The Republic of the Seychelles consists of a group of 115 islands spread across an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1.3 million km² in the South Western Indian Ocean. There are 41 high granitic and 74 low lying coralline islands with a land area of 455 km². It has a coastline of 747 km with 1,690 km of coral reefs and 29 km² of mangroves. The climate is tropical with average annual rainfall exceeding 1000 mm and average temperature of 26ºC. The population of the Seychelles is estimated at 87,000 with the majority of inhabitants residing on the three main granitic islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. Because of the steep topography of the granitic islands, most of the dwellings and development are located on the coastal plain and lower hill slopes usually located within a kilometre inland. The Seychelles has been transformed from a quasi mono-crop agricultural economy (based on cinnamon and coconut) to a dual economy heavily dependent on tourism and fishing. Both sectors contribute over 40% towards the Gross National Product and why sound environmental management and performance are so crucial to the Seychelles.
The Seychelles Sustainable Development Strategy 2011-2020 produced by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Transport is considered to be a much more comprehensive and overarching document than the Environmental Management Plan of Seychelles it replaces. It provides a clear roadmap where environmental integrity, social equity and economic growth are in tune with each other. There has also been considerable input from the civil society sector that has a one-stop information website hosted by the Liaison Unit of Non-Governmental Organisations of Seychelles (LUNGOS).
The Seychelles has two UNESCO World Heritage ecological sites. Aldabra atoll designated in 1982 and home to the biggest population of giant land tortoises on earth and Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve on Praslin with the vestiges of a natural palm forest including the famous coco de mer that has the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The Seychelles Heritage Foundation is responsible for 3 main sites and has submitted a bid to UNESCO for the Mission Lodge of Sans Souci to become the country’s first World Heritage cultural site. With almost 50.6% of its limited landmass set aside as national parks and reserves, Seychelles prides itself on its record for far sighted conservation policies that have resulted in a seemingly enviable degree of protection for the environment and the varied ecosystems it supports. Whilst serious question marks remain about the amount of ‘green gloss’ being applied there is no denying some of the most innovative developments are happening on the smaller islands and these will be the focus of our case study under the tourism section.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
Seychelles is currently almost entirely dependent on imported fossil fuel for its energy supply. The Seychelles Energy Policy 2010-2030 sets a target of 15% contribution of renewable energy to the final energy mix by 2030. At the beginning of 2012 the country’s first large-scale renewable energy project got underway. It is being implemented by Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, Masdar, on two designated sites in the vicinity of Port Victoria, Mahe, which were selected after a feasibility study undertaken by Masdar and the Government of Seychelles. The engineering procurement and construction contract for the 6 MW wind farm has been awarded to South Korean wind power generation equipment manufacturer Unison. There will be eight wind turbines of 750kW each – five on Ile de Romainville and three on the southern tip of Ile du Port.
The project was made possible with a grant from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and will cost an estimated US$28 million. It is expected to meet 2% of the island’s electrical energy needs and lower its carbon footprint by reducing hydrocarbon-based power generation. The Seychelles requires 350GWh electrical energy per year and the wind farm is expected to produce 7GWh annually. For the first two years Unison will operate the wind farm in collaboration with the Public Utilities Corporation (PUC) as part of a progressive handover. Unison will train relevant staff of PUC for that period after which PUC will fully operate the farm.
In 2012 the Aldabra World Heritage site became home to Seychelles largest off-grid renewable energy system. Manufactured in Europe, the photovoltaic modules of the solar generators are rated at 25kWp and expected to produce 38,000 kWh of electricity per year, meet at least 90% of Aldabra’s electricity needs and have an expected life-span of 20 years. Previously the island had been using traditional diesel generators and the Seychelles Islands Foundation’s had to ship fuel at very high costs to Aldabra in barrels, which were delivered to the beach and rolled up to the storage area, a risky business as it posed a hazard of diesel leakage onto the atoll.
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
The Landscape and Waste Management Agency control and monitor waste at its disposal sites, invite tenders to collect waste and clean bin sites, and maintain and improve the landscape of town centres, road and highway corridors and public places. A new modern landfill – taking over from the neighbouring Providence site – was completed in 2012. Besides compartments, with appropriate protection at the bottom in terms of impervious layers, it also has drainage systems that lead to a leachate treatment facility. Methane gases collected at the site will also be combusted at an adjoining plant to produce electricity.
In 2009 Sustainability for Seychelles (S4S) launched a project to promote the collection and re-use of glass waste in Seychelles. The aim of this project financially supported by a grant from the Regional Programme for the Sustainable Management of the Coastal Zones of the Indian Ocean Countries (ReCoMaP) funded by the EU was to divert glass waste from the dumping site at Providence on Mahe and put it good use, safely, as construction fill or as raw material for artisanal crafts. The S4S website also provides detailed tips for homes and businesses to reduce waste plus how and where different materials can be recycled as well as promoting its environmental message on the sides of Seychelles Public Transport Corporation buses . In 2010 the Department of Environment set up a new unit to help remove scrap metal materials such as corrugated iron sheets, old vehicles and containers found on both government and private property.
Water Management & Security
The Supply Section of the Public Utilities Corporation (PUC) Water & Sewerage Division manages the two main raw water reservoirs of Rochon and La Gogue as well as the four main treatment works that supply NE Mahe, four desalination plants, twenty seven small treatment works, eighty service reservoirs and sixty two pumping stations. In Seychelles, the mean annual rainfall on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue is around 2000 mm, which should be plenty to give a constant water supply. However, the PUC’s central storage facilities are limited, and during the drier years consumers are often subjected to water shortages and rationing during the southeast monsoon. Climate change is expected to increase the length and intensity of droughts in Seychelles.
One way to help reduce pressure on the water system and at the same time prepare for water shortages is to collect and use rainwater. Currently less than 5% of households in Seychelles harvest rainwater as they are constrained by shortage of affordable rainwater storage tanks. Since 2008, S4S has partnered with Trois Frères Distillery to distribute used 250-litre and 1000-litre plastic containers to the public at an affordable price. It takes a little bit of effort to set up a simple mosquito-proof rainwater harvesting system, but it can reduce PUC treated water bills if used for showers, toilets, gardening, washing clothes, cleaning buildings and cars etc. A school rainwater harvesting project was introduced in 2010 whereby 2000-litre water tanks were installed at various schools as part of the UNDP/UNEP Climate Change Adaptation & Development Initiative.
Drinking water in the Seychelles will be secured through an investment programme backed by EUR 27 million European Investment Bank funding made in January 2012. This programme will help the PUC to alleviate water shortages through renewal and expansion of water supply on the three main islands to reduce water loss, improve energy efficiency and increase resilience of water supply to an increasingly uncertain climate and less predictable rainfall patterns. Upgrading existing sewage facilities on Mahe and construction of new sanitation infrastructure on La Digue will reduce the risk of the contamination of groundwater used for drinking water. The scheme will also contribute to improving environmental and natural disaster risk management, and overall water management.
Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production
Agriculture is characterized by small farms with an average size of 0.75 ha and rarely exceed 2 ha. Presently, about 250 registered farms are dispersed throughout the major granitic islands on both the coastal plains and the uplands. The coastal plains contain about 70% of the agricultural land. Given the shortage of arable land, agriculture employs around 5% of the active population and accounts for about 2% of the GDP. The Five-Year Agricultural Development Strategy (2007-2011) aimed to sustain the employment in the sector and explore the production of value added products both for local consumption and for export to niche markets. By January 2011 national production had met 60% of the consumption of fruits and vegetables, 100% table eggs, 40% pork, 10% broiler chicken and <2% beef.
The Seychelles is distantly placed from the main markets and a substantial portion of food is imported. In the face of limited hard currency, the islands are in a precarious position with respect to food security. Rice is the main staple and imported because it is not grown locally. The forecast of a greater frequency of extreme weather events manifested through heavy downpours continuously contribute to soil erosion and soil fertility losses thus leading to agricultural soil degradation. Furthermore, high moisture leads to pest proliferation and seawater intrusion into the coastal plains damages the roots of the crops. All these factors seriously threaten agricultural production and hence national food security.
There is little evidence of any organic farming and successful enterprises have been met with surprising hostility. The Seychelles Farmers Association is concentrating more on tropical greenhouse technology and the use of low volume irrigation water applicators combined into a fertigation system allowing the optimal application of water, fertilisers and pesticides. Currently greenhouses represent only about 5% of the total area under intensive cultivation to ensure the production of vegetables during the rainy months of November to April. The objective is to reach at least 25% of the area under intensive production.
The primary means of public transport throughout the principal islands of Mahe and Praslin is by bus with shorter or longer versions of the vehicle being employed according to road conditions. The Seychelles Public Transport Corporation operates a network of 41 routes with 1100 trips daily running according to well-defined schedules that carry the public throughout Mahe and Praslin at a flat rate of SCR5 per trip. An air-conditioned bus service offers commuters a greater standard of comfort at a slightly higher fare of SCR10.
Island hopping is made possible through a regular network of air and sea transport primarily operating out of Mahe. Air Seychelles operates a shuttle service between Mahe and Praslin. The flight lasts only 15 minutes with an average of 20 return flights every day. Air Seychelles also operates other inter-island flights and there are two types of sea ferry. The traditional, sail-assisted schooner-type ferries operate from the Baie Ste. Anne Jetty on Praslin to La Passe Jetty on La Digue. The modern modes are the Cat Cocos service that operates between the Inter-Island Quay of Victoria and the Baie Ste. Anne Jetty on Praslin (less than 1hour duration), and the Kat Roses, a catamaran that operates mainly from the Baie Ste. Anne Jetty on Praslin to La Passe Jetty on La Digue.
In November 2011 the Seychelles Cabinet of Ministers adopted a policy for the introduction of clean energy vehicles on the island of La Digue, with the long-term plan of phasing out all fuel-dependent vehicles on the island as part of the Seychelles 2020 vision to turn La Digue into the eco-capital of Seychelles. Between 2012-2018 all vehicles on the island are to be replaced by electrical vehicles and a concessionary loan scheme will be introduced as well as a tax reduction incentive on the importation of electrical cars. Based on the incentives being given to vehicle owners, it will be a mandatory requirement for them to replace their vehicles within a set time frame of 4 years.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
The Seychelles has made a conscious effort not to enter the mass tourism sector with cheap holiday packages. Instead their strategy is to encourage property developers to build small eco resorts and set up independent trust funds to finance environmental projects within local communities. Visitors have been willing to pay a price for a slice of Eden – luxury villas on privately run islands can go for more than $9,000 a night. By 2017, tourism planners are intent to put a cap on overall arrivals somewhere between 300,000 and 350,000 visitors and then not to be exceeded. However, that still means almost doubling resort bed capacity and present national park facilities would not be able to cope. It is also difficult to comprehend how this projected growth will be achieved without compounding other existing service infrastructure problems that are already having serious adverse environmental impacts.
The Tourism Board launched the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label in 2012. It is a voluntary, user-friendly certification programme designed to inspire more efficient and sustainable ways of doing business. The Ecotourism Society of Seychelles acknowledges that while ecotourism has the potential to contribute towards sustainability of the tourism industry, it can unfortunately be as damaging as mass tourism if not properly managed and regulated. Time will tell whether this new certification programme will further develop genuinely sustainable ecotourism so as to ensure that real benefits accrue to local communities, and that environmental impacts are mitigated and minimized, and revenues are generated for environmental and protection like the following examples.
Bird Island was sold to its present owner in 1967 and is proud to be an environmentally and socially responsible tourism operation that has won numerous awards. The 24 chalets have an open-air design so as to avoid the need for air conditioning. All hot water is produced by dual solar panels for every 2 chalets. A farm tries to grow as many fresh vegetables as possible for the restaurant and utilizes harvested rainwater. Conservation work is currently focused upon protecting the sooty tern colony that has increased in size from 18,000 pairs in the 1960s to 750,000 pairs today, creating safe nest sites for white tailed tropicbirds, monitoring the Seychelles sunbirds that were trans-located from another island in 2006 as well as measuring, tagging and recording Green and Hawksbill turtles.
Cousin Island is a granitic island covering 27 ha and became the world’s first internationally owned-reserve when purchased in 1968 by the International Council for the Protection of Birds (ICBP), now Birdlife International. The objective was to save the last remaining population of the Seychelles warblers. The island was afforded further protection when it was designated a Special Reserve in 1974. It is not only significant for endemic land birds and sea birds but is also the most important breeding site for Hawksbill turtles in the Western Indian Ocean. The reserve is managed by Nature Seychelles and benefits local communities on neighboring Praslin through eco-tourism attracting some 10,000 visitors a year.
In 2010 Cousin became the world’s first carbon neutral reserve. Carbon Clear - a leading European carbon management company - measured the reserve's carbon footprint. This included both on and off island costs as well as the hotel, transport and other relevant impacts associated with visitor arrivals to Cousin. It was found these activities were responsible for more than 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually. The calculations of the footprint also recognized the contribution of the reforestation programme on the island. Since 1968 the island has been restored with the result that 85% is covered by natural tropical vegetation. Based on available scientific information, the amount of annual carbon that the island can absorb was netted off against the footprint. To offset the remainder, Carbon Clear searched for a carbon sequestration project that met several internationally agreed criteria and found an improved cook-stove project in the Darfur region of Sudan where the appropriate number of carbon credits were purchased thus reducing the island’s emissions to net zero. The scheme is unique in that it invests funds derived from eco-tourism in Seychelles into climate adaptation projects in other countries.
Cousine Island is an exclusive five-star nature sanctuary covering 25 ha of land with 100% commitment to conserving the environment after undergoing extensive habitat restoration with more than 8000 trees planted and removal of invasive creepers. The vegetation now consists of 95% endemic plants and the remaining 5% is made up of indigenous fruit trees and vegetables. The island is home to seven species of endemic land birds, nine breeding seabirds, two nesting turtle species and a variety of other wildlife. It is one of the few islands in the Seychelles to be completely free of alien mammals.
Denis Island is a 143 ha coral sand cay situated to the North of the Seychelles plateau and is working together with the Green Islands Foundation to implement a 5-year environmental management plan. This blog provides updates on various initiatives like attempts to eradicate common mynas and re-establish a sooty tern colony. Past work includes cat and rat eradications in 2000 and 2002 respectively, habitat rehabilitation and translocation of four endemic bird species. The owners of the island practice agro-tourism whereby their farm operates in parallel with the 25-villa resort, providing guests and staff with fresh organic produce. With over 50 head of cattle, hundreds of pigs, broiler and layer chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, rabbits, eggs, fresh milk, and a range of vegetables and fruits, the island is almost completely self sufficient.
Fregate Island is another private eco retreat that has installed a new rainwater harvesting system, introduced the country’s first fully solar-powered fleet of guest buggies and its own plantation and hydroponics house cultivating a wide range of organic produce. The owners have undertaken a detailed conservation programme including creation of a nursery to propagate the tens of thousands of indigenous trees needed to rehabilitate the landscape. The island is also one of the most important sanctuaries for rare endemic birds like the Magpie Robin - rejuvenated from a global population of just 22 in 1995 to over 180 today - and the critically endangered Seychelles terrapin nurtured back from just 8 individuals to over 100 today.
When North Island was abandoned in the 1970’s following the collapse of the coconut industry, many unwanted and invasive species of flora and fauna remained behind such as casuarinas, lantana, rats, cats, pigs and myna birds. Now a luxury eco resort, the owners removed these species and reintroduced indigenous plants and native birds under a comprehensive rehabilitation and conservation plan that was soon dubbed the ‘Noah’s Ark project.’
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
The Seychelles fauna is richer and more diverse than floral diversity. The granitic islands show greater diversity and higher endemism than the coralline islands. There are approximately 250 indigenous floral species, of which 54 taxa or almost 21% are now considered threatened. The mountain mists forests are richer in endemics with 85% of the total number of native species confined within the Morne Seychellois National Park. This ecosystem has been subjected to limited anthropogenic disturbance. Thirteen endemic species of birds occur, with 8 that are classified as globally threatened. The endemic birds of the granitic islands, such as Magpie Robin and Seychelles White-eye, have been studied extensively and are the focus of ongoing conservation programmes. Mahe has two Important Bird Areas (IBA); the Mahe highlands and surrounds (comprising Morne Seychellois National Park) and the Montagne Glacis. The Mahe highlands have an area of 4,600ha harbouring virtually the entire world population of the Seychelles bare-legged Scops Owl, 10% of Seychelles White-eye and 25% of Seychelles Kestrel. Praslin National Park is also a designated IBA because of the presence of the largest population of the Seychelles Black Parrot but also has other significant populations of endemics.
There are 5 endemic bat species and the Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone is also a sanctuary for many marine mammals including whales and dolphins. In 1979, the Seychelles initiated measures to protect cetaceans in the Indian Ocean, which culminated in the formation of the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary by the International Whaling Commission. The archipelago has the highest ratio of amphibian endemics of any island group in the world. There are 7 endemic caecilians and 5 endemic frogs amongst which is the smallest frog in the world. There are 3 species of terrestrial snakes restricted to the granitic islands and more than 20 species of lizards, skinks and geckos. Four species of endangered sea turtles occur in Seychelles waters and there are approximately 1000 species of fish of which 400 are confined to the reefs. Endemism in marine fish is low.
The Seychelles National Park Authority (NPA) was formed in 2009 by merging the administrations of the terrestrial national parks with the Marine Park Authority and the Seychelles Centre for Marine Research and Technology, to create a single body dealing with conservation, protection and enforcement. The NPA currently manages both terrestrial and marine protected areas. On and near Mahe these include the Morne Seychellois National Park, the Baie Ternay Marine National Park, the Port Launay Marine National Park and the Ste Anne Marine National Park. Within the inner islands there is the Praslin National Park, the Veuve Reserve, Curieuse Marine National Park and the Ile Cocos, Ile La Fouche and Ile aux Platte Marine Park. It is also responsible for the management of all forest plantations.
With the decision by the Seychelles Government in June 2011 to increase the total land area under protected status to 50.59%, the new Board will have to provide effective management. There is still an underlying perception that many of these recently declared protected areas are nothing more than ‘paper parks’ with no infrastructure and no real enforcement. Indeed they are merely ‘protecting’ areas that are of no economic use (irrespective of their biodiversity) whilst the really important areas are still being destroyed by land reclamation projects, hotel developments, illegal fishing and unregulated poaching of turtles. At the Rio+20 conference held in Brazil June 2012 the Seychelles Vice President stated that if they were able to complete a debt for adaptation to climate change swap that created a funding stream of at least US$2.5 million per year, the Seychelles would establish 30% of their coastal zone as marine protected areas, with half of this area in no take zones. Seychelles further committed to providing three years of financial support for GLISPA and continue to support the launching of the Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge.
The government stopped subsidizing the park authority when economic reforms came into place in 2009. This means it now needs to raise its own funding through park entrance fees, concession income and grants from development partners. The diversity and geographical distribution of the park portfolio makes management, supplying local staff and coordination of work very costly. Thankfully, the Seychelles has a plethora of different conservation bodies that can share the workload of protection, monitoring and surveillance of extensive ecosystems. The Island Conservation Society manages Aride Island nature and marine reserve. Around 1,500 tourists visit Aride annually, mostly to see the 1.25 million seabirds that breed on the island and to do some snorkelling. The Society has recently installed new mooring buoys that will allow more boats to moor safely and reduce the impact of anchor damage on the corals and demarcation buoys around the boundary of the marine reserve. The latter will allow rangers to determine with better accuracy whether fishing boats are entering the ‘no-take’ zone as sea cucumber harvesting and octopus fishing are ongoing problems. The Society successfully managed the four year Rehabilitation of Island Ecosystems programme and now operates conservation centres on the islands of Alphonse, Desroches and Silhouette.
Nature Seychelles, besides managing Cousin Island, is directly engaged with a wide range of activities including species recovery, island ecosystem restoration, coral reef research, turtle monitoring, co-ordination of Seychelles Bird Records Committee, capacity development, environmental education, a green health programme, and supporting local Wildlife Clubs become more involved in community-based projects. The Seychelles Islands Foundation manages the Vallee de Mai World Heritage Site and use entrance fees to pay for the management of Aldabra, which they look after for research purposes. The Terrestrial Restoration Action Society Seychelles is the only NGO on Praslin Island and is entirely dedicated to taking action against degradation of the sensitive rainforest. It has undertaken projects measuring soil erosion, managing invasive alien creepers, replanting schemes and post fire rehabilitation trials.
The Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCCS) incorporating the Shark Research Institute Seychelles undertake education, research and implement a number of practical environmental programmes. Current projects include whale shark, turtle and coral reef monitoring and installing various forms of embedment mooring systems. The Shark Research Foundation Seychelles is a new NGO formed in 2011 by environmental consultant John Nevill who worked directly for and was a founding member of the MCCS. He also helped form the Artisanal Shark Fishers Association to improve data collection and protect these fishers’ rights in an evolving governance environment. The Save Our Seas Foundation has also worked with the MCCS and took over the running of D’Arros island in 2012 when it was declared a nature reserve and will organize visits for school children who are members of environment clubs, groups and organizations.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
Climate change is a major concern for the Seychelles, primarily because the country’s main economic sectors and infrastructure would be vulnerable to rising sea levels. In 2004, Seychelles warned the world that the Indian Ocean would lose all its coralline islands in 50 years if there is nothing done to stop global warming. President Michel called for action to back claims of concern, and in September 2007 launched the Sea Level Rise Foundation during the first Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) strategy meeting held in Rome.
At the same meeting, he also declared part of Silhouette Island would become a new national park designed and effectively managed for resilience to climate change, from a biodiversity perspective. Silhouette is the third largest granitic island in the Seychelles group, lying within a marine protected area and known as one of the most important biological hotspots in the Indian Ocean. In August 2010, 93% of Silhouette Island was officially declared a national park. Whilst a laudable initiative, it is difficult to understand why the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles was then evicted from their premises on Silhouette in December 2010 and forced to abandon all their dedicated voluntary conservation, management and research work on the island that it had begun in 1996.
In 2009 the National Climate Change Committee published their strategy and in 2010 the Government launched a new tree-planting campaign to increase public awareness about climate change and how to minimize its impact. Later that same year a one-week workshop to train more people in the field of shoreline management and climate change took place in Victoria as an initiative between the Government and the UN Climate Change Adaptation & Development Initiative. The main topics discussed were coastal processes, shoreline impact assessment and mitigation measures as well as training in global positioning system and geo-tagging technology. Nature Seychelles also launched a USAID funded project in 2010 to restore coral reefs from the effects of climate change. This involved growing corals in sheltered nurseries and transplanting them at various sites following the worst damage to Indian Ocean reefs from bleaching for more than ten years. In 2012 the UNDP and GEF approved US$8.7m for further climate change adaptation projects in the Seychelles. These include rehabilitating beaches seriously threatened by erosion by timber piling or driving casuarinas poles into the sand and burying them 1.5 metres. This has been done in two rows with the bottom laid with geotextile fabric that allows the water to pass through as the tides come, but holding back the sand. The timber piling is curved rather than straight to match the topography of the beachscape and rock armouring is also used for support, though not visible.
The Department of Risk and Disaster Management (DRDM) devotes considerable time, effort and resources to targeted education and awareness schemes. A new initiative being implemented by the DRDM in partnership with the World Bank, entitled the ‘National Disaster Preparedness and Response Project’ is seeking to build upon this platform with a communications programme and by integrating disaster risk reduction into national strategic documents and processes across the development sectors. Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is supporting the legal protection of coastal habitats and species, as well as helping to educate youth and local communities about their intrinsic values. MFF’s focus in this regard is to assist the government to implement the National Disaster Management Policy and to build community resilience to climate change.