(22 Feb 2018) LEADIN:
The tiny island nation of Seychelles has announced details of a pioneering marine conservation plan as part of a debt-swap deal with its creditors.
In a first-of-its-kind deal, the Seychelles is designating nearly a third of its ocean waters as protected areas, aiming to ensure the longevity of its pristine marine environments and unique biodiversity.
Deep blue waters, miles of white sandy beaches, rich marine life and lush, thick forests.
If there was a place on earth close to our traditional idea of paradise, that would be the Seychelles.
Fewer than 100 thousand people live on these Indian Ocean islands.
Land mass makes up only one percent of the nation's vast ocean territory.
The archipelago consisting of 115 granitic and coral islands has been isolated from continental land masses for millions of years.
On its Aldabra atoll, the second biggest coral atoll in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site, endemic life has evolved undisturbed.
The remote atoll is home to the world's largest population of giant tortoises, critically endangered dungongs and spawning grounds for a number of rare species.
The Seychellois government has now signed a bill restricting nearly all human activity in the waters around Aldabra.
The country's minister of environment, energy and climate change, Didier Dogley, welcomed the bill in a ceremony attended by top marine economists and conservation experts.
"A great honour and privilege for me today to sign the regulations of the Marine Spatial Plan Phase 1 into law. With the signature and gazetting of the legal instruments an area of 74,400 square kilometres around Aldabra groups of islands and 136,000 square kilometres from the Admirals to the Fortune bank will now be declared as protected areas and in the national park, a major conservancy act," he says.
The Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan (MSP), the first of its kind worldwide, was created as part of an innovative debt-swap deal with the country's Paris Club creditors.
The ambitious plan places 30 percent of the country's territorial waters under protection, putting it way ahead of the global marine protected area target of 10 percent by 2020.
The deal was brokered by US-based environmental charity The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Through its investment arm, NatureVest, TNC bought back a portion of the Seychelles' bilateral sovereign debt.
It blended a loan of $15.2 (m) million US dollars provided by TNC to the Seychellois government and $5 (m) million US dollars in philanthropic donations, including a $1 (m) million US dollar grant by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
The debt was bought back at a discount, reducing it to just over $20 (m) million US dollars, according to the man who negotiated the deal between the Seychellois government and its creditors, Rob Weary.
"It took four years to put this together but what happened was over that time period the Seychelles was the poster child of what you do to come out of the debt crisis. They were running positive budget surpluses, they successfully floated their currency, they reduced their debt to GDP ratio," says Weary, the Senior Director of Product Development for NatureVest.
At the height of its debt crisis in the late 2000s, the Seychelles was one of the world's top debt-ridden countries.
Its sovereign debt peaked at nearly one (bn) billion US dollars, according to the World Bank.
Today, the debt stands at less than half of that, says the Seychelles Finance Ministry.
The agreement ensures that conservation work in the Seychelles can be funded into perpetuity, says Weary.
The Marine Spatial Plan, the "policy architecture" as Weary refers to it, is split into two phases.
The second phase will be completed by 2021.
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