Mauritius and Seychelles, like other Small Island Developing States, are facing significant economic challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. A small economic base, a high degree of openness, and extreme dependence on the fiscal performance of developed countries in the global north have left these countries with limited options to withstand the current health and consequent socio-economic crisis. A sharp fall in tourism revenues and remittances for both countries is likely to result in a significant economic contraction in 2020; and, further, intensify their vulnerability to external shock.
Large Ocean Economies: Turning the Economy Blue
One pathway to socio-economic recovery is to better leverage the true size of these Small Island Developing States and the opportunities that this represents. Their combined Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) - Mauritius at 2.3 million km2 and Seychelles at 1.3 million Km2 - actually represent an area bigger than India, with significant and untapped economic potential.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other national, regional, and multilateral sectoral governance regimes provide a robust and multilayered regulatory framework to govern ocean economies. A large ocean economy can contribute substantially to addressing economic and environmental vulnerabilities, including those associated with remoteness, by fostering bilateral, regional, and international cooperation under an ‘ocean space approach’ known as marine spatial planning.
Marine spatial planning for Mauritius and Seychelles offers the opportunity to develop a more coherent and joint organizing framework that takes into account the economic potential of all marine natural resources, which includes seaways and ocean energy sources. For example, the energy of ocean currents under the surface is comparable to the wind above it; thus, offering the possibility of underwater turbines with large propellers tethered to the seabed.
The Blue Economy offers important development opportunities for large ocean states in sectors including sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, renewable marine energy, marine bioprospecting, maritime transport, and marine and sustainable coastal tourism. For example, in 2017, catches from artisanal fisheries around Mauritius and Rodrigues Islands and semi-industrial operations on Saya de Malha and Chagos fishing banks reached 25000 tonnes. The same year, Mauritius exports, including re-exports of fish and fishery products, were valued at USD 434 million. In Seychelles, between 2007 and 2014, total capture production varied between 65000 and 87000 tonnes, and between 2015 and 2017 it increased to 136200 tonnes, at a value of USD 525 million.
A marine spatial planning approach can thus serve to strengthen the transformation of these Small Island States into Large Ocean Economies in the tourism, fisheries, aquaculture sectors with a clear focus on sustainable management and use of common resources in line with SDG 14.
A Renewed Call for Solidarity: A transformational narrative
The Small Island Developing States have made the call for solidarity with the international community to strengthen resilience to external economic and other shocks. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), statement of 9 April 2020 while calling for support to address the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has also urged the international community to maintain a future outlook and revive the global momentum for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
A key part of this equation will be solidarity and collaboration as demonstrated by Mauritius and Seychelles through the UNDP supported Joint Management Area project designed for the peaceful management of 396,000 sqkm2 of a valuable large ecosystem from which economic, environmental and social benefits can be sustainably derived. Beyond an immediate health system and social protection response, socio-economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic calls for pushing forward the Blue Economy agenda, marine spatial planning, and perhaps most important of all – a new narrative about the Large Ocean States.