Seychelles, a small island nation located off East Africa in the Indian Ocean, has announced the creation of two new marine protected areas covering 210,000 square kilometers (81,100 square miles), according to a press release from the U.S.-based conservation group The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The area covered by the two parks is the size of the island of Great Britain.
The first marine protected area includes 74,400 square kilometers (28,700 square miles) of waters surrounding the extremely isolated Aldabra archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has remained largely untouched by people.
The Aldabra Atoll is home to the elusive dugong (Dugong dugon) and the world’s largest population of about 100,000 rare giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea). The islands are also important nesting grounds for hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas).
The second marine protected area covers 136,000 square kilometers (52,500 square miles) of a commercially important stretch of ocean between the Amirantes group of coral islands and Fortune Bank. This region is important for both tourism and fishing activities, some of which will be allowed under stricter regulations, according to TNC.
The Seychelles government designated the two new marine protected areas as part of a debt-for-nature deal drawn up with the help of TNC. The deal allows Seychelles to restructure part of its national debt in exchange for its commitment to increase marine protection from 0.04 percent of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to 30 percent.
“Seychelles’ commitment to increase the protected area of its ocean from 0.04 percent to 30 percent came out of a groundbreaking debt refinancing it designed with TNC and key stakeholders in 2015,” TNC said in the press release. “Seychelles was able to pay off an outstanding sovereign debt with $21 million TNC raised. The transaction, structured by TNC’s conservation investing unit, NatureVest, means a portion of Seychelles’ debt repayments will now fund innovative marine protection and climate adaptation projects.”
The debt-for-nature swap involves private funders such as the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (which also provides funding to Mongabay), China Global Conservation Fund of TNC, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, Lyda Hill Foundation, Oak Foundation, Oceans 5, Turnbull Burnstein Family Charitable Fund, and Waitt Foundation.
The marine protected areas are being launched in two phases. The two parks announced on Feb. 21 are part of the first phase, covering a little more than half of the 30 percent protection goal for Seychelles’ total EEZ of 1.37 million square kilometers (529,000 square miles). The second phase is expected to be completed by 2020.
To create the parks, the government relied on marine survey data from the Pristine Seas expedition team, a National Geographic initiative, as well as on consultations with more than a hundred stakeholders, according to TNC.