The best kept secrets are not always found in hidden papers or on the net
Seychelles has been an acclaimed champion of protected areas. From the nature reserves enacted in the 1960’s to the new marine protected areas (MPAs) legislated this year dedicating 30% of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to conservation. What is rarely talked about are the other sites that are not legally protected but are being managed for conservation, in a few cases perhaps more effectively so than some of the legislated ones.
An outstanding example is the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman (SARC), an award-winning conservation site nestled alongside the Seychelles national sports complex the Palais de Sport. This is the only managed urban wetland in Seychelles. The original site was heavily degraded, part of coastal reclamation that was undertaken for various development projects. Over 20 years Nature Seychelles has re-engineered this site to be a model of a fully functioning coastal wetland in Seychelles. Four species of mangroves, all planted, thrive as do other indigenous coastal vegetation. Grey Herons, Chinese Bitterns and Black Crowned Night Herons nest here.
It is a location which is an outdoor classroom for hundreds of children every year, an attraction for tourists, a site where we have undertaken our Green Health program which has helped busy executives to substance abusers, and a vital green lifebelt which harbours biodiversity, absorbs carbon and acts a a large sponge and filter for runoff from hard urban infrastructure all around. We installed an 800 metre long boardwalk, a bird hide and a discovery platform, constructed with planks made from 100% recycled PETT bottles. There is also a large activity centre available for groups.
The SARC is not formally protected although it is designated as a Sensitive Area under the Environment Protection Act. It is what is known as an Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measure (OECM). An OECM is a conservation designation for areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) says it is a “geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values” (CBD, 2018).
An OECM like the SARC offers a huge opportunity to increase recognition and support for effective long-term conservation that is taking place outside the legally designated protected areas. There is much for even protected areas managers to learn from an OECM like the SARC. For example, Nature Seychelles has restored and is managing this area without any government funds despite it being owned by the state. The Wetlands unit of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change has never included the SARC in any wetland programs, events or projects. The time has come for the SARC and others like it to emerge from the shadows of their better known and more glamorous cousins, the Special Reserves, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.