Our Oceans is Our Passport to the Future

13323190_10154267568768552_2233204747063192012_oAngelique Pouponneau, Vice-Chairperson for inclusion and engagement of the Commonwealth Youth Council, and Co-founder of the SIDS Youth AIMS Hub- Seychelles delivered a speech on ‘Our Oceans is our passport to the future’ at the Caribbean Studies Association conference on the 8th June 2016. The transcript of the speech is below:

Good morning/afternoon/evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Angelique Pouponneau from the Seychelles and currently serving as the Vice- Chairperson for inclusion and engagement of the Commonwealth Youth Council and heading the environment agenda. Locally in the Seychelles I co-founded the SIDS Youth AIMS Hub – Seychelles, a youth-led NGO promoting and advancing sustainable development through youth-led projects.

Haiti may be on the other side of the world to the Seychelles but we share many similarities as we are both characterised as a Small Island Developing States and often described as having limited resources, as our eyes see only the resources offered by our land but things have changed as we are now looking at the ocean as a development space – making us large ocean states. Seychelles has a land area of about 454 km2 and an exclusive economic zone of 1.4 million km2, the size of France, 99.96% of the territory of the Seychelles is ocean-based.

In Samoa at the UN SIDS conference in 2014 His Excellency President Michel outlined the vision of Seychelles Blue Economy, a vision that was shared and endorsed by the meeting. The Blue Economy is a shared opportunity and responsibility, and it is about the future we want. Sustainability in the context of the Blue Economy is all about our ability to use our oceanic space as opportunities for development, new energy possibilities, protected areas that improve biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, and provide increased food security. It is about the sustainable use of our potential mineral wealth on the ocean floor. It is about offsetting our own emissions and those of our planet in the fight against climate change. It is about building sustainable trade that can connect all markets, large and small, and sustainable space for tourism. As a consequence, achieving sustainable management of this oceanic space will provide for the sustainability of our planet.

The Seychelles has given a new focus, a change of mind set to see the ocean asset as holding potential we had never envisioned before. The Seychelles has a Blue Economy department within the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy –established in February 2015 and it is no coincidence that it has been placed within the department of finance, as we feel that our country exploration of new forms of financing and wealth creation is tied to the sustainable development of our oceans. With this new lens we have developed new innovative ideas, for example the implementation of the debt-for adaptation swap mechanism – it is clear we can profit from ocean conservation. Allow me to tell you more about the debt-swap initiative where the Seychelles government has struck a deal with the Paris Club to cancel $30 million of debt tied with the country establishing a trust fund to implement and finance ocean conservation projects. In the agreement more than 400 000 square kilometres of the Seychelles’ ocean will be designated as no fishing area, leaving fish, coral and rare turtles undisturbed and boosting populations. A country that was named as one of the most indebted in the world in late 2008, with 150% of GDP, after the global financial crisis is now on its way to having public debt at 50% of GDP by 2018. This innovative financing strategy, which could be replicated in island nations across the globe, provides an opportunity to protect island economies whilst ensuring that these nations become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The USA’s largest environment NGO, the Nature Conservancy is acting to mobilise 80 million (USD) for the government of Seychelles in exchange for their commitment to enhance marine conservation and climate adaptation commitments. This will also ensure that there is sustainable and continuous financing for the marine conservation efforts of Seychelles. Further commitments were made by the rich and famous activists like Leonardo Di Caprio donating $1 million USD to this trust fund- (the Seychelles Climate Change Adaptation Trust.) in 2016 It is a privilege to note at this point that I was invited as a young person to sit on the projects committee of the Seychelles Climate Change Adaptation Trust (SEYCCAT) with the mandate to screen and select projects to obtain financing from the Trust .

As a young person I have witnessed the impact of what the full commitment of the Seychelles delegation can often achieve, for example, for progress to having Goal #14. That’s right oceans are now a Sustainable Development Goal giving SIDS the opportunity to reframe our development needs with our ocean asset in mind. Recently at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) it was endorsed by the Heads of Government in Malta. The young people also gave it a whole hearted endorsement at the Commonwealth Youth Forum calling it for it to be used to generate employment opportunities and also for youth entrepreneurship. The most recent announcement was also a step in the right direction as the Africa’s Blue Economy Policy Handbook was launched at the inaugural African Development week. The UN economic Commission for Africa proposed a roadmap to harness African waters in order to propel the continent’s structural transformation. As a young person I see this as our chance and privileged opportunity to showcase how the oceans are playing a pivotal role national development; in tackling socio-economic and environmental challenges. The ocean based economy has provided us islands and countries with coastlines with a mechanism to realise sustainable growth. As young people we must remain mindful that we have seen generations that have come before us exploit our resources and leaving little for us and future generation so young people can play a key role in monitoring the implementation of SDG 14. There are a number of indicators that can show case the sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources including annual landing of fish by fish species, number of fish species are under threat, annual measurements of pH of the ocean, measurement of areas of mangrove deforestation and areas if coral reef with live cover and monitoring of the implementation of marine spatial plans. This can be loaded onto a webpage by young people for the world to see whether countries are sustainably managing their marine resources and ocean.

This has translated into an immense number of opportunities for young people in the Seychelles.

With decision makers moving towards an ocean based economy, the blue economy paradigm shift, it is imperative that a human resources needs analysis is conducted of the country in order to fulfil the vision. In 2015 the Agency for National Human Resources Development offered priority scholarships in the field of aquaculture industry, as a national priority for the country. There is a need of 1919 individuals to sustain the aquaculture industry from the position of General manager to the harvesting and processing workers. Other add on industries such as food scientists, commercial divers and fish vetenerians totalled to 33 degree holders being required. Furthermore when it came to prioritising certain professions as national priorities for scholarships, marine biologist, fish vetenerian, fisheries science, zoologist and aquaculture were second only to medicine. An investment in the Blue Economy already provides young people with new aspirations, new dreams and new job prospects.

A recent announcement by His Excellency President James Michel means even greater opportunities for young people as loans for small to medium enterprises can be more readily accessible for businesses related to the Blue Economy. With difficulties to access finance by young people this certainly was an opportunity not to be missed. The Seychelles Investment Bureau further gives advice on businesses that add value such as business relating processing bones of fish, fish leather or exportation of fish not typically eaten by Seychellois.

Furthermore because there is still so much to learn about the ocean and a pride of its country is undoubtedly its own local scientists developing research to be used to further develop its country. The Seychelles has opened its own Blue Economy Research Institute in partnership with the University of Seychelles. The purpose of BERI is to create an active regional knowledge and research network that facilitates the development of partnerships and research, advances sustainability initiatives, and identifies and coordinates synergies local and international research partners. Currently the main focus of BERI is in the Indian Ocean Rim Association which is the project to develop a ‘Managed network of Environmental Research in the Western Indian Ocean. It is also working on exchange visits for students to assist with research in the Seychelles. There is currently exchanges with the University of Gibraltar but here is an opportunity for universities and students association in the Caribbean to engage with the University of Seychelles. Future plans include coastal erosion and adaptation research on a range of inner and outer islands of the Seychelles archipelago, ecosystem-based adaptation research on mangroves as tools to mitigate climate change impacts, and energy efficiency/renewable energy research in collaboration with international universities. BERI is currently employing two young local researchers. With few researchers actually coming from SIDS this is our opportunity to develop and pave our own development and share our experiences so other countries can learn from us.

Young people across the Commonwealth have also endorsed the Blue Economy concept and a recommendation was made to use the Blue Economy concept for job creation and promote entrepreneurship. There will be a need to create a greater awareness of what is the Blue Economy and the Seychellois youth is working on implementing a Blue Economy internship programme with an exchange visit with Mauritius to learn about how they are developing the blue economy and the various sectors under the BE umbrella and furthermore it is a great opportunity to share best practice especially as we share maritime boundaries, and in 2012, signed an agreement regarding the joint management of the Extended Continental Shelf which extends from the Mascarene Plateau (for the use of seabed and subsoil resources only). This is the first agreement whereby two nations have agreed  to jointly manage a continental shelf exclusive zone. With the Caribbean this is perhaps even more possible. The Commonwealth Secretariat is already working with St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and The Bahamas with preparing the national ocean policies and its implementation. I have met some amazing young Haitians interested in the environment especially the members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) who undoubtedly would be interested in such an internship and exchange programme with other countries of the Caribbean who already have certain expertise. This would be preparing young people to be active participants in this renewed direction.

It is not only about opportunity that Governments can offer but civil society also has its role to play. There are many young people in Seychelles and in Haiti who are already contributing to the Blue Economy. They are the ones on the ground. They are the ones who take the children out to swim to see the beauty of the ocean so there is a genuine appreciation for nature. They are the ones who go out for a snorkel but not for leisure but instead to carry reef cleaning. They are the ones who spend their weekends cleaning the coastline to protect the ocean from marine litter. When we protect the ocean the ocean will protect us and the Seychelles has made this a point with 30% of the ocean being designated as ‘no take zones’. The oceans are closely linked to climate change as it continue to act as a major carbon sink and continues to absorb the carbon dioxide we human beings emit and hosting coral reefs that protect us from sea level rise. I urge that we do not see the civil society conservation stand to be at odds with economic development but rather know that we can benefit from conservation.

The Seychelles government knowing the decisions made today will automatically be inherited by the young people have made it a point not to exclude them from the conversation. At the first national consultation on the Blue Economy a youth statement calling for the sustainable development on the ocean asset was made accompanied by messages from young people across the Seychelles calling for conservation to also be part of the plan. Furthermore a youth delegate, Miss Santana Barbe, the 19 year old president of the SIDS Youth AIMS Hub – Seychelles accompanied the official delegation to Abu Dhabi at the second summit on the Blue Economy where she made an intervention calling for youth inclusion as key partners in development based on the ocean economy. I therefore ask that Haiti include its young people in the discussions. There is something about how young people can often think of ideas that you older generations would not think possible so I urge Haiti to include the youth in the decision making and development process.

The opportunities seem as vast as the ocean itself. However there will be challenges. The ocean is a shared asset of the world and we need a collective agreement to generate wealth through the sustainable development of oceans. More than that with the current tides marine litter is a shared global problem and we wonder whether our current international legal framework is ready for this new discourse of development. For young people this is an area that has not yet been fully tested so innovation is the driving force of the ocean based development but it holds some uncertainty. Nonetheless it is our opportunity to participate in our country’s development on a sustainable model.

The ocean is our passport to the future. A sustainable future.

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