March 27, 2020

Debt-restructuring Deal Helps Seychelles Protect Its Ocean

News Source: China Daily

Author(s): Edith Mutethya

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has hit the global tourism sector, Seychelles' tourism conservation remains strong, thanks to an innovative financial mechanism that has seen the country turn 30 percent of its exclusive zone into marine protected area.

Dubbed blue bond debt for nature swaps, the financing mechanism was signed in February 2016 by the government of Seychelles and The Nature Conservancy, an international environment non-governmental organization.

Through the deal, the Seychelles government bought back $21.6 million of its sovereign debt at a discount, using private philanthropic funding and loan capital raised by The Nature Conservancy's NatureVest arm.

The government now repays those loans to the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation, a local trust, with a portion of repayments funding marine conservation and climate change preparation projects expected to be implemented in the marine protection areas.

Coral in cooler waters is now better protected and could recolonize reefs affected by future bleaching events.

Species including the Indian Ocean's only dugongs, Southern Ocean humpback whales, manta rays, sharks, endangered turtles and economically vital fish like tuna are now under increased protection.

Oceanic nations like Seychelles are among the most vulnerable to climate change because their economies are often almost totally reliant on marine resources. Failing to plan how to sustain those resources as waters warm or acidify could be ecologically and economically disastrous.

Danny Faure, president of Seychelles, said by protecting the large areas they are not only safeguarding their marine environment but also balancing economic growth through the management of the resources the sea provides.

"We realize we are not the only island nation that faces these challenges. We are proud of this accomplishment and hope other nations will follow suit," he said.

On Thursday, Faure announced the legal designation of a third of the country's ocean territory as a marine protected area.

"This is the first comprehensive large-scale marine special plan in the western Indian Ocean, one of the first for the small developing island state and the largest marine special plan in the world after Norway.

Thirteen new areas will be declared protected under the national parks and nature conservancy act, totaling an area of 410, 000 square kilometers," Faure said.

He said the marine ecosystem is the foundation of the country's economy, with fisheries and tourism being the primary pillars of the economy and covering over 1.35 million square kilometers of the ocean.

Seychelles' new Marine Protection Areas cover more than 30 percent of its waters. A little under half are 'high biodiversity zones' where all extractive uses are either excluded or highly restricted, including waters around the Aldabra Group that, like the Galapagos Islands, offer a window into evolutionary processes in a relatively untouched ecosystem.

The rest are 'medium biodiversity and sustainable use' zones where enterprises vital to Seychelles' economy will continue to operate under new sustainability regulations. More than 200 consultations with Seychelles' citizens, scientists, and key businesses guided the process.

Noting that Seychelles' economy is highly dependent on tourism revenue, just like many of its neighbors in Africa, Matt Brown, program director of The Nature Conservancy's Africa, said the current coronavirus crisis is a stark reminder when tourism dollars dry up, communities are left vulnerable, putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

"Crucial sources of income for conservation efforts are also at risk, and the damage to nature and natural resources people need, such as fisheries, can be profound and long-lasting," he said.

Brown said The Nature Conservancy is working with partners and governments like Seychelles to diversify essential conservation funding sources to ensure a climate resilient future, even during tough times.

Designating 30 percent of its marine area as protected means Seychelles has already tripled the UN Convention of Biological Diversity Target of 10 percent marine protection by 2020, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 for 10 percent coastal and marine protection.

The Marine Protection Areas form part of a whole-ocean Marine Spatial Plan that will cover all of Seychelles' ocean, addressing increased management of all marine resources, regulatory attention, and unified government coordination to support the country's Blue Economy.