Blue Economy in 2021: Perspectives from Seychelles | 18 January 2021
Through the launch of the Blue Economy (BE) Strategic Policy Framework and Roadmap in 2018, the Republic of Seychelles sought to develop its ocean space on the three pillars of wealth creation, social equity in concert with the improvement of livelihoods, and environmental conservation. With tourism and fisheries being the cornerstones of the economy, a healthy ocean was deemed imperative for the country’s future development. To that effect, the government declared 30 percent of Seychelles’ ocean territory a Marine Protected Area in 2020. However, COVID-19 has significantly impacted the island nation’s BE journey. Moving forward, Seychelles will need to focus intensely on re-building its economy by creating, rejuvenating, and upscaling the country’s outlined BE sectors, without losing sight of the environmental and socio-economic principles that signpost its Roadmap.
Fisheries and aquaculture
Seemingly playing second fiddle to tourism, Seychelles’ fisheries sector contracted by 39 percent in Q2 2020. The new government has called for renewed focus on this sector and re-structured the Blue Economy Department under the Ministry of Fisheries. Sixty seven per cent of fish and seafood exports are being traded with European partners alone and the country also renewed a fisheries partnership agreement with the EU, which allows for the fishing of 50 tonnes of tuna annually. Seychelles has not maximised seafood value chains and cannot afford to bank on quantity over quality any longer. Further, concerns abound that fisheries might be used to support the local economy to the detriment of stock and marine ecosystem health. Therefore, care must be taken that decision-making around the exploitation of fisheries are non-binding and do not create a precedent going forward. In this light, rejuvenating the aquaculture industry to promote food security and create high value jobs proves desirable, but this sector remains in its infancy phase.
Health and tourism
An overt reliance on European partners does not bode well from a health and tourism perspective either. Having managed the initial outbreak reasonably well, cases sky-rocketed when Spanish seafarers on EU fishing fleets operating in Seychelles’ waters began testing positive for the coronavirus. The pandemic has further revealed the country’s over-exposure to European tourism markets that have since become epicenters of new outbreaks. Having implemented strict travel and tourism guidelines in an effort to shore up this crippled sector, Seychelles will also need to enhance the digital curve of its tourism industry, seek new travel and leisure markets that will provide high value returns, and promote sustainable tourism development. The latter is critical in view of the increasing climatic threats placed on the country’s coastal natural resources that are essential for economic development and livelihood generation.
Ports and shipping
Port Victoria has become a key player in supporting various BE activities in the country. Notably, it secured the title of Indian Ocean Leading Cruise Port conferred by the World Travel Awards for the eighth year running in 2020. With ambitious plans underway to modernise and expand port infrastructure to the tune of US$41 million, the Ports Authority has also diversified revenue by providing ship maintenance and fish processing/storage services. It hosts one of the world’s largest tuna canneries and produces more than a million cans of tuna every day. While presenting a conflicting image of exploitation alongside expansion, this sector may yet provide the country with an opportunity to realise greater efficiencies from the existing resource base and potentially generate employment, address overfishing by incentivising post-harvest activities and facilitate national attempts to promote sustainable development. Having announced a two-year ban on cruise ship calls at Port Victoria due to COVID-19, Seychelles should focus on greening its port expansion, speeding up this enabling infrastructure development and consider sustainable service lines in readiness.
The figures are daunting and the outlook is grim; Seychelles’ economy contracted by 13.8 percent in 2020. Fiscal pressures have increased through lower tax revenue from tourism and total public debt stands at 80 percent. 2021 will feature delicate balancing acts; boosting sectors such as agriculture and fisheries will be important for food security, economic diversification and cultural reasons. Unchecked, the corollary may be increased exploitation of the latter as a source of revenue, jobs and livelihoods. Recent attention had also turned towards blue carbon ecosystem services assessment. Whilst the pandemic will not affect the environment’s carbon sequestration abilities, it has affected the progression of important research in this field, meaning that findings will most likely not be ready for Seychelles’ revised Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s climate agreement for 2020-2025.
Seychelles has not been spared the permeating impacts of COVID-19 but its BE model offers a pathway towards increased resilience and recovery. As the country banks on incoming vaccines from the COVAX initiative, coordinated planning, sustainable diversification and circular material flows should be encouraged now. Additionally, the need to focus on R&D for better decision-making with regard to resilient development choices and building back better around economic and social infrastructure is urgent. Harmonising the needs of local and international conservationists, artisanal fishers, tourism businesses and the range of other BE stakeholders, however, has proven problematic now more than ever before. Unless a clear vision of BE prevails in 2021, Seychelles runs the risk of failing to appreciate the opportunities provided in terms of wealth creation, equity and conservation benefits — and opt for business as usual.
This article is part of the series — Africa in 2021.
By Malshini Senaratne