Made up of 115 islands that dot the Indian Ocean off East Africa, the Seychelles are known as a global biodiversity hotspot.
With 85% of its animals and 45% of its plant species considered endemic, the archipelago is sometimes called the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.” And both on land and in the ocean, different groups are working to preserve this ecological paradise.
This year, after creating a sophisticated zoning plan and conducting in-depth discussions with representatives from the tourism, fishing, oil and conservation sectors, the island nation is poised to fully implement the historic marine spatial planning initiative it announced several years ago. years: protect 30% of its ocean territory.
Protect the ”outer islands”
Tourism, climate change and other factors have already had a significant impact on the environment of the more populated “inner islands” of the Seychelles. The deal, part of a national debt cancellation deal in exchange for conservation measures, now aims to protect the 72 low-lying coral ‘outer islands’, before it is too late.
Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the outer islands that the initiative will help preserve. This rare group of coral reef islands has enjoyed natural protection for years due to its remote location (visitors need special permission to access it and must travel all day to get there), but, like many parts of the Seychelles, remains vulnerable to the dangers of climate change.
In 1998, the Seychelles lost 90% of its coral reefs during a major coral bleaching event due to rising sea temperatures. The 13 new marine protected areas aim to preserve its ocean territory.
A limited land mass
Despite the environmental benefits that the protection zones will bring, the agreement is not without its problems. For example, in these new protected areas – which cover an area equivalent to that of Germany – about half of the country’s fishing grounds would be prohibited.
However, Seychelles says it seeks to bridge the gap between this ambitious initiative and the immediate needs of local economies by involving all relevant parties (fisheries and tourism workers, among others).
“We are in a very small country. Our land mass is very limited and we need that space for economic development,” said Sherin Francis, executive director of the Seychelles Tourism Board.
“However, we managed to achieve that balance and ensure that 50% of our territory is protected,” he added.
The ocean is not the only part of the Seychelles that is untouched. On land, the National Parks Authority oversees two main areas, Morne Seychellois National Park and Praslin National Park, which are home to a long list of endemic animal and plant species.
Located on the largest island of Mahé, Morne Seychellois Park covers 20% of the island’s surface, provides fresh water for the inhabitants, and is criss-crossed by trails past historic ruins dating back to the time when the French and British settlers, Indians and Chinese traders passed through the islands.
Praslin National Park is home to the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed palm forest.
The official designation of the parks was established when the Seychelles began to develop as a tourist destination, a few years after the construction of the first international airport and the independence of the island.
Like the initiatives taken regarding the marine space, the national park status was intended to protect the land while creating an infrastructure for visitors to enjoy walking more than 15 km of trails and observing its rare bird and plant species.
With all eyes on its historic conservation goals, Seychelles is preparing to show how such a small nation can become an example to the many other island nations facing the effects of climate change. Let’s hope it’s not too late.