Today, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the world’s leading conservation organization, and the Government of Gabon announced an innovative financial transaction to refinance $500 million of Gabon’s national debt and generate an expected $163 million in new funding for ocean conservation. This transaction marks the launch of a comprehensive, long-term conservation project with a new funding stream to help Gabon finance ocean protection and management for 30 percent of its ocean, in support of the nation’s overall commitment to protect 30 percent of its lands, freshwater systems, and ocean by 2030. This is the fourth TNC Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation project, and the first such ‘debt conversion’ transaction in Mainland Africa. This project also represents the largest amount of new debt raised for a TNC-led project.
Gabon’s beaches and coastal waters host the world’s largest population of leatherback turtles—as much as 30 percent of the global population of this endangered species—and their most important nesting sites. Gabon is also home to one of the largest olive ridley turtle rookeries in the Atlantic, and to the Atlantic humpback dolphin, recently classified as critically endangered. The Blue Bonds project will help finance a Marine Spatial Plan with the aim to increase the area of ocean under protection, improve management in currently protected areas and all new protected areas, and support Gabon’s sustainable ‘blue economy.’ This project will also help Gabon strengthen and enforce regulations in its fishing industry where by some estimates, $610 million annually is lost to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
Today’s announcement highlights the financial close of this debt conversion, marking the start of a 15-year conservation project for Gabon. As part of the transaction, proceeds from a new bond issuance, arranged by Bank of America, were used to refinance a portion of Gabon’s existing national debt. The US International Development Finance Corporation is providing political risk insurance of up to $500 million for the financing, which lowers the cost of debt for Gabon. This transaction will enable the country to make annual contributions to an independent Conservation Fund and an endowment that will continue to fund conservation after the bonds are repaid.
This project is the most recent in TNC’s “Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation” program, an ambitious plan that aligns with national and international commitments to scale up ocean conservation around the world and address urgent biodiversity losses through improved ocean management. Gabon is the fourth Blue Bonds project for TNC, alongside those in Seychelles, Belize, and Barbados. The Blue Bonds program combines conservation finance with science and marine planning expertise to help governments unlock funds at scale to help finance their conservation and climate goals while also supporting the well-being of their people and economies. To date, the Blue Bonds program has helped refinance more than $1.2 billion of debt globally and is expected to generate over $400 million of new funding for conservation in support of national commitments to protect and improve management of more than 176 million hectares (or 1.8 million square kms) of ocean, an area larger than the Gulf of Mexico.
“The launch of Gabon’s Blue Bond is an important moment, giving us hope that green or blue financial mechanisms will grow significantly in coming years and help countries like Gabon, who effectively protect critical ecosystems whilst also growing our economies,” said President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. “All too often talk of these new mechanisms to reward countries like my own remain just that. In this case, thanks to the work of our partner, The Nature Conservancy, and the US International Development Finance Corporation, we have made it a reality. I call on Developed Nations and our Multilateral Banks to multiply these sorts of initiatives, which could make a significant contribution to addressing the critical challenges of Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss.”
“Our Blue Bonds program combines finance with science and marine planning expertise to help governments reach their conservation and climate goals while also supporting the well-being of their people and economies,” said Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “This project in Gabon unlocks an enormous stream of funding for conservation created by the issuance of new bonds, which was made possible with political risk insurance from the US International Development Finance Corporation. It is among a growing number of innovative financial opportunities advancing both biodiversity and climate goals for people and nature.”
Gabon has a diverse coastal and marine ecosystem that contains over 1,000 IUCN-Red Listed marine species including sea turtles, sharks, whales, and dolphins, including 126 of the most endangered or threatened. As well as its global importance for nesting turtles, humpback whales undertake their annual migration north to their mating and calving areas through Gabon’s oceans. Its coastal waters are home to high densities of West African manatees, widely dispersed in estuaries, lagoons, and coastal lakes, as well as important populations of sharks and rays, including large tooth and small tooth sawfishes, which are critically endangered and have mostly disappeared from the region. Gabon’s extensive mangrove forests represent one of the largest and most secure carbon stores in West and Central Africa and could contribute up to 6.4 percent of Gabon’s total climate change mitigation target.
Despite the ocean contributing an estimated $3 trillion per year to global GDP, marine conservation continues to be the least funded of the United Nations' sustainable development goals—a missed economic, climate, and biodiversity opportunity. The world relies on healthy oceans, but funding marine conservation and climate change adaptation activities is a challenge for most countries, despite their high need to do so.
“DFC’s political risk insurance provided critical support for this historic transaction, helping to mobilize capital from institutional investors and catalyze additional investment in Gabon’s marine conservation efforts,” said DFC CEO Scott Nathan. “We are proud to contribute to this kind of innovative financing in Central Africa, having supported similar efforts in Central and South America. The Gabon Blue Bond will generate an expected $163 million in financing for new marine conservation efforts over the next 15 years, advancing critical conservation goals, protecting endangered species, and supporting the country’s sustainable ‘blue economy.’ Like previous transactions DFC has supported in Belize and Ecuador, the Gabon Blue Bond illustrates how DFC can effectively lift the credit-profile of a bond issuance to deepen capital markets. We are proud to have partnered on this transformative transaction.”
Gabon: A Key Conservation Opportunity
Gabon was one of the first nations in the world to pledge to protect 30 percent of its ocean and land by 2030, and the only country to add a further commitment also to protect 30 percent of its freshwater. To help fund this goal, the country announced in 2022 that it would pursue a Project Finance for Permanence (PFP), an innovative conservation tool that will complement the Blue Bonds project. Bringing together a broad coalition of partners, the Gabon PFP is among a robust slate of projects in the portfolio of Enduring Earth, an ambitious collaboration among TNC, The Pew Charitable Trusts, World Wildlife Fund and ZOMALAB, that works alongside nations and communities to accelerate conservation worldwide and support community economic development.
With its scientific expertise, TNC is committed to supporting the completion of a participatory marine spatial plan (MSP) that will be led by the government and contribute to ongoing monitoring and effective management of the resulting protected areas. The conservation funding unlocked by the Blue Bond will fund an MSP process that builds upon its existing ‘Gabon Bleu’ initiative and expands its network of legally designated Marine Protected Areas from 26 percent of its ocean to 30 percent. Funding will be allocated to ensure that all protected areas are effectively managed for maximum conservation impact, and that the area of Gabon’s ocean under the highest levels of conservation protection is expanded.
Funding from the Blue Bonds project will help safeguard the sustainability of Gabon’s marine economy, including support for strengthening enforcement against illegal, unreported, and unregulated industrial fishing. The refinancing will unlock $5 million each year over the next 15 years for conservation action and create an endowment expected to grow to approximately $88 million by 2038 to fund conservation in Gabon in the future.
While Blue Bonds projects generally share some common elements – a commitment to protect approximately 30 percent of a country’s waters, utilize marine spatial planning, sustainable financing – each project is tailored to address the specific needs and circumstances of the countries TNC works with.
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 more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.