Our Ocean Moment: Seychelles and the Sustainable Development Goals

Marine life in the waters around Cousin Island Special Reserve are protected from negative human activities

I was at the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 where Sustainable Development was hailed by the world community as the silver bullet to solve society’s ills. But somehow Sustainable Development emerged as a construct with a largely terrestrial focus. I also attended the second Earth Summit, Rio+10, in South Africa where the movement to set up Green Economies mysteriously avoided speaking substantively about the oceans, despite our best efforts. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), sitting on small pieces of land seemingly “sea-locked” within large ocean territories, struggled with this concept of the Green Economy. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were launched in 2001 compounded the problem as they were implemented largely using a land-based optic

Finally Liquid Assets 

Now, finally, the oceans, which cover three quarters of the (unfortunately-named) Earth will be getting some of the attention they so richly deserve with the inclusion of Goal 14, the Ocean Goal, among the 17 Goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the adoption of the SDGs, at the UN Summit that took place from 25 to 27 September 2015 at the UN General Assembly in New York, the “ocean moment” is here. The Seychelles Minister for Foreign Affairs and Transport Mr. Joel Morgan wholeheartedly supported the adoption of the SDGs and drew particular attention to Goal 14 in his address at the Summit. Goal 14 which is to “ Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,” contains 7 targets which cover issues of great concern to Seychelles including pollution, fishing, tourism, coastal zones, scientific research, and so forth (see below).

From Sustainable Oceans to the Blue Economy

What does Goal 14 mean for Seychelles? I believe the implementation phase of Goal 14 should present the most coherent pathway for achieving national consensus around the Blue Economy. If we can mainstream national priorities across a Blue Economy dashboard, we can develop key performance indicators from the Targets to chart the progress of the Blue Economy. Indeed, there are several good reasons for using Goal 14 to unlock the Blue Economy treasure chest: unlike the MDGs, the SDGs were developed by all nations, and seem to have many more entry points for the private sector and civil society organizations than the MDGs ever did.

 Nature Seychelles carried out an 18 month fish research project to study spawning aggregations of  fish and how well they are protected by the marine reserve on Cousin Island

Worldwide collaboration

The SDGs are more globally collaborative than the MDGs. They have been produced by detailed international negotiations that have involved all developed and developing countries. The UN conducted the largest consultation program in its history to help in drawing up the SDGs. I hope this means there is a global vision and appetite for the successful implementation of the SDGs. I also hope this will result in more diverse and abundant funding opportunities for Seychelles, as well as South-South cooperation. With the uptake of the Blue Economy concept by large states like India, increased and targeted South-South cooperation is becoming a reality, and can be embedded in the implementation program of Goal 14.

Private Support

Businesses were by and large not engaged in the formulation and implementation for the MDGs. Today, the private sector has a far greater win-win role. Goal 14 should be the catalyst for new and innovative business investment and entrepreneurship that will make the changes necessary for roll out of the Blue Economy in Seychelles. The seductiveness of the Blue Economy lies in the thinking that it can mobilize large amounts of foreign investment. In fact, funding from foreign direct investments (FDIs) into Seychelles, notably in tourism, has been outperforming the traditional bilateral donor assistance. Public Private Partnerships (PPS) in our country have been slow in the making, but this is an area where the suspicion and reticence must be cleared in the face of a stunning fact confirmed by economists: domestic resources will probably fund the bulk of the implementation portfolio of the SDGs in most countries! Interestingly, the intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing said last year that public finance and development aid should fund the implementation of the SDGs, but noted that money from the private sector, through tax reforms and crackdown on illicit financial flows and on corruption, would be vital.

 Nature Seychelles staff carrying out monitoring of Coral Reefs under the Reef Rescuers Project

The skills gap is a red herring

Goal 14 also presents unparalleled opportunities for engagement by civil society. Experts say there is huge potential to use the SDG indicators to open up space for local action and local partnership. But, I am convinced that civil society has far more power and abilities to implement the SDGs than is currently believed. The use of NGOs in many countries to implement the MDGs at the lowest common denominator base has colored the perspective of governments and donors in this regard. Civil society organizations can, and should, do much more than community level work and a few in Seychelles have already implemented large national and regional projects. These have generated amazing new ideas, solutions and funding. Co-management, out-sourcing, and off-loading to civil society organizations can bridge the skills-gap, solve human capacity constraints and as a result improve absorptive, co-financing and implementation capabilities around Goal 14.

Going Glocal (no it’s not a disease!)

The time has come to solidify a “Glocal” (Global-Local nexus) transformation of our development processes. The acceptance, through Goal 14, that Oceans must take a front and center place in the world’s agenda is also the recognition that the Blue Economy concept being championed by Seychelles has found international traction. As for us in Seychelles, the search for solutions for the Blue Economy must also take guidance from what the international experts are saying about implementing the SDGs. Yes, the global development stage is changing and some of the new backdrop and storyline is finally ours. Let us seize the moment!

By Dr. Nirmal Jivan Shah, Blue Economy Knowledge Centre, Nature Seychelles

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14.1: By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
14.3: Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
14.4: By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
14.5: By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
14.6: By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation
14.7: By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
14.a: Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
14.b: Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
14.c: Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want



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