Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Christoph Reiter
In February 2018 it was announced that the Seychelles would become part of a pioneering new scheme, backed by high-profile environmental activists including Leonardo DiCaprio, which would see it create two new marine reserves in exchange for having a large amount of its national debt written off.
The first protected area will cover 74,000 square kilometres – roughly twice the size of Scotland – around the Aldabra area while the second will centre on the densely populated island of Mahe and span 134,000 square kilometres. Combined, the new reserves will equal around 15% of the Seychelles' oceans and, while controlled fishing will still be allowed, harmful practices such as the use of fish aggregating devices will be banned.
It is hoped that the new initiative will prove a lifeline for the Seychelles, whose economy relies solely on tourism and fishing, but whose marine life has suffered dramatically from the effects of coral bleaching and overfishing in recent years. The Aldabra reserve is also of particular importance thanks to the area’s huge array of marine life, which is frequently compared to the Galapagos, and plays host to endangered species such a dugongs and giant tortoises as well as spinner dolphins, tiger sharks, manta rays and humpback whales.
The new reserves have been made possible by an agreement that will see $22 million dollars of national debt owed to the UK, France, Belgium and Italy bought at a discount by NGO The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC has also raised $5 million – including a $1 million donation from DiCaprio – to help pay off the debt as well as renegotiating the terms of the outstanding loan to give the Seychelles government a lower interest rate thus freeing up $12 million over the next 20 years to be invested in ocean conservation.
If successful, it is hoped this type of debt swap could become a vital tool in the fight for healthy oceans with a number of island nations already showning interest in the scheme. TNC expects to agree the terms of a $60 million debt swap with Grenada during 2018 with Mauritius and a number of other Caribbean islands also lined up.