It’s Wednesday, April 1, and the Seychelles is protecting a California-sized swath of ocean.
Foreigners may know the tiny island nation of the Seychelles for its glamorous turquoise waters, private islands, and occasional royal honeymooners. As of last week, it can also stake its reputation on protecting 154,000 square miles of ocean, about 30 percent of its waters.
In 2015, the East African island nation agreed to a “debt-for-nature” deal in which the Nature Conservancy bought $21 million of the Seychelles’ foreign debt in exchange for a pledge to create serious marine protections. The new marine protected areas (MPAs) will safeguard biodiversity as well as fish stocks, and protect giant tortoises, manatee-like dugongs, several shark species, and coral reefs.
The 13 new MPAs announced last week are a mix of strictly protected waters and regulated areas where certain economic activities may be allowed. Monitoring such extensive areas will be challenging in the latter case in particular, and the nation will likely need additional financing to set up effective monitoring. One idea the government is considering is levying a $10 nature tax on each tourist. Regardless of these challenges, the commitment is a definitive step in the right direction for a country that protected just 0.04 percent of its waters eight years ago.
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