By Sebastian Nicholls, Blue Parks Ambassador.
On March 26th, President Danny Faure of the Republic of Seychelles formalized a marine spatial plan for the entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Seychelles, touting “the legal designation of one-third of [the Seychelles’] ocean territory, as a marine protected area.” As governments work to make good on commitments to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020, and consider more ambitious targets, the President’s step of protecting 30% of its ocean territory references the widely supported target that marine scientists and conservationists recommend. It’s a step to be lauded, while recognizing that what is meant by “protection,” is not fully clear.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are most effective when they include strong prohibitions on all extractive activity, like fishing, mining, and oil drilling—what scientists and MPA managers call “no-take” MPAs. These no-take MPAs result in an average of 670% more fish biomass than adjacent areas without protection and 343% more than areas with weaker regulations. Highly protected MPAs where no industrial extraction is permitted also result in biodiversity conservation benefits, but no-take reserves remain the most effective. The difference in regulations among MPAs matters.
The Seychelles identify 30% of its waters as now being within a marine protected area, and half of that is fully no-take. The Seychelles’ fully no-take zone (Zone 1 in its marine spatial plan) is something to celebrate—few countries have fully protected as much of their marine jurisdiction as the Seychelles has. Fifteen percent of the Seychelles’ EEZ is an area the size of the U.K! The corals, fishes, seabirds and marine mammals in that area are now safe from fishing and other destructive activities!
The other 15% of the Seychelles’ EEZ is in a “medium biodiversity protection and sustainable use zone,” where “some level of extraction and sea bed alteration, with appropriate management” are allowed. This description is vague enough that it could permit activities that pose threats to biodiversity, abundance of marine animals including fish, and the survival of some endemic species.
“Highly protected” areas which forbid industrial extraction, but might permit some subsistence or artisanal fishing can yield substantial biodiversity conservation benefits. However, it is not immediately evident whether the “extraction” and “seabed alteration” referenced in the Seychelles’ plan for Zone 2 meets the criteria for a highly protected MPA. Regulations elaborated to govern activities in this zone will determine if it contributes to truly safeguarding the Seychelles’ biodiversity or falls short.
A 2016 review of the scientific literature on area-based protection targets established that a minimum target of including 30% of each biogeographic region in the ocean within no-take reserves and/or highly protected MPAs is strongly supported by scientific literature. This goal was adopted in 2016 by the IUCN with a resolution calling for 30% or more of the ocean protected within highly protected MPAs, including both no-take areas and areas that prohibit industrial extraction.
It’s clear that 15% of the Seychelles’ waters within Zone 1 (high biodiversity protection zone) should count towards the 30% science-based target for effective conservation, as it clearly will be a fully-protected reserve. Whether the other 15% in Zone 2 (medium biodiversity protection zone) will contribute to effective conservation remains to be determined. That will depend on the strength of regulations against industrial extraction within that zone.
Furthermore, legal designation is only one step towards effective conservation. Science shows that to bring back biodiversity, abundance, and maintain critical ecosystem services, MPAs need effective management: up-to-date management plans, appropriate monitoring and enforcement strategies, and the budget and staff to execute management plans and enforcement activities.
Indeed, this need for effective management, enforcement and regulations, which has at times been overlooked in marine conservation planning is the rationale for Marine Conservation Institute’s Blue Parks Program. Our Blue Parks team conducts in-depth science based assessments of conservation effectiveness for MPAs worldwide, recognizing the best examples with Blue Park Awards. The awards were envisioned as the OscarsTM or Nobel Prize of ocean protection—something that all policy makers and MPA managers can aspire to. The Blue Park Award affords credibility to MPAs that effectively protect and restore marine biodiversity.
Aldabra Atoll, one of the oldest MPAs in the Seychelles earned a platinum-level Blue Park Award in 2019, the highest recognition for MPA effectiveness. Aldabra’s award is a good omen for effective protection of the new areas designated by President Faure in his announcement last week. However, challenges remain—the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust projects costs of $75-$106 per square kilometer per year to manage the Seychelles’ expanded MPA network. At the upper end of that projection, the costs of enforcement might reach up to $42 million USD per year—a tall order for a small island state.
President Faure’s government has taken an important step towards securing its country’s marine biodiversity: fully protecting 200,000 km2 is a giant leap for marine conservation. But the success of the Seychelles marine conservation efforts depends on strong regulations in its Zone 2 “medium biodiversity protection zone”—another 200,000 km2 – alongside detailed management plans, effective monitoring and enforcement, and enough funding and staff to implement these plans for a vast network of MPAs.
For the ocean’s sake, the Seychelles government should be applauded for this significant step forward and should continue to lead with strong regulations in Zone 2. This along with detailed management plans, staffing and budgets for the new MPA network will result in conservation success for the Seychelles. The ocean conservation funding community should help meet President Faure’s commitment with the resources needed to truly safeguard the Seychelles’ ocean. Other nations should follow the Seychelles’ example. If a small island state can set aside 15% of its marine jurisdiction in no-take reserves and slate another 15% for additional protections, it is safe to say that many others can, and must.
 President Faure’s speech on Seychelles’ designation, available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWs6tX7Ze8k
 UN Biodiversity Plan calls for protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 https://grist.org/politics/u-n-biodiversity-plan-calls-for-protecting-30-of-earth-by-2030/
 Sala, E. and S. Giakoumi, “No-Take Marine Reserves Are the Most Effective Protected Areas in the Ocean,” ICES Journal of Marine Science 75, no. 3 (2017): 1166-68, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsx059.