Seychelles Clears Hurdle to Protect 30% of Its Waters
July 21, 2016
Debt Swap Establishes Sustainable Funding for Ocean Reserve Management, Capping the Best Year for Ocean Conservation in History
MEDIA CONTACT: Kathleen Goldstein, The Nature Conservancy, 1-202-841-0295, firstname.lastname@example.org
Arlington, VA (February 29, 2016) – The Government of Seychelles has completed a first-of-kind $27.3 million debt swap that paves the way for the creation and long-term management of the largest marine reserve in the Indian Ocean. The formal closing of the financial arrangement is a crucial milestone in a bold commitment made by Seychelles President James Michel at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro to put 30 percent of its marine resources under conservation and sustainable use by 2020, up from less than 1 percent today.
Now the payments that Seychelles owed to Paris Club debtors will instead remain in the country and will be directed to the new independent, locally based and led Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT). The trust will disburse funds for conservation of marine resources that are the foundation of the nation’s economy, with emphasis on actions that will help strengthen the resilience of these resources in the face of climate change.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global not-for-profit conservation organization, partnered with the government to mobilize $22.3 million in an impact capital loan and $5 million in grants to buy back more than $29 million in debt at a 5.4% discount. The cash flow from the restructured debt will fund three distinct streams: one to repay impact investors, one to capitalize SeyCCAT’s endowment, and one to fund marine conservation and ecosystem-based climate adaptation. It is the first swap specifically aimed at helping an island nation protect its resources and people from the impacts of climate change.
This week, the Government of Seychelles made payment to creditors to buy back their debt via a loan from SeyCCAT, which was funded by a grant and loan from The Nature Conservancy. This transfer of funds will now enable Seychelles to begin investing in conservation efforts, including its commitment to place 15 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone under marine protection by the end of calendar year 2016.
Seychelles, a low-lying archipelago of 115 islands in the Western Indian Ocean, is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, as well as changing temperatures and ocean acidification. Seychelles is 99 percent ocean, and its “blue economy” is built on a productive tuna fishery and ocean-based tourism.
“I have seen erosion, storms and floods increase, affecting the health of our communities and their ability to sustain livelihoods,” said President James Michel of Seychelles. “Together, we are making a difference. A difference that brings the best outcomes for Seychelles… and a difference that places nature at the center of solutions for climate change and sustainable development.”
Over the course of 2015, more than 1 million square miles of ocean habitat were earmarked for high levels of protection, making it the single greatest year for ocean conservation in history.
The 154,000 square miles committed by Seychelles will protect important species like the hawksbill sea turtle, safeguard the country’s most important natural resource, and become the largest network of marine protected areas in the Indian Ocean.
This monumental effort got a boost from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which granted $1 million USD to The Nature Conservancy to protect marine ecosystems in Seychelles. Other support came from the China Global Conservation Fund, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham, Environmental Trust, the Lyda Hill Foundation, the Oak Foundation, Oceans 5, the Turnbull Burnstein Family Charitable Fund, the Waitt Foundation and private donors.
[Quote from Leonardo DiCaprio about why he chose to fund this initiative]
The Nature Conservancy is now working with a wide array of partners to create a marine spatial plan for the 1.37 million square kilometers of the Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone. Science, spatial data, stakeholder input and local knowledge are being used to propose zones for high and medium biodiversity protection and multiple uses. The marine plan can then ensure that future development is directed away from the highest biodiversity priorities and that future investments in marine conservation will deliver the greatest return on investment for the people of Seychelles and their rich marine resources.
“This significant milestone now holds the Seychelles government accountable to delivering the tangible conservation and climate change outcomes over the next 5 years that will result in 400,000 square kilometers of improved marine resource management,” said Matt Brown, The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Conservation Director. “It has been a team effort and a very exciting process. We hope this is the end of the beginning of a new trend of ocean conservation commitments.”