Greetings from the Seychelles! A personal update from the field.
Greetings from the Seychelles, a country of 115 granite and coral islands in the western Indian Ocean. I originally came here to learn more about an innovative project called a Debt-for-Nature Swap (DFNS) that occurred here between The Nature Conservancy, Seychelles government and their Paris Club creditors. In exchange for restructuring $22 million of the nation's sovereign debt, the government is conserving 30% of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as Marine Protected Areas, half of which will be off-limits to fishing. This is the first ever DFNS covering marine habitat and a meaningful win-win solution for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are committed to marine conservation but burdened by massive sovereign debt. SIDS face so many immediate challenges related to climate change, including sea level rise, the increased severity of storms, and their dependence on tourism and fishing for employment and tax base. Since the Seychelles announcement, Jamaica, Grenada and Palau have been competing to be next in line for a DFNS of their own.
Since my arrival in the Seychelles, I have been blessed with unforgettable scuba diving experiences, long snorkeling swims out to remote reefs, and meaningful experiences meeting with marine conservationists, while enjoying the intricacies of local culture. The Seychelles has less American influence than any place I have ever visited, which is a refreshing change. I have learned to get to the local bakery before the bread runs out, stop at Indian mini-groceries for fresh veggie samosas and adapt to the metric system. I have given up trying to locate a good micro-brew and no longer think twice about driving on the left side of the road. I am also enjoying my minority status and feel lucky to be able to tell people who ask that I was born in New York City - an instant winner!
The last few months have also been filled with lessons learned while traveling to a new location every 10-20 days with two checked bags in tow. Seemingly simple things like getting a SD card for my camera, navigating public transportation for an interview, or finding adequate internet connectivity to develop a blog post have been daunting. Adjusting to Seychelles life has taken time and some days I feel a little lonely. But I feel also blessed to be able to go on this journey and to share it with you.
The easiest part of my trip is the scuba diving! I dive an average of 2-3 mornings per week, usually from a boat, and never tire of living in the moment under the surface. We usually dive in small groups of 3-5 with a guide. Despite consistently being the biggest diver in the group and my tendency to dart from one location to the next to get the best video footage, I have learned to breath very slowly and am usually one of the last to run low on air. Some dives are mellow and relaxing, and I take the extra time to take close-ups of pretty nudibranches, anemones, coral color patterns. Other dives - like the one where I took these shark and ray photos - are so thrilling that the dive is a test in slowing down and being present to what is around me. I am diving so often now that all the important safety considerations that I learned early are on second nature. I stay within my limits and enjoy the ride.
I have met with a number of different marine conservation organizations and eco-resorts in the Seychelles since I arrived here on April 1. A few projects that I plan to blog about in the future include:
The Cerf Island Conservation Program, a collaboration between the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, Seychelles National Parks Authority, and local resort hotels to survey and restore the local reefs. In addition they have developed three 'snorkel trails' for visitors to follow while learning about the reefs. A big thanks to Savi LeBlond, Project Leader, for all of his logistical and other assistance.
Wise Oceans, an international marine conservation NGO, has a coral restoration demonstration project based at the Four Seasons Resort on Mahe. Look for a short video about their work in a future post.
Global Vision International (GVI) has a really cool science diving program at Cap Ternay for young people to be trained to scuba dive and do surveys of local reefs. They have been continuously surveying the local marine protected areas for many years.
Seychelles Climate Adaption and Climate Trust is the legal entity formed to manage the Debt for Nature Swap mentioned above and to disburse grants for marine enhancement projects inside the newly designated marine protected areas.
Bird Island Resort - Thanks to a tip from the folks at GVI, I was able to score a locals discount to a remote island resort called Bird Island. I was wowed by thousands of Sooty Terns that were preparing for nesting season, giant tortoises ambling by my chalet, sharks and rays swimming in the nearby reefs and the feeling of living on the edge of the world.
The early focus of my writing has been on coral reef restoration projects. They are attractive because they are tangible, highlight local culture, and are making an on-the-ground impact every day. While existing restoration projects suffer from a lack of scale, the sheer number of new nurseries appearing all over the globe, and the education programs that they have developed, give me hope. Whether a nursery is planting multiple genotypes of one species or selectively breeding corals focused on those that have survived past bleaching events, restoration programs are working hard to ensure that newly planted reefs are more resilient than the originals. In addition, thanks to documentaries like Chasing Coral on Netflix and the International Coral Reef Initiative's declaration of 2018 as the International Year of the Reef, more public and private funding is flowing to coral restoration programs around the globe.
While I will continue to blog about coral restoration projects, my main focus is going to switch to other important marine conservation topics, including marine protected areas, coral finance, and sustainable fisheries. I hope you enjoy them! My next locations are Zanzibar, Palau, Fiji and Malaysian Borneo. If you have any friends or colleagues in these locations, please introduce me. Thanks for reading. It means more to me than you know.