Finding the best outcomes for biodiversity and development

Protecting an island paradise shouldn't come down to money, but it sometimes seems that way for those trying to ensure that development in the Seychelles is not at the cost of its rich biodiversity.

22 May 2014
Unspoiled Seychelles landscapes and their rich biodiversity shouldn't be harmed by development (Photo: tiarescott, via Creative Commons

Unspoiled Seychelles landscapes and their rich biodiversity shouldn't be harmed by development (Photo: tiarescott, CC BY 2.0)

Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 natural islands with golden beaches and turquoise waters, is a dream destination for any tourist, and, indeed, tourism is the nation's principal form of income. That and a thriving tuna fishing industry underpin the economy, but their very success could be threatened if growth plans don't think through how the biodiversity upon which both industries depend can be conserved.

Today (May 22) is international day for biological diversity and an opportunity to consider how this island nation – a member of the IIED/UNEP-WCMC NBSAPs 2.0 Mainstreaming Biodiversity and Development project – is facing up to the challenge of balancing development and biodiversity conservation.

Land is limited

Half of Seychelles land is designated as protected, so a growing population and an increasing demand for agriculture and buildings is putting pressure on the limited land left. New hotels and apartment complexes vie for space, with construction compromising the islands' natural landscape. 

The Ministry of Environment and Energy has a big task on its hands. It must work with the tourism sector, including private hotel operators, to persuade it to think long term. Conserving Seychelles' biodiversity is imperative if businesses are to survive.

One way to do this is through signing up to the standards of the national Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label (SSTL). These encourage, among other things, using renewable energy and rainwater harvesting and considering local communities in any business venture. Launched by the Seychelles Tourism Board (now the Ministry of Tourism), two big hotels and a smaller tourism establishment have achieved SSTL certification. Other tourism establishments are being encouraged to participate through an education and awareness campaign. 

"We need to get more companies on board with the SSTL," says Betty Seraphine of the Ministry of Environment and Energy. "Every company has to build in ways to conserve biodiversity and natural resources in their development plans. That way there is a long-term future for tourism in the Seychelles."

A business case for biodiversity

There are privately-owned islands and tourism establishments where environmental conservation and rehabilitation projects are ongoing, but the concern is that they will not be sustained over time. They have been encouraged to submit project concepts to obtain co-financing for preserving ecological sites near their properties from the "Mainstreaming Biodiversity" project supported by the Seychelles government, UNDP and the Global Environment Fund.

Seychelles is striving to plan for a sustainable future. The Ministry of Environment and Energy is in the midst of revising its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action plan as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity obliges all its member states to do by 2015.

"We are convinced that there's a viable business case for biodiversity," Betty Seraphine and her colleague, Annike Faure conclude. "The challenge is to convince other sectors that they must build biodiversity conservation into their own development plans. Seychelles is beautiful and rich in natural resources – we must all have a stake in keeping it that way."