Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Conservation News

Debt for Dolphins: Seychelles Creates Huge Marine Parks in World-First Finance Scheme 

An innovative exchange of sovereign debt for marine conservation, backed by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, could pave the way to saving large swaths of the world’s oceans 

[ This post is extracted from an article which originally appeared on www.thegaurdian.com. To read the entire article in its original form, CLICK HERE

The tropical island nation of Seychelles is to create two huge new marine parks in return for a large amount of its national debt being written off, in the first scheme of its kind in the world. 

The novel financial engineering, effectively swapping debt for dolphins and other marine life, aims to throw a lifeline to corals, tuna and turtles being caught in a storm of over fishing and climate change. If it works, it will also secure the economic future of the nation, which depends entirely on tourism and fishing. With other ocean states lining up to follow, the approach could transform large swaths of the planet’s troubled seas. 

The challenge for the Seychelles is clear on the coral reef fringing Curieuse Island, once a leper colony and now a national park. The mass bleaching caused by warming waters in 2016 has left the white limbs of branching corals lying like bones in a ploughed graveyard, with rare flashes of the cobalt-blue coral survivors. 

“The biggest changes are climate change,” says David Rowat, a marine scientist and diving school owner for 30 years, who says storms and bleaching events are becoming more frequent. Some clownish have never returned since the major bleaching in 1998, he says: “The ‘nemos’ all went.” As the reef recovered, the 2016 bleaching was a “kick in the teeth”, Rowat says. 

Over-fishing, and the killing of dolphins, sharks and turtles as by-catch in tuna nets, is also taking its toll across the Seychelles’ vast ocean territory. The new marine plan bans fishing around biodiversity hotspots, keeping them healthy and better able to resist climate change.

The biodiversity jewel in the Seychelles crown is the Aldabra archipelago, which rivals the Galapagos in ecological importance. Spinner dolphins, manta rays, humpback whales and nurse, lemon and tiger sharks share the waters with hawksbill and green turtles, and seabirds from some of the world’s largest colonies soar above. Dugongs - or sea cows - are the most endangered species in the Indian Ocean and shelter here, while 100,000 rare giant tortoises slowly roam the land. 

The new protected area around Aldabra is 74,000 square kilometers - almost the size of Scotland - and bans all extractive uses, from fishing to oil exploitation. The second new protected area is 134,000 sq km, centered on the main Seychelles island of Mahé. It allows controlled activities but is, for example, banning “fish aggregating devices” – rafts that concentrate fish but drive up by-catch. 

Together, the parks cover 15% of the Seychelles ocean and the government will double this by 2021, putting it far ahead of an international target of 10% by 2020. The parks resulted from the first ever debt-swap deal for marine protection in which $22m of national debt owed to the UK, France, Belgium and Italy was bought at a discount by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the NGO that has assisted the Seychelles. 

TNC also raised $5m from donors to pay off part of the debt and cut the interest rate charged to the Seychelles government on the outstanding loan. This has freed up $12m over the next 20 years to help implement the new marine plan. 

“The Seychelles is positioning itself as a world leader in ocean governance,” says environment minister, Didier Dogley. “But we are not doing this because we have such a great ego but because we truly believe these initiatives will create prosperity for our people, conserve critical biodiversity and build resilience against climate change.” 

Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation donated $1m towards funding the debt swap, said: “These protections mean that all species living in these waters or migrating through them are now far better shielded from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.” 

Benoît Bosquet, environment practice manager at the World Bank, which is not involved in the Seychelles marine plan, said: “They are a leader in this field worldwide and may be an example for many other countries.” 

Read more on www.thegauardian.com > CLICK HERE

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