By: Fernando Bretos
On paper Cuba and the island nation of Seychelles are miles apart. That’s 9,000 miles as the crow flies if you ask. I know because I took the very long flight from Miami to Seychelles in early September. Including the nine-hour layover in Qatar, it took over 30 hours to get to this jewel of the Indian Ocean. Yet the two countries share many similarities namely an inherent dependence on the ocean for their economy and wellbeing. Both are considered Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a term that, while falling out of favor, captures their essence as highly autonomous island states.
Cuba and Seychelles are also highly dependent on both tourism and fisheries. These industries, which are highly dependent on optimal ocean health, are critical to how both countries maintain economic stability. While Seychelles relies on tuna as its major export, Cuba’s commercial fishery depends on reef fish and lobster which are exported to Europe and North America. Tourism in both countries is on the rise. Cuba reached four million annual tourists for the first time in 2017. Seychelles, an island nation of 90,000 receives three times its population in foreign tourists. Both are reliant on what is called a “blue economy.” This new concept states that resources from the ocean, including clean water, fisheries and even oxygen, should be incorporated into national planning and development.
Seychelles is one of the first island states to officially incorporate blue economy into all of its policies; to the point that they have their own ministry and minister of blue economy. Hence this small island state has become the envy of the world. The little island nation that could has become a model for how SIDS, or any coastal country, can integrate human, economic and ocean health.
These parallels, along with the strong ongoing bilateral relationships between Cuba and Seychelles, recently inspired the idea of an exchange between both countries to explore how each can learn from each other. The idea took off during a meeting I had in January 2018 with Ambassador Ronny Jumeau, Seychelles’ Ambassador for Climate Change to the United Nations. Immensely proud of his country, Ambassador Jumeau loved the idea and shared with me that both the President of Seychelles, Mr. Danny Faure and his brother, Vice President Barry Faure, both studied in Cuba!
The meeting with Ambassador Jumeau sparked the idea for a scouting visit to Seychelles. I wasted little time in planning the excursion. When I saw the granite cliffs of Seychelle’s main island of Mahé emerge from the vast Indian Ocean on the descent from my flight I knew I was in for a once in a lifetime experience. On my visit I had meetings with representatives from a variety of sectors including the Seychelles Fisheries Authority and the Marine Spatial Planning Program which is using blue economy to assess impacts and opportunities for marine resources. It became clear during these encounters that our exchange would be iterative and beneficial to both sides.
Recreational fishing in Seychelles, for example, is at the same stage as in Cuba in that until recently few foreigners visited to fish the high seas or in shore areas. Cuba, in a similar vein, is only recently assessing the need to collect data on recreational fisheries and issue licenses to foreign fishers. CubaMar, The Ocean Foundation and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies are working with Cuba on precisely this issue.
We even explored the policy, governance, and organizational management strategy of the pioneering Seychelles debt swap program that began in 2009, and the new SeyCCAT initiative that is applying the benefits of this program for positive marine conservation results. We feel it is particularly important for Cuba’s representatives to learn how 70% of the swap is being paid in local capacity and to examine the methods used to develop the Seychelles blue bond program in order to explore the feasibility of replicating this approach in the Caribbean
The transboundary MPA between Mauritius and Seychelles, called Saya de Malha, covers 1.4M km 2 in area over their continental shelf. We believe it could be an ideal model for the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico where Cuba, Mexico and the US have initiated a similar transboundary MPA network in the Gulf of Mexico.
As with any international delegation, we expect this to be a two-way learning exchange in which Seychelles government officials, fisheries and tourism practitioners and other stakeholders can also learn about how Cuba is managing its own marine resources. Our exchange, consisting of a visit of Cuban experts to Seychelles, is slated to take place in April 2019.
I look forward to seeing the granite cliffs of Mahe with our colleagues and rekindling the sparks I ignited on my first trip with our new Seychellois colleagues.