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In exchange for writing off a portion of its debt, the island nation agreed to protect a total of 81,000-square-miles of ocean—that’s about the size of Great Britain.
Seychelles was able to pay off an outstanding sovereign debt with $21 million raised by the Nature Conservancy. Future debt payments will go into a new trust, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust, to finance new marine protection and climate adaptation projects
The scheme is understood to be the world’s first “debt-for-nature” finance plan designed to protect ocean environments. The agreement will also help the low-lying archipelago prepare for the effects of climate change, including warming and rising waters and ocean acidification, and to protect its vital tourism and $300-million-a-year fishing industry.
“This effort will help the people of Seychelles protect their ocean for future generations, and will serve as a model for future marine conservation projects worldwide,” DiCaprio, whose foundation donated $1 million towards the debt, said. “These protections mean that all species living in these waters or migrating through them are now far better shielded from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.”
Seychelles Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change Didier Dogley announced the two new marine protected areas at an event on Wednesday in Victoria, the country’s capital.
The first covers the waters around the remote Aldabra Atoll, home to seabirds, hawksbill turtles, giant tortoises and the endangered dugong. The area also includes the world’s second-largest raised coral atoll. This area will be fully protected and bans all extractive uses, from fishing to oil exploitation. Only research and regulated tourism is allowed. The second area is centered around the Seychelles’ main islands and will only allow limited fishing and tourism.