A tropical island nation is promising to save thousands of turtles and dolphins for $21 million off its national debt

Scapin/PixabaySeychelles islands taken from Mahé, the nation’s largest island.
  • The Seychelles is building two gigantic marine conservation areas to help save turtles, dolphins, and other sea animals.
  • It has done so in exchange for a large chunk of its national debt being paid off.
  • The deal is the first debt swap agreement of its kind.

The Seychelles is stepping up its efforts to protect dolphins, turtles and other rare marine creatures in exchange for $US21 million of their national debt being paid off.

The island nation, located off east Africa, plans to create two huge marine parks totalling 81,000 square miles in exchange for the pay-off, which was covered by US charity The Nature Conservancy.

Spinner dolphin seychellesBennet Gevers via Wikimedia CommonsSpinner dolphins by the Alphonse atoll in the Seychelles.

This debt-for-conservation agreement, signed on Wednesday, is the first of its kind, according to The Guardian.

The Seychelles’ sovereign debt currently stands at just under $US500 million (£358 million), the Associated Press reported. This deal has therefore cut the national debt by around 4%.

The new marine parks will be built around the country’s Aldabra and Amirantes island groups, which make up around 16% of Seychelles’ waters, The Nature Conservancy said. The area is roughly as large as the whole of Great Britain.

Seychelles aldabra islandsSimisa via Wikimedia CommonsAn aerial view of the Aldabra islands in the Seychelles.

The government plans to heavily restrict access for tourists and fishers and both zones. It hopes to complete the project by 2020.

The Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to hundreds of thousands of rare giant tortoises, turtles, dolphins, manta rays.

They are also inhabited by dugongs, endangered Indian Ocean mammals known as “sea cows.”

DugongJulien Willem via Wikimedia CommonsA dugong near Marsa Alam, Egypt.

Seychelles Environment Minister Didier Dogley called the debt exchange plan “a great honour and privilege” in remarks reported by the Associated Press reported.

The Seychelles, whose territory is 99% ocean, is dependent on tourism. Jobs in fishing and tourism make up just under half of the entire country’s workforce, The Nature Conservancy said.

Leonardo DiCaprio Mike Windle Getty finalMike Windle/GettyLeonardo DiCaprio’s foundation contributed $US1 million to the debt-for-conservation agreement.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation contributed $US1 million (£720,000) to the Seychelles debt deal, said the new project would help protect the species from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.