Seychelles has recently created protected areas “the size of Great Britain” in the Indian Ocean. In exchange for getting some of its national debt paid off, the island nation has agreed to protect 210,000 sq km of ocean, reported The Telegraph.
The reserves will limit tourism and fishing activities in the Seychelles to halt further damage to aquatic life.
This archipelago nation, which sits just under 1,000 miles east of Tanzania, is better known as a holiday haven for honeymooners and celebrities who want to escape the spotlight.
However, the announcement that it will create two colossal marine parks – where fish and coral will be protected – in exchange for debt relief brings it into focus as much more than an oasis of balmy weather, palm trees and luxury resorts on gorgeous beaches.
The sum, which is owed collectively to the governments of UK, France, Belgium and Italy, has been purchased by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a non-governmental organisation with an eco-ethos.
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, founded by the Hollywood actor, has donated $1 million to the cause. The transaction will guarantee that 15 percent of the country’s territory will be ring-fenced for marine conservation, with this percentage set to double to 30 percent by 2021.
This adds up to a combined area of 80,300 square miles. Seychelles comprises of 115 islands and islets dotted across 500,000 square miles of ocean.
The larger of the marine parks will encompass some 51,700 square miles of sea around the main island Mahé. Here, tighter restrictions on fishing will include a ban on more intensive catching methods that regularly see large numbers of dolphins, sharks and turtles snared as a by-product of the search for tuna.
The second – a “smaller” pocket of 28,600 square miles – is arguably more intriguing from a conservation perspective. It will virtually rope off the Aldabra islands – a scattering of coral islets which hides some 700 miles south-west of the Seychellois capital Victoria (on Mahé). This out-of-the-way atoll has been compared to the Galapagos islands, such is its biodiversity. As with the Ecuadorian archipelago, giant tortoises live here in significant numbers, as do green and hawksbill sea turtles, as well as dolphins and orcas.
The inaccessibility of the Aldabras means the marine park around them is unlikely to become a magnet for tourists. However, this does not mean that tourists will be banned. Seychelles already has protected zones where holidaymakers can glimpse local wildlife with the help of a scuba mask and flippers; the Sainte Anne Marine National Park, which throws its arms around eight islets three miles east of Mahé, being a case in point.
The emphasis with the new areas will be on preserving the DNA of a country where coral bleaching and drops in fish numbers have been a growing concern for much of this century. The Aldabra enclave will be strictly regulated – all fishing is prohibited there, as is any prospect of drilling for oil.
However, this arrangement has not been accepted by all. Islanders have expressed fears that the zone around Mahé, in particular, will hinder their capacity to make a living. “We are worried,” fisherman Richard Bossy told The Guardian. “They want to make a lot of regulated areas where we can’t fish. Fishing is already harder. We are going to lose a lot. If there is not enough enforcement, it will never be implemented.”
He also questioned how Seychelles will keep track of every boat in such a broad segment of water.
Nonetheless, the country is currently riding high on a project which could turn out to be a defining concept – inspiring other nations to “sell” their natural wonders to the hope of a healthier planet.