In the tiny archipelago of just over 100 islands, where half the land is already protected, rising seas, storms, pollution and fishing were harming the coast and nearby reefs. Fishermen using hand-held lines to snag grouper and snapper began noticing that fish they caught for their families and sold to tourists were getting smaller. The commercial fishing industry, facing troubled reefs, started heading out to sea to catch more and bigger species. Some ran into pirates, which drove them back toward land, increasing the fishing pressure near shore.
"Coral reefs are our first physical protection from the ocean," says Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador to the United Nations. And in Seychelles, now, "they're under strain."
With about 1,000 species of marine fish—400 of them around their reefs—the government wanted a solution but it had no money to address the rising threats. In fact, the government was deep in debt.
That's when Rob Weary stepped in. The Nature Conservancy financial guru has been finding ways to use the creative wizardry of Wall Street—where debt is bought and sold like other commodities—to champion nature. He asked Jumeau if he could investigate a "debt-swap."
That complicated financial transaction would allow The Nature Conservancy to work with the holders of the country's debt to restructure payments on about $30 million. Through loans and grants, The Nature Conservancy would create a fund that the Seychelles government could use for conservation. A governing trust would manage the account.