Feature Story

Financing ocean protection: strengthening the financing of Seychelles Protected Area network

October 24, 2019

Considered a global hotspot for biodiversity, the boulder-strewn, mountainous, granitic inner islands are the oldest mid-oceanic islands on Earth, as well as home to 97,000 inhabitants. However, years of over-exploitation of fish stocks and the increasing impacts of climate change increased the vulnerability of fishers’ livelihoods, as well as virtually all Seychellois living along the coasts. Photo: Ennio Maffei/Seychelles Tourism Board.

Our future depends on a clean and healthy ocean, where protection and sustainable use go hand in hand. The ocean is under threat from the effects of climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity and unsustainable use.

To respond we need to build partnerships between government, industry, science and civil society, putting knowledge, technology and finance into action. 

In Seychelles they're doing just that: financing ocean protection.

Thinking blue

“New conservation finance options are giving local communities and private sector opportunities to re-think business as usual, to appreciate their social and environmental responsibility in our quest for development. Literally, incentivising people to think blue,” Ms. Angelique Pouponneau – CEO, Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT).

A blue economic future

Seychelles is an island nation located in the Western Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and the Horn of Africa.

Its archipelago is made up of about 115 islands, with its ocean territory spreading out across more than one million km² in the Western Indian Ocean.

Considered a global hotspot for biodiversity, the boulder-strewn, mountainous, granitic inner islands are the oldest mid-oceanic islands on Earth, as well as home to 97,000 inhabitants. The waters are rich in biodiversity, and for more than 200 years its people have relied on the ocean for survival and prosperity. However, years of over-exploitation of fish stocks and the increasing impacts of climate change increased the vulnerability of fishers’ livelihoods, as well as virtually all Seychellois living along the coasts.

This realisation prompted the Government of the Seychelles to initiate a series of mutually-reinforcing responses to restore the sustainability of the fishery and the health of marine and coastal ecosystems, transitioning the country towards sustainable ocean management: a blue economic future.

In 2012, the Government of Seychelles set a target of bringing 30 per cent of its marine territory under protection by December 2020. A marine spatial plan initiative was adopted, with technical support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), to propose new marine protection areas in conjunction with improved management for activities in the entire marine exclusive economic zone including the territorial seas.

Effectively managing these expanded protected areas requires significant financial resources. In 2016, the Government of Seychelles, with support from the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Programme, initiated a Protected Areas Finance project to directly address this challenge. Implemented by the Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, the project is working to transform the future of ocean management in Seychelles.

Plotting the path for the future

The project developed the country’s first national Protected Area Financial plan. This plan systematically calculated the revenue, expenditure, and financial needs of all protected areas in order to ensure that its unique biodiversity remains intact for future generations. However, in 2016 the protected area system only covered 557 km².

Four years later, under the marine spatial plan initiative, the new protected area system is slated to cover >400,000 km². In response, the project supported the development of a series of future options for managing this vast ocean space, projecting their associated costs and coupling these with viable financing options to achieve this vision.

Financing the blue

At the same time, Seychelles completed the first climate adaptation debt restructuring, with support from TNC, focusing on incentivising marine and coastal conservation.

The Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust was established as an independent, nationally based public-private entity to manage the proceeds generated from the Debt-for-Nature swap, and to ascertain additional national revenue sources. This has made financing available to stimulate the new ocean-based environmentally sustainable, business initiatives.

Next, the first sovereign blue bond was issued by Seychelles, with support from the World Bank, to finance the transition to sustainable fisheries management.

Financing conservation in protected areas

The Seychelles National Parks Authority manages the largest number of protected areas in Seychelles, yet has the highest financing gap of all management entities. The potential of the organisation is clear and the project focused its attention on systematically assessing its past and planning for its future.

The Authority launched a Strategic Plan, outlining how it would transform itself into a leading conservancy organisation. In recognition of its progress, the Authority was granted financial autonomy in January 2019, and began a significant reinvestment plan with grants from the project to rejuvenate degraded tourism infrastructure – boosting visitation, and importantly, business opportunities for Seychellois tourism enterprises.

“It is well documented in the world including the Seychelles that a lack of resources is the fundamental barrier to conservation and effective management. SNPA’s transition to financial autonomy provides a great opportunity to improve the organisation’s financial outlook and hence strategies to manage and protect one of the largest protected areas estate in the country; including the first marine protected area in the Western Indian Ocean.” Ms. Helena Sims – Chair, Seychelles National Parks Authority and TNC project manager for the Seychelles Marine Spatial Planning Initiative

Diversifying income streams from conservation

Depending on single sources of income can be risky, so conservation organisations, with financial support from the project, are developing additional financial options.

New voluntourism projects have been established on protected islands to inspire the next generation of environmentalists and support conservation. Visitor centres have also been built such as those on small islands aiming to become marine protected areas, financing conservation efforts from guest visits.

Snorkeling in Seychelles
Photo: Gerard Larose/Seychelles Tourism Board

Integrating approaches

Safeguarding the ocean for future generations is a shared responsibility and a matter of global urgency.

These approaches jointly contribute to achieving the government’s vision to use marine, coastal and terrestrial resources in a responsible, sustainable, and integrated way towards better stewardship and governance of its marine space. Under-financing of protected areas is a global problem, and it is getting worse. The experience of Seychelles provides important lessons on how to address the challenge of financing conservation head-on with imagination, innovation, and determination.

This piece was originally featured on Exposure by UNDP Ecosystems & Biodiversity.