Geologically, the Seychelles forms part of the granitic Mascarene Plateau, which separated from the Indian Plate and is home to the planet’s oldest oceanic islands. Spread over a vast area measuring 800 km by 1,000km, the Seychelles archipelago with its 115 islands possesses an exclusive economic zone of 1,374,000 km². A further 397,000 km² of marine space is shared with the Republic of Mauritius as part of the Extended Continental Shelf. Seychelles has total sovereign rights over much of this vast ocean space along with the fishing and all subsea minerals and petroleum resources.
Traditionally, the ocean has always been also a vital source of food for the islanders which included various forms of artisanal fishing, harvesting turtle and dolphin (marswin) meat from the Inner as well as the Outer Islands; mining guano (the faecal deposits of sea birds) from, particularly, the Outer Islands and the collection of crops such as coprah, birds eggs, various types of shells as well as the highly prized mutton bird (fouquet) from the remoter Outer Islands.
In stark contrast to Seychelles’ land, which has over 50% set aside for conservation, less than 1% of Seychelles’ 1.4 million km² of marine waters is currently protected. That figure, however, is targeted to rise to 30% or 400,000 km² via marine spatial planning to ensure species and habitats enjoy long-termprotection, improve resiliency of coastal ecosystems with a changing climate, and ensure sustainable economic opportunities for fisheries, tourism and other activities.
Oil companies have been exploring the ocean for hydrocarbon deposits since the 1960s, an activity that is ongoing, along with a search for minerals found in poly-metallic nodules.The ocean as a source of clean, renewable energy and sustainable power for a small, remote island nation is also being studiedbut the ocean’s most immediate richness lies in its marine life and complex marine ecosystems for which its cleanliness is paramount. Not to be overlooked is the fact that cleanliness of the ocean impacts directly on other species, such as colonies of nesting birdsand migrating marine mammals, in addition to the people residing on and visiting the islands.
Seychelles’ waters contain an impressive wealth of species ranging from a wide selection of demersal and pelagic fish to the coralline algae that cement the reefs found on most islands; 351 species of sponges; 55 species of anthozoa; 5 endemic species of crustacean; 5 species of turtle; 27 species of mammals including endangered sei, blue and fin whales; 8 species of dolphin and a small but important population of 20-25 dugong around the Aldabra Atoll. Unfortunately, corals continue to be under pressure from warming waters and coral bleaching.
Great potential exists in the form of future transition to sustainable artisanal and industrial fishing, and also aquaculture whose modus operandi are currently being brought in line with current best practices. A big advantage here is that the waters of Seychelles are some of the cleanest in the world,scoring highly among sovereign states on the ocean health index.