In an announcement that truly changes the future of ocean conservation in the Indian Ocean, Seychelles has created a Marine Protected Area the 81,000 square miles (210,000 sq kms). The newly protected area is actually part of two new Marine Protected Areas that is roughly the same size of Great Britain and will protect some of the planet’s most endangered marine life.
The announcement is part of a deal that is designed by the The Nature Conservancy and funded by public and private donors including the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Close to one-third of the ocean area surrounding Seychelles will be so heavily protected that only very limited activities including research and closely regulated tourism will be allowed.
A big portion of the funding came through a debt deal where in exchange for getting some of its national debt paid off, the island nation has agreed to protect its ocean. This appears to be the first ever debt swap designed to protect ocean areas in the world.
The Seychelles government agreed the debt swap with the Nature Conservancy, a US charity, and investors back in 2017. Under the $21 million deal, the charity and investors paid for a portion of the Seychelles national debt.
The country will then direct future national debt payments into a new trust, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust. This trust will offer lower interest rates on debt repayments, and any savings will go to fund new projects designed to protect marine life and handle the effects of climate change.
Currently, .04 percent of Seychelles ocean is protected but that number will jump to an astonishing 30 percent by the end of 2020 in the new deal.
The two areas being protected were strategically selected. The first area covers the Aldabra Islands, where two of the four endangered sea turtle populations, nesting bird colonies, and the dugong, which is one the more endangered species in the Indian Ocean. This area will be fully protected with the exception research and highly regulated tourism.
The second area concerns the ocean directly around the Seychelles’ main islands and will focus on sustainable fishing and eco-friendly tourism.
Islands like Seychelles are the most vulnerable to climate change due to their economies being completely reliant on marine resources. By setting a new direction in conservation, they will be able to plan on how to sustain those resources as climate change can potentially cause ecological and economical disaster.
Leonardo DiCaprio has been very vocal about the consequences of climate change and was a major factor to the deal being completed. The Oscar winner said, “This effort will help the people of Seychelles protect their ocean for future generations, and will serve as a model for future marine conservation projects worldwide.”
Fishing and tourism jobs in Seychelles’ fishing will now be more secure into the long-term thanks to significantly stronger conservation of the marine ecosystems that sustain them. Together, these businesses employ 43% of the country’s workforce.
Without these Marine Protected Areas, activities like oil and gas exploration, deep-sea mining, dredging, and controversial fishing techniques, could take place in one of the planet’s most pristine, biodiverse oceans with little or no restriction or direction.