To protect billion-dollar tourism industry, Mauritius and Seychelles to restore their coral reefs with new US$10 million grant from Adaptation Fund
Innovative UNDP-supported climate change adaptation project will restore reefs, protect food security and promote disaster risk reduction through ecosystem-based approach
The Governments of Mauritius and Seychelles, two small island developing states off the coast of Africa, have accessed a new US$10 million grant from the Adaptation Fund to restore their reef ecosystems.
The new six-year project, supported through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), will focus on coral reef restoration which eventually will contribute to protect the island nations' growing tourism industries – which account for over 30 percent of national GDP and employ approximately half the population in both countries – at the same time ensuring food security for fishers who depend on the reefs to feed their families, and reducing risks from high-intensity storms.
“With the recent IPCC Report indicating a potential total loss of the world’s reefs if nothing is done to slow down global warming, nations across the globe need to scale up actions to protect their reef ecosystems and the billions of dollars they bring each year from tourism, fisheries, and reduced risks from natural disasters,” said Christine Umutoni, UNDP Resident Representative for the two nations. “UNDP has been supporting small island developing states for over a decade now to protect reefs and promote ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. This new project signals an important step for these African nations in reaching their goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.”
The project will develop sustainable partnerships and community-based, business-driven approaches for reef restoration, establish coral farming and nursery facilities, and actively restore degraded reefs. On a regional and global level, the project will improve understanding on how to use coral reef restoration as a tool for climate change adaptation, provide models for sustainable management of reef ecosystems, and build capacity for long-term restoration and management of these precious habitants.
According to the United Nations, at least 500 million people worldwide rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection and livelihoods. UN estimates put the value of reef ecosystems at US$36 billion per year for tourism alone. They are also an essential ecosystem, protecting 25 percent of known marine species and protecting coastal communities from storm surges, rising seas and high-intensity weather events like cyclones.
According to the new UN climate report, hotter and more acidic waters resulting from carbon pollution are killing off the world’s reefs at an alarming rate. With a temperature rise of just 1.5°C, the world will lose about 80 percent of coral reefs, while rises above 2°C will kill off virtually all of the world’s coral reefs.
As with the rest of the world – as the result of human-induced climate change, pollution and other environmental impacts – Mauritius has lost its live coral at a highly accelerated rate over the past few decades with as much as 70 percent reduction in live coral cover from 1997 to 2007. In Seychelles, coral cover declined 50 to 90 percent over the last two decades.
Mauritius has taken on international acclaim as a diving and beach destination in recent years. Coastal zone activities, especially tourism, account for 36 percent of GDP in Mauritius.
“With reefs protecting beaches from coastal erosion, serving as a wave break to insulate hotels and other valuable coastal infrastructure from rising seas, and providing artisanal fishers with food for their families, these delicate and threatened ecosystems are essential to the national economy,” said Mr. V K Daby, Permanent Secretary of the Mauritius Ministry of Ocean, Economy, Marine Resources and Shipping.
According to UNDP, beaches in Mauritius have shrunk by as much as 20 meters over the last few decades due to higher seas and weakened coral ecosystems. The government indicates the connected loss of tourism to the beaches here could cost over US$100 million per year by 2060 if nothing is done.
The new project will restore reef habitats in Blue Bay Marine Park, which features a new park center, and research and education facilities, and the South East Marine Protected Area, located off the coast of Rodrigues.
“The people of Mauritius rely on these reefs for their lives and their livelihoods. It’s our most important natural resource. Through the new project, we will not only restore the reefs, we’ll also train our people to protect them and build a culture of conservation to preserve these natural treasures for generations to come,” said Daby.
Over 300,000 visitors come to Seychelles every year to explore the beaches and pristine waters. The tourism industry now accounts for 46 percent of the nation’s GDP, about US$600 million per year, with over half the nation employed in tourism. Unfortunately, challenges such as coastal erosion due to increased and stronger storm events, more widespread and severe coral bleaching due to global warming of the ocean, and other impacts have taken their toll on the nation’s coastlines and marine ecosystems.
Through the project, coral reef restoration works will be launched at Curieuse Marine National Park, Cousin Special Reserve, Saint Anne Marine National Park and Anse Forbans in the waters off Seychelles.
“Climate change stresses such as coral bleaching continue to cause widespread damage on our reef systems, putting strain on efforts to develop our blue economy and find resilient pathways for development,” said Mr. Wallace Cosgrow, Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change. “This project isn’t just about protecting reefs, it’s about reducing poverty, ensuring food security for our people and building climate resilient livelihoods.”