5 June 2021 marks the 47th celebration of World Environment Day. This year’s theme “Ecosystem Restoration” calls for urgent action to revive our damaged environment. Every year around 50,000 km2 of forests are lost, and over the last century, half of the planet’s wetlands and corals have been severely degraded. At a time when ecosystem loss is depriving the world of carbon sinks and when global greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing, reimagining, recreating, and restoring our bond with nature is of utmost importance. The 2021 celebration will also launch the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration with the aim of preventing, stopping and reversing global degradation while fighting poverty, climate change and preventing the mass extinction of species.
The need for restoration in Mauritius and Seychelles
Global Warming is causing long-lasting changes to the global climate system and threatens lives and livelihoods across the world. Its disastrous effects on the local biophysical environments also lead to shifts in food availability and contraction of natural habitats. Our Small Island Developing States, Mauritius and Seychelles, which have seen their terrestrial and marine ecosystems impacted by human development for centuries, are particularly vulnerable to these new climate-related calamities.
Today, Mauritius remains one of the jewels in the world with respect to biodiversity. Several endemic species continue to thrive on the island, while others have benefitted from long-standing conservation programmes to recover from close-to-extinction conditions. However, if 12 bird species including the Mauritius Kestrel, the Echo Parakeet and the Pink Pigeon, and the Rodrigues Fruit Bat have escaped from extinction, 94% of endemic plants are still classified as "endangered". In Seychelles, which is considered as an example in regards to biodiversity conservation, 12 endemic animal species are classified as "critically endangered", 20 as "endangered" and 9 others as "vulnerable" according to the IUCN Red List.
UNDP’s Support on Climate Action and Environmental Protection
The UNDP Country Office of Mauritius and Seychelles is a key player in the promotion of inclusive climate action in both countries. Under the Climate Promise Initiative, UNDP supports the Governments of Mauritius and of Seychelles to set bolder 2030 climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement. This includes the review and update of climate targets and enhancing societal ownership of climate actions. The UNDP also implements programmes to assist both islands in their efforts towards sustainable environmental practices including a transition to low carbon economy, and drives projects in collaboration with the Government, NGOs and private partners to mainstream, protect and restore biodiversity.
Promoting Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in the Seychelles
In 2012, the Government of Seychelles set a target of bringing 30% of its marine territory under protection by 2020. The UNDP supported this initiative through the Protected Areas Finance Project, which facilitated the development of a sustainable financing plan to cover 400, 000 km2 of Marine Protected Areas, including the Seychelles Outer Islands which host 9 of 20 Important Bird Sites. Moreover, the Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA) project was set up to reduce the vulnerability of Seychelles towards climate change; assist in wetland and forest restoration work programmes; and include ecosystem-based adaptation into the country’s climate change risk management system.
Stopping the Drivers of Land Degradation and Fighting Invasive Alien Species
Human development activities have indisputably become a major threat to the environment. Due to rapid urbanization, changes in land use and unsustainable agricultural practices, Mauritius and Rodrigues lost 95% of their original native forests. Through the GEF-funded Sustainable Land Management (SLM) project, the UNDP aims to stop the drivers of land degradation and help restore the soil. SLM techniques are being applied to control erosion and water course sedimentation in Rodrigues’ SEMPA watershed, with a focus on Rivière Cocos.
Invasive Alien Species (IAS) also represent threats to the biodiversity of our islands. Exotic species such as Strawberry Guava and the Traveler’s Tree, impact the biodiversity, health and economy of our islands, by colonizing new environments and threatening endemic species. To safeguard globally significant biodiversity in vulnerable local ecosystems, the UNDP is engaged towards preventing, managing and eradicating IAS, through active restoration measures and the implementation of a standardized protocol for IAS control.
Protecting the Lagoons to Secure Livelihoods and Livability on the Coast
The protection of the coastal zones and inshore waters of Mauritius and Rodrigues is also a matter of concern for the UNDP. In order to protect them, the Country Office has facilitated the implementation of the Mainstreaming Biodiversity Project, which assists the management of 18 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the islands. Projects have also being launched with the collaboration of GEF Small Grants Programme to encourage the coastal communities to adopt seasonal and alternate livelihoods. In parallel, UNDP is promoting off-lagoon and sustainable fishing practices through an EU-funded project under the ECOFISH Programme, which aims at empowering the fisher communities while reducing the impact of overfishing on the lagoons.
Lagoons, coral-reefs and beaches are the first lines of defense against sea-level rise and climate change. These marine ecosystems are vital to our islands, which rely a lot on ocean-based activities such as tourism. Through coral reefs rehabilitation, the Country Office aims at improving food security and livelihoods and mitigate disaster risk. The project aims at restoring degraded sites using farmed corals in Mauritius and Seychelles and is targeting a 10% increase in live coral cover, fish density and diversity. Following the installation of artificial coral reefs and a reprofiling of the beach at Mon Choisy in 2019, the extent of coastal erosion has been attenuated and the area became more climate-resilient.
Making Peace with Nature
Ecosystems support all life on Earth. SIDS like Mauritius and Seychelles cannot afford further damage to their natural ecosystems and habitats. The World Environment Day offers the opportunity to reflect on accomplishments and renew our resolve in overcoming the environmental challenges facing the world today. This year’s celebration urges all stakeholders, including Governments, the private sector, NGOs and citizens, to join forces and work together towards promoting progress on the environmental dimensions of the SDGs.
“This is our moment. We are the generation that can make peace with nature.
Let’s get active, not anxious. Let’s be bold, not timid.