Lonely Planet Writer

Leo DiCaprio helps create two vast marine reserves in the Seychelles

An area of the Indian Ocean roughly the size of Britain is to be ring-fenced for marine conservation by the government of Seychelles after it accepted an innovative deal to write off US$22 million of its sovereign debt. The sum, which was collectively owed to the governments of Belgium, France, Italy and the UK, was not written off, but rather purchased by an ecologically-minded non-governmental organisation called The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Adding some A-list excitement to the debt-relief deal was Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation donated US$1 million to the cause.

Female scuba diver admires swarm of small fish on a coral reef in Seychelles. Image by ©Rainer von Brandis/Getty Images

The Fortune Bank Marine Reserve will comprise an incredible 135,000 square-km and will protect aquatic life such as dolphins, sharks, turtles and tuna from intensive fishing techniques, oil exploration and tourism overuse. This reserve surrounds the nation’s main island of Mahé, which sits over 1800 km east of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Seychelles tropical beach at sunset. Image by ©TPopova/Getty Images

The other newly-protected area – the Aldabra Group Marine Reserve – covers 75,000 square-km and protects some of the world’s most pristine coralline islands. Sitting more than 1100 km southwest of Mahé, the waters around these atolls are home to incredible coral reefs and species such as tiger and lemon sharks, dugongs and spinner dolphins. The Aldabra Atoll itself has previously been used by scientists and conservationists as a baseline to gauge what the world used to look like – its landmass carries an astonishing six tonnes of biomass per hectare, and is the primary stomping ground of more than 100,000 Aldabra giant tortoises. As such, it’s thought to be one of the only places on earth where reptiles still dominate the ecosystem.

Hawksbill sea turtle in the Seychelles. Image by ©Alexander Shalamov/Getty Images

Incredibly, these two new marine reserves are only the first half of this debt-relief-for-ecological-protection package – another 15% of the Seychelles marine waters are to be protected by 2021. It must be said that not everyone is thrilled with the agreement, particularly some Seychellois fishers who fear it will hamper their ability to make a living.