Waves of change in Seychelles marine waters
07 Jun 2017 by Line Mancienne with contributions from Helena Sims & Andrew Grieser-Johns
In 2015, the island nation of the Seychelles was in a state of alarm as masses of dead coral fish‒large and small‒began washing up on the shores of some of the islands. This went on for several weeks, and the Government issued a warning not to eat fish while causes were investigated.
What could possibly be wrong in the marine waters of this tropical paradise?
It was eventually determined that parts of the Seychelles marine zone, and some other areas of the Indian Ocean, were being affected by a toxic algal bloom: a rapid growth in the population of harmful algae.
Fortunately, the algal bloom disappeared and soon enough, life on the island paradise was back to usual. Fishing operations resumed and local people could safely enjoy their daily fish again.
Nevertheless, the 2015 algal bloom was an important reminder of the fragility of natural ecosystems, especially for Small Island States like Seychelles, whose greatest natural asset is the ocean.
Seychelles is among the top 25 largest ocean states in the world, with 1,370,000 km2 of oceans, and a land area of only 455 km2 encompassing 115 islands. It is no surprise that the country's economy, including the livelihoods of its people, depends heavily on its oceanic zone. Tourism and sport fishing, industrial tuna fishing, semi-industrial and artisanal fishing all rely on marine ecosystem services.
While the country and its people acknowledge that the ocean is a veritable treasure, that needs to be protected and used sustainably, there are increasing risks from marine pollution and overfishing, as well as climate change.
In 2010, the Seychelles committed to expand the country’s marine protected areas to 30% of its overall ocean territory. As a first step, the Government identified priorities for this vast expansion. A study was conducted through a UNDP-implemented, GEF-funded Protected Areas Project, which evolved into a wider Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), to clearly demarcate areas for protection, but also for other uses of the marine areas such as fishing or tourism.
The project was launched in 2014, the first to be conducted in the Western Indian Ocean, , and is expected to be completed in 2020.
While the MSP works at the macro-level, support is being provided at the micro-level (for individual groups of islands) by the Outer Islands Project, which aims to create a series of new terrestrial and marine protected areas in the outer islands as first steps in anchoring the MSP processes through real change.
The marine spatial plan will guide policy and economic development, and help the country determine means of managing the marine zone, while aligning with biodiversity and conservations objectives.
At the heart of this work is the need to improve the management of Seychelles’ marine ecosystems to ensure a sustainable future for the ocean and for the Seychellois themselves.