Efforts to protect the ocean have received a major boost with the announcement that Seychelles will lead a Commonwealth Blue Charter action group on marine protected areas.
Seychelles is the latest and 12th country to step forward as a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion country.
The announcement was made at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
Seychelles’ Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Charles Bastienne, spoke at a side-event on the Commonwealth Blue Charter.
“Seychelles wishes to lead the group because of the great progress we have made at the national and regional level in the establishment and management of marine protected areas.
“The government of Seychelles believes that in order to compliment the adoption of the Blue Charter and also to achieve sustainable development, Seychelles - being a small island developing state - must play a pivotal role in preserving and protecting our seas and oceans at all costs”.
Last week, Seychelles extended its planned protected areas to an impressive 26 per cent of the country's 1.4 million km2 exclusive economic zone (EEZ), building on the 16 per cent it protected earlier this year.
The new marine protected areas are based on the Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan - a first in the Indian Ocean area.
The areas protected are important for biodiversity conservation, as well as for tourism and fishing. They include islands that are important breeding areas for endangered marine species, such as the remote Aldabra group of islands.
Other action group members updated delegates on their activities, including progress from the UK and Vanuatu on the Clean Ocean Alliance, from Cyprus on aquaculture, from Sri Lanka on mangrove restoration and from Kenya on the blue economy.
Nick Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: "I strongly encourage other Commonwealth countries to follow the lead of Seychelles and their other counterparts in this vital Blue Charter initiative. Now is the time to take action to protect and sustainably manage the ocean, now is the time to join up.
“The wellbeing and livelihoods of billions of people depend on the health of the world's marine environment. We must act now to safeguard this one ocean for our children and their children".
During a panel discussion at the side event, panellists from the African Union, UN Environment, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community stressed the need for regional cooperation on ocean sustainability.