Seychelles is revising legislation used to design, classify and manage its protected areas, and all parties involved in the process gave their input at the presentation of the first draft on Wednesday.
Speaking at the presentation, the Principal Secretary for Environment, Alain De Commarmond, said, "The idea is to provide a draft that reflects international norms and one that will work for everybody."
De Commarmond said that new requirements and guidelines have been added in the legal framework to improve communication and the collaboration between the authorities and agencies managing these protected areas.
Changes have been made to the National Parks and Conservancy Act that was first enacted in 1969. Included in the revision is the setting up of a new national advisory committee to ensure the proper reporting and management of these areas and their ecosystems.
"The committee will provide advice to the concerned ministry on matters related to protected areas. The members will be appointed by the authorities, and will include people who are knowledgeable in environment related activities and conservation," said De Commarmond.
Around 60 percent of the land territory of Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, is protected by law. With a great number of endemic species and geological features, the island nation is part of a globally recognized biodiversity hotspots known as the Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Region hotspot.
New regulation in the revised legislation will give the authorities the power to take action whenever any environment law is breached.
Speaking to SNA, the chair of the board of the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), Nirmal Shah, said the piece of legislation is a complicated process "because it encompasses the point of view of the government and stakeholders involved in conservation."
Shah said it was important to revise the previous law as it dates back to the British colony where things were mostly governed by the government.
"However, if we look at the new draft that was presented today, it is still undemocratic and does not align with the current development that is happening in Seychelles," he added. "Rather than having selective members on the advisory committee appointed by the government, it should contain all stakeholders and agencies managing these sites under national protection."
During the conference, the importance of Seychelles fulfilling its obligations under Article 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was emphasized. This is vital to ensure conservation of the archipelago's biological diversity for the well-being of present and future Seychellois generations and visitors to the islands.
With the new legislation, new areas that will be designated for protection including Grand Police in the west of the main island Mahe and two others on the second- and third-most populated islands -- Ravins De Fond Ferdinand on Praslin and Anse Source D'Argent on La Digue.
These new areas will get legal protection to meet the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) criteria for consideration as Special Reserves and National Parks based on their rich biodiversity and provision of suitable habitats for endangered marine and terrestrial fauna and flora.
The principal secretary said "the law allows for co-management, whereby government and non-governmental organisations can manage these protected sites together."
For breaches of the law, De Commarmond said that new regulation will be drafted in which different conditions will be applied. For places that are strictly protected like Aldabra, located 1,100 kilometres from Mahe, the penalties will be more severe.
Following the workshop, the draft will be presented to the Cabinet of Ministers for endorsement, followed by a 'white paper,' where there will be further consultation with the public. It will then go before the National Assembly for their approval.