The Seychelles, an island country off the coast of East Africa, is nearing completion of a plan that will see it drastically increase the coverage of its marine protected areas.
By adopting the so-called “Third South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Governance and Shared Growth Project” (SWIOFish3), which includes the final phase of the Marine Spatial Plan initiative, the Seychelles is raising its marine protected area coverage to 30 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone. The plan, which has an expected completion date of 2020, will also includes reforms to address mounting concerns on the impact of overfishing and destructive tourism industry activities.
According to a report by the Ministry of Finance, Trade and Economic Planning, the pressure exerted by the fisheries and tourism sectors on the marine natural resources is “reaching unsustainable levels.”
“Several species of demersal fish are subject to overfishing, or at risk from overfishing, with declining catch rates symptomatic of worsening status in key fisheries,” the report stated.
But with SWIOFish, the Seychelles is in a new phase of implementing measures to create a sustainable seafood industry through improved management of the fisheries sector that could lead to increased volumes of landed catch for local processing and reduce the share that is transshipped, the report added.
As part of the wider SWIOFish project in the Seychelles, the government has developed a phased-Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) that creates high and medium biodiversity marine protected areas (MPAs), one where fishing is prohibited and another where it is controlled, so to achieve sustainable utilization of the marine environment and support growth of the country’s blue economy.
The Seychelles has previously not had restrictions of the species and amount of fish caught, or the seasonality of the capture hence raising concern over the drop in total country catch in some fishing areas.
In the first phase of the MSP two locations with a combined area 210,499 square kilometers have been declared marine protected areas.
The first area, measuring 74,499 square kilometers, is located around the deep waters surrounding the Aldabra Group. The area hosts endangered marine species such as the Indian Ocean’s only dugongs, a critically endangered sea turtle species.
The Seychelles wants to use the second area, which measures 136,000 square kilometers, to showcase how sustainable economic development can be balanced with its well-performing critical economic sectors of fishing and tourism.
An additional 200,000 square kilometers will be brought under marine protection by the end of 2020, increasing the total marine protected areas in the Seychelles to 410,000 square kilometers, or nearly 30 percent of its 1.4 million-square-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
The Seychelles seems to have successfully tackled the first hurdle in achieving the objectives of the SWIOFish3 project, which is financing.
One option embraced by this archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean is the debt-for-climate-adaptation swap, which entails converting part of the debt it owes other countries into a more manageable locally held debt.
The Seychelles will access USD 23 million (EUR 20.7 million) in an impact capital loan and another USD 5 million (EUR 4.5 million) in grants to buy back USD 29.6 million (EUR 26.7 million) national debt at 5.4 percent discount. This financing plan has been organized by The Nature Conservancy.
Part of the debt service payments is now being channeled to the repayment of impact investors, increasing Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) endowment capitalization and also providing funds for “work on the ground that advances marine and coastal conservation, including strategies for ecosystem-based climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.”
The advantage for Seychelles from this financing option is that the country will for example invest USD 13 million (EUR 11.7 million), channeled through SeyCATT, to conservation activities “with nearly 70 percent of this payable in local currency rather than hard currency, averting the extra cost of conversion.”
Furthermore, the debt payment period has been reduced from 20 years to eight years, with an annual government debt service of about USD 2 million (EUR 1.8 million), hence “freeing up funds for other needs of the citizens of Seychelles.”
Additionally, in 2018, the Seychelles launched a USD 15 million (EUR 13.5 million) sovereign blue bond to finance the fisheries and aquaculture projects under SWIOFish, the first such country to embrace this innovative fund mobilization instrument.
Seychelles Vice President Vincent Meriton said previously the blue bond that draws investment from both public and private sectors will “mobilize resources for empowering local communities and businesses, greatly assist Seychelles in achieving a transition to sustainable fisheries and safeguarding our oceans while we sustainably develop our blue economy.”
Earnings from the blue bond will be utilized as grants for fisheries management planning activities and also as bait in the form of loans to woo more public and private investment in sustainable fishing opportunities such as post-harvest value addition and conservation of ocean resources.
The SWIOFish project is expected to “lay the foundation for the sustainable development of the fisheries value chains and improve the business climate,” according to Meriton.
The project includes a draft plan for the Mahe Plateau Fisheries project, which entails transitioning, albeit in phases, from an open-access fishery to a more controlled fishery. That plan has been completed and is in the phase of consultation ahead of final roll-out.
Additional financing for the project is also coming from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is providing a USD 5 million (EUR 4.5 million) loan and Global Environment Facility that has extended USD 5.3 million (EUR 4.8 million) grant.