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Seychelles delegation attends the fifth intergovernmental conference of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)

Smiles and sighs of relief on exhausted and sleep-deprived faces was the scene in the United Nations Headquarters, New York, at 9:30pm on Saturday the 4th of March. The resumed fifth intergovernmental conference of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) negotiations ended 28 hours overtime with an agreed text. The BBNJ treaty, which has been in the making for over 21 years, saw the world come together to produce the first ocean treaty that focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of the “high seas” and the Area, located beyond a state’s economic exclusive zone (EEZ) almost 50% of the world’s surface, 64% of the ocean.

The treaty creates the foundations for how Area Based Management Tools (ABMT), including Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will be set up and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), Capacity Building and Transfer of Marine Technology (CBTMT) as well as the management of Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs) will be conducted on the high seas.  These will have huge implications for our island nation, since we are surrounded by water and everything that happens outside our borders are linked to our EEZ and internal coastal waters.

A Seychelles delegation of five, the largest delegation to date, actively participated in these negotiations with the support of the Seychelles Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Some of the Seychelles delegates’ attendance was made possible through their own innovative funding through grants, while others were made possible through the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea’s trust fund. As a Small Islands Developing State (SIDS) Seychelles negotiated within the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on matters relating to CBTMT and the special circumstances of SIDS. Seychelles was a key player within the African Group, not only leading the ABMT portfolio, with Marie-May Jeremie and Tamara Thomas  as co-leads, but also co-leading the EIA component, with Mauritius, through co-lead Tamara Thomas. The Seychelles delegation also played an instrumental role across AOSIS and the African Group positions in shaping the outcomes of MGRs, CBTMT and cross-cutting sections of the treaty.

With Seychelles being both a SIDS and big ocean state that borders the high seas and has over 99% of its territory as ocean, this treaty’s aims and components are of national priority. Seychelles’ ecological connectivity to, and dependency on the ocean, like many other SIDS, as well as its leadership and expertise in Marine Spatial Planning and the Blue Economy, means that its experiences and future is linked to how this treaty works.

Being the coordinator and facilitator for the implementation of the BBNJ Treaty, the Department of Blue Economy shared “With a growing Blue Economy, the BBNJ treaty may benefit Seychelles in creating high seas marine protected areas that will help ensure Seychelles’ fisheries continue so that seafood production remains a pillar of our economy and provides food security. Moreover, measures to better access MGRs and share benefits of the high seas as well as ensure CBTMT takes place, can allow Seychelles to better manage its own waters, with training and equipment given to Seychelles being useful for ocean management within and outside of our national jurisdiction, with young Seychellois scientists, entrepreneurs and conservationists standing a good chance to benefit and further the impact of their work.” Ultimately, the way in which Seychelles continues to build on this treaty and make its voice heard will help determine how the treaty affects our country.

Asked about what does the BBNJ mean for Seychelles, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Seychelles to the UN, Ian Madeleine said “The treaty itself amplifies some of the important initiatives that Seychelles has pioneered in relation to ABMTs and MPAs, to a global scale in order to secure healthy oceans through international cooperation.  Beyond that, with an international agreement that makes provision for capacity building and technology transfer, there is potential for Seychelles to access the means to realise its environment conservation and sustainable development priorities.”

Looking over her experience of this treaty and its possible way forward  Marie-May Jeremie explained “this treaty has been a long time coming, whilst it is not everything that we wanted, it forms a good basis for further high seas governance.  Seychelles now has to ensure that it takes stock of its current capacity, become fully cognisant of the implications of the process and come ready to ratify the treaty when it is fully adopted”.

As a first time participant of the BBNJ negotiations and one of the few scientists in the room Sheena Talma shared; “This is just the start of our journey towards creating more equity in our ocean – the treaty language has given us some of the tools to build a foundation. It is imperative that Seychelles maintains a strong and strategic engagement with the processes to follow. What was clear to me is we need to ensure a diverse group of expertise and voices within these international spaces. ”

The Seychelles Government salutes Marie-May Jeremie, Sheena Talma, Chrissant Barbe, Tamara Thomas and Jeremy Raguain for their tireless work that helped produce a textual agreement, which constitutes a vital first step towards the way the world manages and protects the high seas.

Photos by IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin Mike Muzurakis