The Seychelles peoples, like in most other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) around the world depend greatly on the ocean economically as well as culturally. However, in recent decades, climate change driven by human activities continues to threaten not just the livelihoods, but the very existence of these islands.
Rising sea temperatures are the greatest threat to the survival coral reefs, the “rain forests” of the ocean. Coral Reefs play a vital role in the ocean acting as the spawning site for deep sea fishes as well as the nurseries for small fish. The global coral bleaching events of 1998 and later 2004 caused by rising sea temperatures killed over 90 per cent of the corals in the Seychelles. The damage of this year’s bleaching event is yet to be analysed.
“This is precisely why we set up the Reef Rescuers project,” says Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles’ CEO. “The Reef Rescuers initiative aims to restore damaged coral reefs by creating ‘designer corals’. We grow different coral species in underwater nurseries then transplant these onto degraded sites.”
What’s more, a healthy reef can buffer a staggering 97 per cent of a wave’s energy before it reaches the shoreline. Coral Reefs are therefore not just stunning sites for snorkelling tourists, albeit an integral industry for the Seychelles’ and other SIDS’ GDPs.
In the Seychelles, North East point, Anse La Mouche 0and the jetty’s shoreline on La Digue, rising sea levels and strong waves caused major coastal erosion, washing away masses of sand from the beach. Although this was later mitigated by planting vegetation and using rocks and timber, to protect these eroded beaches, this is just a stop-gap and not a long-term solution.
Globally, the frequency and intensity of tropical storms continue to have detrimental impact on marine ecosystems as well as the goods and services coastal peoples derive from the ocean. What’s more worrying is the fact that what was once seen as a theoretical Armageddon in the distant future – islands sinking and being destroyed by rising sea levels – the future is here; climate change is no longer an abstract concept.
The term ‘Climate Refugees’ has now entered our collective psyche; people forced to leave their homes due to climate change. In the Pacific, some low lying islands have even become completely submerged! The five Solomon Islands that were submerged, although not inhabited, were large and important fishing sites, as well as a wake-up call of what could be expected globally. Some suggest that most of the Seychelles too could be underwater in 50 – 100 years and the remaining area, uninhabitable.
“Small island states and coastal communities are more vulnerable and must adapt,” Shah says. “We must replicate successful projects and approaches that reduce the impacts of climate change. For instance, the debt-for-nature swap between the Seychelles government and the Paris Club creditors earlier in the year will go a long way towards marine conservation. Hopefully, the Reef Rescuers project can also be a flagship for coral reef restoration in the region and even globally.”