Climate Change is already having a significant impact on our planet. Indeed, even our largest resource and carbon sink is suffering- our oceans.
While once thought of as an abundant, even infinite source of food and wealth, our warming planet is changing all of that. Coral reefs are bleaching. Schools of tuna are changing their migratory paths. And anadromous fish, like Pacific salmon species are struggling to complete life cycles. Exacerbated by commercial over-fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, many fish populations and fisheries are dangerously depleted. This spells economic and food insecurity for many coastal communities- but especially for small-island developing states (SIDS) and archipelagos. For these communities, this also means decreased resilience to the impacts of climate change.
But what can a small island nation do? Implementing policies to restore marine fisheries and secure climate resilience through implementing sustainable practices costs money. And many SIDS have limited financial resources and very little they can count on as an export to build financial capacity. For Seychelles, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the solution was found when its leaders turned their backs on the islands… and looked out to sea.
With 3000 times more ocean under its sovereignty that land, the ocean is an indispensable resource for Seychelles. Still, Seychelles came into the Paris Agreement with a significant amount of national debt. To alleviate that burden, it exchanged its debt for protecting its ocean- effectively relinquishing sovereignty of one-third of its oceans by placing it in a trust. This expanded Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and helped to ensure fish stock recoveries. To further build a sustainable fishery, Seychelles created a “Blue Bond” economy which uses bonds to fund the development of its sustainable fisheries. The Blue Bond economy also consists of a Blue Grant Fund which is accessible to domestic fisherman and other fish-workers. These funds are used as an incentive for those in the fishing industry to adopt sustainable practices. Provided they comply with sustainable practices, funds are readily available to help them achieve and maintain those practices.
Why does this work so well? Because this is a bottom-up approach where the government is in fact considered a “minority” entity. The structure of this system does not rely on government control because the resource is placed in a trust. How did they persuade the fisherman to get involved with establishing protected areas? They simply asked them where they wanted to fish. The fisherman initially refused to cooperate with the process- afraid to deviate from business as usual practices. But when they were told that one morning they may wake up to find their favorite fishing area protected and off limits, the fisherman were persuaded to engage in the process. Thus, collaborating with the fisherman included them in the process and strengthened the framework for the trust.
For Seychelles, talking about jobs, nutrition, food, and even people is synonymous with talking about marine resources and FISH! The dependence on its surrounding ocean cannot be overstated. As such, climate change poses a significant threat. But by placing a large portion of its EEZ into protected areas and building a sustainable fishing economy, Seychelles has taken a precautionary approach to address the impacts of climate change. The result? Increased biomass, increased maximum sustainable yield, increased food security and climate resilience. And with increased resilience comes the ability to adapt to the coming changes. As Seychelles’ permanent representative to the U.N. stated; “When the storm comes, we will be ready.”