The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelagic island country in the Indian Ocean, with its capital located 1,500 km east of mainland Africa. The country consists of 115 islands and s population of about 97,000 (2018 estimate). The marine life, especially around the more remote coral islands, can be spectacular with more than 1,000 species of fish recorded.
In 2014, Seychelles embarked on the ambitious goal of protecting 30% of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The areas for protection were identified through a stakeholder-driven marine spatial planning exercise, covering the entire EEZ and designed to afford protection to zones of high and medium biodiversity values. Seychelles’ commitment leveraged a US$ 21.6 million debt-conversion with its major creditors that created institutions and funding streams in support of the initiative, including the establishment of the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust and the setting up of a conservation endowment. In March 2020, Seychelles reached its goal to designate protected areas creating 13 new protected areas covering more than 410,000 km2 and comprising a third of Seychelles’ ocean space (http://www.nation.sc/articles/4088/seychelles30oceanprotection2020). Around half are designated as high biodiversity zones, which prohibit extractive activities, and half as medium biodiversity or sustainable-use zones, where economic activities will be tightly controlled.
The marine spatial plan was informed by numerous biodiversity attributes, including sites of reef fish spawning aggregations. In the 2000’s and with support from SCRFA, Seychelles conducted several research projects on spawning aggregation fisheries, assessing their status and management needs and raising awareness of their vulnerability to overfishing. Fisheries that targeted these critical life history stages were identified in several island groups of the archipelago, including line fisheries for grouper aggregations in the remote atolls of the south and trap fisheries for rabbitfish aggregations in the populated granitic islands of the north. Stakeholders participating in the marine spatial planning exercise have recognised the importance of protecting spawning aggregations, in particular those formed by groupers, and established criteria and allowable activities related to their conservation and management.
With Seychelles having reached its marine spatial planning goal, many spawning aggregations will now be afforded protection, either through their inclusion in no-take reserves or sustainable-use protected areas. However, a considerable amount of work remains to draft and implement management plans for the new protected areas to control allowable or prohibited activities. A number of initiatives to support that process are underway, including the Third South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Governance and Shared Growth Project, while one of the first management plans for a sustainable-use zone (the Mahé Plateau Trap and Line Fishery Co-management Plan) was gazetted in early 2020 and makes provisions for the control of rabbitfish spawning aggregation fisheries. A further challenge is to mobilise adequate funds for monitoring the effects of protection on spawning aggregations and their populations, particularly for remote atolls. Nevertheless, in reaching its goal on schedule, Seychelles has taken a great stride forward on the path to rebuilding and conserving large numbers of reef fish spawning aggregations.