Seychelles is a global biodiversity hotspot containing 115 islands in the Western Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) off the coast of East Africa. Its “Blue Economy” is based on fishing and tourism, which, along with its low-lying island geography, makes its people and economy particularly vulnerable to the threats of climate change.
The threats to Seychelles are numerous. Frequent and severe storms are battering coastal areas and affecting essential coastal infrastructure. Rising sea levels are causing erosion and flooding of beaches that attract important tourist dollars. Warming ocean temperatures are causing declines in fish stocks that are important for national revenue and are killing the delicate animals that create coral reefs — habitat that buffers the force of storms and provides refuge for numerous marine species.
To protect its most important natural resource, Seychelles completed an innovative debt-for-nature conversion in 2016 that enables conservation and climate adaptation goals to be achieved through innovative debt restructuring and a comprehensive marine spatial plan.
A Sea Change in the Western Indian Ocean
Negotiated by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the Seychelles government and the Paris Club, an international debt-relief group, the transaction converts a portion of the nation’s foreign debt into a $22-million investment in expanded marine conservation.
In 2015 and 2016, the former Seychelles’ President James Michel and Minister of Finance, Trade and Blue Economy Jean-Paul Adam strongly supported this project, showing the political will necessary to make this debt-for-adaptation conversion successful, and in the process provide a model for other at-risk island countries.
“As a country that’s 99 percent ocean, we take very seriously our role as one of the planet’s blue guardians,” Mr. Adam said. “The debt-for-adaptation deal will contribute significantly to our climate adaptation efforts and maintain the country’s economic health.”
Seychelles President Danny Faure, who was sworn into office in October 2016, and the current minister responsible for finance, Dr. Peter Larose, are also fully supportive of this cause.
LARGER AND SMARTER PROTECTED AREAS
Despite the fact that Seychelles’ marine waters are 3,000 times larger than its land area, and more than 50 percent of the land is in a protected area, only 0.04 percent of the ocean is formally protected. As part of the debt conversion, Seychelles committed to increasing its marine protection to 30 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone and ensuring representation of all marine habitats and species.
The government of Seychelles is leading the Seychelles Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) Initiative, and TNC is facilitating this process and developing the plan. The marine plan, once completed, will provide a zoning design for biodiversity protection, climate change adaptation, and the Blue Economy.
In February 2018, Seychelles announced the completion of Phase 1 of the MSP and the first two marine protected areas, which together cover 210,000 square kilometers of ocean. These first designations — an area the size of Great Britain — represent just the first half of the 410,000 square kilometers that will be protected by 2022.
The plan contains a decision-making framework to guide government leaders now and into the future on how to balance their country’s conservation and climate change adaptation goals with their development needs. The process involved engaging stakeholders from multiple sectors including fishing, conservation, infrastructure, ports, renewable energy, non-renewable resources, tourism, and recreation.
"We realized that as small islands and more importantly as Large Ocean Nations, we share many features and face common challenges with other nations," said President Faure. "Our large ocean brings development opportunities but also responsibility. With an Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.37 million square kilometers, the second largest in Africa, our ocean is central to our development and for the future of generations to come.
Financing A Sustainable Future
The Seychelles Government has set up the Seychelles’ Conservation & Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), which has purchased the debt with a loan from TNC. SeyCCAT will manage the endowment and enforce the terms of the debt forgiveness agreement. After 20 years, the endowment is expected to be fully capitalized at nearly $10 million and will pay out approximately $600,000 per year to fund continued marine conservation and climate adaptation activities.
By investing in the Seychelles’ marine spatial planning process, its climate adaptation policies, and a sustainable source of financing for conservation, TNC is helping to create a demonstration project that can be adapted to other sites in the Western Indian Ocean region and around the world.