Seychelles tops Ocean Health Index.

Global map of marine health index scores (Halpern et al, NCEAS 2012)

Seychelles and Germany have the fourth healthiest seas according to the Ocean Health Index which provides the first ever global benchmark of 171 coastal regions

The top 3 on the list are the US-owned Jarvis island in the Pacific, a grab bag of other US posessions labelled as USA Pacific Uninhabited Territories and Clipperton Island owned by France.

But I believe the Seychelles and Germany should actually be number 1 because they are independent countries whilst the top 3 are uninhabited islets owned by other states.

An international team of scientists conducted this first comprehensive assessment of the ocean and its ecosystems. It assesses ocean health in terms of the benefits from the ocean, organized as 10 goals that are enjoyed by people in a sustainable way.

The results published in the August 15, 2012 issue of the prestigious journal Nature, reveals a global score of 60 out of 100 The index calculated the index for every coastal country. Developed countries generally outperformed developing countries, but with notable exceptions like the Seychelles. Only 5% of countries scored higher than 70, whereas 32% scored lower than 50.

The index provides a powerful tool to raise public awareness, direct resource management, improve policy and prioritize scientific research, say the authors. I’ve compared the Global and Seychelles scores for each of the goals below.

Food Provision
Artisanal Fishing Opportunities
Natural Products
Carbon Storage
Coastal Protection
Livelihoods & Economies
Tourism & Recreation
Sense of Place
Clean Waters
Total average score:

We should celebrate the overall high score of Seychelles. This is a vindication of the hard work of the government, NGOs like Nature Seychelles and people like my father who fought long and hard for policies, laws and programs to protect the ocean.

The individual scores give a lot of food for thought. Carbon storage is 100 and simply means that the ecosystems in the very large Exclusive Economic Zone of Seychelles have a high carbon storage potential Despite being an island state we score low on Food Provision – this reflects the fact that many of our coastal fisheries resources are over-exploited. What the Index does not say is that Seychelles has a high dependence on imported foodstuffs resulting in a very high ecological footprint.

On the other hand we score higher than the global average on Artisanal Fishing Opportunities and on ocean based Livelihoods and Economics. But how does this tally with the results of the recent Seychelles poverty study that reveals artisanal fishermen as the most destitute economic group in Seychelles? Fishers seem to have a hard time not only mainstreaming themselves into the economy but also accepting national policies. A published study by Louisa Wood in 2004 showed that fishers felt disenfranchised by environmental policies.

We score lower than the Maldives on Coastal Protection. Why is this so? Is the size of the EEZ surpassing our ability to protect the coast and ocean? The wish of the Seychelles government announced at RIO+20 to designate 30% of its nearshore waters as protected areas in return for forgiveness of national debt may increase this score in the future if the initiative is successful.

And why are we at the global average for Sense of Place? As islanders we should have a very high sense of place. Are Seychellois not happy with where they are and who they are? This would be a good area for research. Disappointingly, we score below the global average for Clean Waters. I would have thought we would have cleaner seas than most countries. This is a goal that definitely needs to be worked on.

The very high overall score of Seychelles on the Ocean Health Index is something for all Seychellois to be proud of. It is further proof that we live in an amazing place where nature-based solutions abound. We need to find and develop these solutions to enable the country to move to the next level – which is a Green(er) Economy. We must also not rest on our laurels. Individual scores need to be unpacked and examined. Groups like fishers whose livelihoods are based on the ocean need to be better mainstreamed into society. Protection and restoration efforts must be strengthened and this is where the participation of other stakeholders should be increased.

Author: Dr. Nirmal Shah

Nirmal is a well-known and a passionate personality in the Seychelles environmental and sustainability scene having an encyclopedic knowledge of Seychelles biodiversity as well as a wealth of experience in environment management. He has worked in senior positions in the parastatal, government, private and NGO sectors and consulted for international organizations such as the World Bank, IUCN, UNEP, Sida and UNESCO. He has appeared on CNN, BBC, Radio France, PBS, NBC, ABC, SABC and others

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