In case you’re fuzzy on your African geography—my own ongoing effort to learn the name of every country on the continent has never quite reached its goal—let’s review the basics of the Seychelles.
What: A sovereign nation. An archipelago of some 115 smallish islands.
Where: In the Indian Ocean, upwards of 1,000 miles east of Kenya and Tanzania.
What the Seychelles lacks in land—a lot—it makes up for in ocean water. That ocean water, along with the little islands that dot it, contains “biodiversity hotspots” that, according to Damian Carrington of The Guardian, “[rival] the Galapagos in ecological importance.” But biodiversity is under threat—from climate change, overfishing, and extractive industries. Wouldn’t it be nice if big chunks of the Seychelles’ marine ecosystems could be protected and preserved?
Well, that’s exactly what’s happening. In a first-of-its-kind arrangement that involves the Nature Conservancy, European governments, debt forgiveness, and notable rich person Leonardo DiCaprio, the Seychelles is creating two large marine reserves—one nearly the size of Scotland, and the other about 80 percent larger than the first—where “extractive uses,” including fishing, will be banned or sharply curtailed. The protected areas amount to 15 percent of the Seychelles’ entire ocean area.
Establishing the parks wouldn’t have been possible without some high finance and a large dose of international do-gooderism. The Seychelles owed $22 million to the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Italy. The governments of those countries agreed to sell the debt at a discount to the Nature Conservancy, which got the necessary cash in part from a foundation headed by DiCaprio. The Nature Conservancy also arranged to cut the interest rate on some additional Seychelles debt, providing the island nation the money it will need to establish and monitor the reserves. Similar arrangements are now being contemplated for Grenada and other Caribbean nations, as well as the Seychelles’ rather distant neighbor, Mauritius.
Schemes such as these won’t solve global warming, save all the coral, or provide island nations safety from rising waters. But they’ll go a long way toward protecting sharks, rays, whales, and turtles from humanity’s tendency toward exterminating every living thing that lacks opposable thumbs.