Tourists and invasive species: tackling biodiversity finance in the Seychelles

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Financial benefits worth more than USD6 million per year would be realised in Seychelles through the implementation of several finance solutions in the small Indian Ocean island nation – but a  substantial financial gap remains to properly protect its biodiversity. Seychelles is already protecting 50% of its terrestrial territory but is expanding its marine protected area to cover 30% of its Economic Exclusive Zone representing 400,000 Km2.

In April 2019, the Seychelles Cabinet of Ministers approved the Biodiversity Finance Plan – developed through BIOFIN – as well as a suite of biodiversity finance solutions that will contribute to closing the finance gap and ensure the sustainability of its natural resources and biodiversity.

Seychelles relies heavily on its precious natural assets in a country where tourism is the backbone of the economy and tourists come to see and experience the Islands’ pristine nature on land and in the sea. As well as direct economic benefits, protecting its biodiversity also ensures wide-reaching avoided damage through invasive alien species.

A political groundswell due to the strong evidence about the benefits of protecting its natural environment has led to support for several key solutions.

Greening the tourism sector

The first set of solutions relates to the tourism sector which contributes approximately 60% of the Seychelles GDP and touches the lives of almost all the 95,000 people living on the Islands. Businesses in the tourism sector rely heavily on nature as a key attraction for guests.

Several initiatives are being introduced to incentivise tourism operators to protect nature including the greening of subsidies for the sector. Hotels that take action to protect biodiversity or spend money on conservation efforts will be entitled to a 200% tax deduction on that spending. This includes efforts to gain important eco-tourism and sustainability certification and employing dedicated biodiversity staff.

In addition, efforts are being made to increase finances through additional fees on tourists such as a $10 per-head airport service fee and a $20 per-head cruise ship levy. These alone would mobilise an additional $4.5 million and $1million respectively each year.

The frontline: keeping the Seychelles bio-secure

Invasive species cost Seychelles dearly in natural and economic terms. Rats, cats, introduced bird species, invasive creepers and diseases have reaped havoc on the unique terrestrial wildlife of Seychelles such as the giant millipede, armoured beetles, tortoises, rare pitcher plants, and numerous native bird species and degraded the provisions of ecosystems services.

BIOFIN together with the government is introducing reforms to the fines, fees and penalties system to change the behaviour of all stakeholders that can intentionally or accidentally impact the bio-security of not just the country as a whole from outside species, but the transfer of harmful species between islands within the archipelago. The reform is introducing the concept of cost recovery system based on a user fee principal moving from a state subsidised system.

The national bio-security agency will be strengthened to enforce the new fines and fees and importantly, increased and enforceable fees will boost the revenue available for the ongoing management of the national biodiversity agency.

While it is estimated invasive alien species cost Seychelles $20 million per year, the new bio-security paradigm can bring in $350,000 for the country to continue to prevent the introduction, manage the threat and take action to eradicate invasive species.

Dedicated Biodiversity Finance Unit

As the realisation of the country’s biological richness sinks in, enthusiasm and action to protect it rises. A newly formed Biodiversity Finance Unit (BFU) within the Department of Environment has the important role of mainstreaming biodiversity into the budgetary and economic planning process.

After BIOFIN ends this year, the BFU will ensure the sustainability of the finance solutions for the tourism and biosecurity sectors and continued implementation of the Biodiversity Finance Plan. The BFU will ensure coordination of all key biodiversity finance projects and the National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP) and assist in continued resource mobilisation for the Seychelles NBSAP.

Photo by Leonora Giovanassi https://flic.kr/p/6XoQUp