In an agreement the first of its kind in world history, Seychelles is to protect large areas in the Indian Ocean to clear some of its national debt.
The island nation has agreed to preserve 210,000 square kilometres of ocean (almost the entire size of the United Kingdom), comprising of two huge marine parks which will cover 15% of Seychelles’ ocean. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation donated $1 million towards funding the debt swap.
The plan restricts tourism and fishing activities to prevent damage to aquatic life. For a country such as the Seychelles, where tourism accounts for 16% of its GDP, this was a difficult, yet important decision.
“We need to be responsible as we sustainably develop our oceans,” Seychelles Tourism Board CEO Sherin Francis said. “By safeguarding our environment, we can also ensure that we are protecting our people against an uncertain future.”
The World’s First Debt Swap Designed to Protect Ocean Areas
In 2016, The Seychelles government agreed on the debt swap with the Nature Conservancy, a US charity, and other investors.
As part of the $21 million deal, the charity and investors, including the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, paid off a part of Seychelles’ national debt.
The country will make future debt payments to the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT). The trust will offer low-interest rates on debt repayments. Any savings will fund new projects designed to protect marine life and fight climate change.
What Will Be Protected?
Seychelles will increase its protected waters from 0.04 to 30 percent by 2020.
The first marine reserve includes the Aldabra islands. Aldabra is home to giant tortoises, rare tropical bird colonies and the dugong – one of the Indian Ocean’s more endangered species. This area will be completely protected, with only research and regulated tourism allowed.
The second area will limit the fishing and tourism activities around the waters of Seychelles’ main islands.