Royale Beach, Mahé Island, Seychelles.
Landscape | Anse Royale Beach, Mahé Island, Seychelles. © Jason Houston

Newsroom | The Nature Conservancy

Seychelles Expands Marine Protections to 26% - Achieves Milestone 2 of the Award-Winning Debt Conversion

Victoria, Seychelles

Seychelles has designated 350,915 sq. km (135,489 sq. miles) in new marine protection zones to complete the second milestone of the award-winning conservation finance deal designed by The Nature Conservancy on behalf of Government of Seychelles and funded by public and private donors. The deal, completed in 2016, turned sovereign debt repayments into long-term conservation funding. It was the first such 'debt conversion' in the world designed to protect marine environments. The Government of Seychelles leads this initiative with planning, science, and stakeholder engagement managed by The Nature Conservancy with the GOS-UNDP-GEF Programme Coordinating Unit.

Minister Wallace Cosgrow of the Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate Change signed the designation order on 12 April 2019 to legally gazette the boundaries of two zones identified by the Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) Initiative, marking the second big milestone in this project, and bringing the marine protections to 26% of Seychelle’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Territorial Sea.

The Marine Spatial Plan covers all 1.35 million sq. km (521,237 sq. miles) of Seychelles’ territory, with the purpose of expanding marine protections to 30% of the territory, address climate change adaptation, and support the national 'Blue Economy'.

With Milestone 2, the Aldabra (Marine) National Park now places 177,447 sq. km (68,512 sq. miles) in a high biodiversity protection status category, with planned closures for all commercial extraction, harvest, and seabed alteration when the zone comes in to effect in 2021. The waters surrounding the UNESCO World Heritage Site contain globally significant species and habitats. With information from international research expeditions such as the Nekton Expedition in 2019 and National Geographic Pristine Seas in 2016, Seychelles will continue to learn more about the breathtaking underwater world. The high protection category will strongly safeguard and conserve the ecosystem in the face of climate change uncertainties.

The medium biodiversity protection and sustainable use zone has also been expanded to now include 173,468 sq. km (66,976 sq. miles) of waters spanning from the Amirantes Group to Fortune Bank, including some areas on the Mahe Plateau. This area is very important for local artisanal and other domestic fisheries, marine charters and tourism, sport fishing, and other Blue Economy activities. When the areas are implemented and enforced in 2021 they will be managed for sustainable allowable activities that have been discussed, reviewed and agreed upon by stakeholders involved in the MSP Initiative.  

By demarcating large, contiguous areas to be protected, managed and enforced, Seychelles is now better prepared for the unknown effects of climate change, addressing illegal and overfishing, and promoting sustainable activities.  

Recently awarded the prestigious National Geographic Planetary Leadership Award to recognise world leaders who are establishing globally significant protected areas, President Faure has seen the new Aldabra (Marine) National Park from a unique and history-making vantage point.  Speaking live to 110 million viewers, President Faure spoke to the world from a manned Nekton submersible at a depth of 124 metres.  “I can see not only the incredible beauty of our ocean but the care it urgently needs to stay this way”.  

"We are developing a comprehensive marine spatial plan to ensure future generations of Seychellois can enjoy the incredible marine biodiversity in our waters. Moreover, through this conservation we are improving the resiliency of coastal ecosystems against climate change, and ensuring that pillars of our economy, tourism and fisheries, remain sustainable. The issue is bigger than all of us, and we cannot wait for the next generation to solve it.”

Launched in March 2019, the third and final Milestone will achieve the remaining 4% of the marine protection goal and thus complete the Marine Spatial Plan by 2020. It will also address improving ocean management in the 70% of waters in the multiple use zone, approximately 945,000 sq. km (364,866 sq. miles).

Milestone 3 includes planning for waters surrounding the granitic and coralline islands on the Mahe Plateau, where most of the 97,000 Seychellois live. Milestone 3 will also extend to the shallow waters surrounding the atolls and archipelagos of the Outer Islands such as Amirantes, Farquhar, Cosmoledo and Astove.  These nearshore waters, most less than 200 m deep, contain some of the most productive and diverse habitats - coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds are providing livelihoods and ecosystem services that sustain this Large Ocean State.  

The Seychelles MSP Initiative is also working on the many considerations for when the marine spatial plan is completed and ready to be implemented in 2021- management, monitoring, enforcement, staffing and costs are all being discussed. For example, some financing to enforce the biodiversity protection zones will be received from the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT).  SeyCCAT was created as an output of the debt conversion and currently provides up to $750,000 in blue grants and other funds for local conservation and climate adaptation projects. 

"The Seychelles debt conversion and marine spatial plan are providing significant leadership and inspiration in Africa and for Small Island Developing States” said Matt Brown, The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Director. "This is a critical accomplishment to expand protection of the oceans and create long-lasting conservation for nature and people.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.