Rethinking the Oceans: James Michel Journey Towards the Blue Economy in Seychelles – When the name Seychelles is mentioned, images of white sandy beaches, beautiful coral reefs, mountains covered with stunning green landscapes and sparkling blue sea waters come to mind, which make this country an ideal holiday destination in the Indian Ocean region. However, this is not the only reason to admire the Seychelles: this has gained a leading role in the Blue transformation, becoming a good example of national embracement of the concept of blue economy.
Being an island country that depends almost entirely on its ocean, Seychelles is a global biodiversity hotspot that encompasses 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, located 1600 kilometers from the east coast of Africa. Blue economy is the core of Seychelles strategy for protecting its beaches from pollution, preserving its natural capital for the benefit of its population, and for enhancing its tourist image and natural charm.
Seychelles have promoted ocean conservation and sustainable development projects, and these have had quick and positive results for the country’s economy. Indeed, Seychelles continues to be a safe, green, prosperous island for tourists from all over the world, in which renewables energies usage had been largely implemented. Due to this, the country is at the forefront as the blue economy country model and have shown the world that sustainable development is not just a dream, but it can become reality.
James Michel – Executive Chairman of the James Michel Foundation and former President of the Republic of Seychelles – has taken every opportunity to turn the world’s attention to the new frontier that Seychelles has embraced. He has addressed world leaders from every continent and many international organizations in relation with blue economy, and he has called for new partnerships for the benefit of ocean’s safeguard. He has been considered as a pioneer in promoting the idea of the Blue Economy in a set of reviews of his book, Rethinking the Oceans: Towards the Blue Economy.
What does the blue economy represent to you?
In a nutshell, ‘the future’. Our planet is ailing, and nowhere more than the ocean. We continue to treat it with impunity – as a dumping ground and place to exploit for its many riches – but blue economy means turning things round, an awakening to its undoubted potential. It is no exaggeration to say blue economy can be the answer to save the world, but to do so we must harvest the ocean’s resources sustainably so that we can have a planet in natural balance.
We all have a role to play as stewards of the world we inhabit. For me, the ocean is a special place and even contributing little to its healthy future is all I ask for. The blue economy is at the heart of my aspirations.
The Blue economy embraces many activities. It is not confined to any part of the world. There is something interesting in every nation, large and small, north and south, landlocked as well as maritime. Certainly, not all nations will approach it in the same way, but different aspects will appeal more in different circumstances. There is a common core of ideas but also the potential for numerous variations.
Seychelles ‘ blue economy. Is it a reality or a trend?
For Seychelles, it is still not a reality. However, I believe we are going in the right direction. First, we were amongst the pioneers of the idea of the blue economy. Then we promoted some innovative projects to take it forward, like the ‘debt swap’ aimed at providing funding for ocean conservation and sustainable development. Moreover, an ambitious scheme to plan and designate zones in our EEZ for different degrees of use has been designated. For example, ‘no catch’ fishing areas and open fishing with agreed rules have been established. Of course, much more still needs to be done.
How small countries can unleash the blue economy
Small island states are ideally examples to demonstrate the potential of the blue economy. Surrounded by sea, they often have few other resources. Using the ocean wisely becomes an economic lifeline. Fishing and tourism are activities that must be regulated, accordingly to sustainable practices. Long-term sustainability must replace short-term exploitation.
Can you describe your career in the blue economy?
Yes, it started when, as a young boy, I grew up by the sea and walked to school along the beach. I was enthralled then by what I could see, and my love of the ocean has never waned. By the time I became President of Seychelles, I was in a position to turn some of my many thoughts into positive actions. At first, people asked what the blue economy meant – was it really any different to how we have always used the sea? By now, the concept is far better understood, and many more people are engaged in constructive projects.
Do you have any particular concern about the empowerment of women and youth in this area?
Not so much ‘concern’ but ‘hope’. Women are already playing an important part in what were not so long-ago male preserves. They are active in fishing and aquaculture, in sustainable tourism and all branches of research; women have a key role in modern shipping and in matters of safety at sea; they are leaders in science and exploration, and in the ‘high tech’ approach to the ocean, that is now essential.
Likewise, for young people there are immense career opportunities in the blue economy. Figures show that that it is a growth area for businesses, with new and exciting job opportunities. But the prospects are not just material as young people are already responding to the attraction of doing things that are useful and worthwhile for humanity.
What advice would you give to a mate looking to start a career in this sector?
Go for it! This is a fast-growing sector with new opportunities across what amounts to more than 70% of the earth’s surface. Just take your pick!
Why is the blue economy so important in our lives?
Seas and oceans cover more than three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, provide more than half of the world’s oxygen, and host between 50-80% of all life forms on Earth. Fish caught from the oceans provide nutrition, livelihoods and food security for the inhabitants of coastal areas. It is considered an important driver of economic development, especially in developing countries.
What work-related achievement are you most proud of?
As President of Seychelles for twelve years, I had to deal with a wide range of challenges. Setting the economy on an even keel was not the least of these and I am proud of what I did. On reflection, though, the blue economy continues to dominate my thoughts and I take pride in what I was able to do to see it on its way.
Tell me about your book “Rethinking the Oceans: Towards the Blue Economy.”
My first book helped to put clarity on the concept of blue economy. My latest volume, “Revisiting the Ocean: Living the Blue Economy”, shows what has been done since then. There is still much more to do but I take a positive approach by pointing to innovative projects around the world and to some wonderful people – ocean champions – who are committed to further progress.
What inspired you to keep going?
Because there is still so much to do! The ocean is not only of economic value, but it is also incredibly beautiful. We are blessed by this wonderful gift of nature. So long as I can do something to take things forward I will. When I retired from politics I established the James Michel Foundation 2017, ensuring that I am still on the frontline of new developments in this field.
It is a non-profit organization and its activities stem from the experience and legacy of its founder’s presidency between April 2004 and October 2016. We are located on the main island of Mahé, within the Seychelles archipelago, and its domain of operations is within Seychelles and extends to other small island developing states and coastal communities around the world.
In the work we do, we acknowledge and endorse the pursuit of economic opportunities within the ocean and seas, but we are also extremely cognizant of the profound overexploitation and destruction of the marine resources, and general decline of the health of the ocean resulting from anthropogenic activities and climate change.
At the James Michel Foundation we deliver, for our fellow islanders, meaningful and impactful outcomes relating to climate mitigation, ocean conservation and sustainable development.
1. Promoting sustainable global economic growth in the blue economy sector through blue diplomacy, sustainable development and by supporting blue entrepreneurship.
2. Raising awareness and building capacity for the world to maintain and safeguard its marine environment.
3. Strengthening small island developing states’ and coastal communities’ ability to become climate resilient.
4. Building knowledge, skills and competencies for Seychellois with an interest for the blue economy.
5. Engaging the global community in activities related to ocean sustainability, ocean conservation and job prospects in the blue economy.
The Foundation that I have created will enable me to channel my efforts and aspirations for the good of all. I am eager to continue to work with young people, who are our future leaders. I am fascinated by the ingenuity of scientists and policy-makers who are responding to the great challenges we face with boundless skills and imagination. And I am enthusiastic to do all that I can in any role to advance the prospects of humanity.
Rethinking the Oceans: James Michel Journey Towards the Blue Economy in Seychelles