Small island states today face a myriad of challenges, from sea-level rise to ocean acidification and beyond. But current Seychelles President Danny Faure and former Seychelles President James Michel believe that island nations can play a key leadership role in protecting the health and sustainability of our oceans.
Presidents Faure and Michel have worked for years to position the Seychelles at the forefront of ocean leadership. Today, the Seychelles is an example to the world, having committed to protect 30% of their waters and establishing “The Blue Economy,” a system that promotes the sustainable use of the ocean’s resources for economic growth, improves jobs and the livelihoods of those with ocean-related work, and helps preserve the health of ocean ecosystems and coastal areas. Not only have these two individuals impacted policies throughout the world, they’ve also been paramount in the creation of a generation of ecologically conscious youth, whom they think will be key in solving this global issue.
In recognition of their accomplishments, the National Geographic Society honored President Faure and former President Michel as co-recipients of the 2019 Planetary Leadership Award at the National Geographic Explorers Festival this June. The National Geographic Planetary Leadership Award recognizes a world leader who has successfully established globally significant protected areas. Progress like this is essential to protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 — a key target that the National Geographic Society is supporting as part of the Campaign for Nature.
To tell the story of how one small island nation and two bold individuals are reshaping the conversation about protecting our seas, National Geographic sent photographer Robin Hammond on assignment to the Seychelles. Hammond’s intimate portraiture has told countless complex stories and graced the cover of National Geographic magazine. His work, shown in the video below, simultaneously captures the beauty of the Seychelles, the dedication of its people and the urgency of a growing world issue.
Former President Michel also sat with Hammond to talk about his vision of a planet in balance and why empowering a new generation is essential in shaping our world.
Robin Hammond: So in the Seychelles, environment is central to the economy. What might you say to other world leaders who don’t, or for some reason can’t, prioritize the environment?
President Michel: We can have a balance where you can have development, and at the same time, you can use that development to ensure that your environment is protected. In this way, you have a balance to ensure the survival of not only your country, but the planet as a whole. So I think it is a responsibility of every political leader in the world to work toward the preservation of our ecosystem, the preservation of the oceans, preservation of the land and preservation of the planet. We don’t have much time. Time is running out. So, we all have to work together, and fast, to ensure that we have a planet that will ensure that.
What, for you, is a planet in balance?
To me a planet in balance would be that the human race, which is the main consumer of our planet’s resources — this consumption by the human race is used in a sustainable way. We do not exploit these resources in a way that they cannot regenerate themselves. As long as there is regeneration, as long as there is reproduction, then we ensure that all living things continue to regenerate, continue to exist. This will ensure that the human race, together with the other living things on the planet, can survive and live in harmony. What we need is a harmonious existence of all living things on the planet Earth.
Let’s talk about empowering a generation of planetary stewards. Do you think that’s what you are doing here in the Seychelles?
Personally, this is what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. Trying to sensitize my country and the world to protect the planet. Today I’m proud to see that not only children but young people and other people, as well, involved in policy making, have understood the message. And today they are working toward becoming planetary stewards. And I think we have a generation coming up now among the young people, the school children, through the curriculum at school learning about it. This is something very positive, and I think it is the way forward, to empower young generations to become a generation of planetary stewards.