The Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean off Africa’s eastern coast, have announced the creation of two marine preserves that will limit fishing and recreational activities. Together, the preserves will cover 81,000 square miles – an area about the size of Great Britain. It’s also about a sixth of the Seychelles’ ocean territory.
The preserves are part of an ambitious project to protect 160,000 square miles by 2022. The Seychelles are an archipelago that consists of 115 islands that make up only one percent of the country’s territory; the rest is ocean. That ocean is famous for its biodiversity and is home to dozens of species including sharks, turtles, dugongs, tuna, and migratory birds. Not surprisingly, the Seychelles’ economy, which supports 100,000 citizens, depends heavily on its ocean.
While the government of the Seychelles knew that climate change and overfishing are both threats, they did not have sufficient data to make firm policies. In 2015, Paul Rose, an explorer with National Geographic, led a team to study the Seychelles. During their expedition, the researchers completed 260 dives. The government used the resulting report to decide where to put their marine preserves.
The first preserve will cover 29,000 square miles around the Aldabra Group, some of the remote outer islands. The Aldabra Group is home to bird colonies and hundreds of thousands of giant tortoises. The second will encompass 52,000 square miles of deep ocean. The Nature Conservancy, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and some other organizations have helped the Seychelles refinance their foreign debt and pay for the preserves.