By: Kara Norton
Angelique Pouponneau held her head high as she prepared to take the global stage at the United Nations. On World Oceans Day 2019, Angelique was representing the blue economy of the Seychelles. At just 29 years old, Angelique believes she is an example of what happens when you give Seychellois women, particularly young women opportunities: you create the possibility of driving significant change.
In 2014, less than 0.02 percent of the Seychelles’ coastal natural resources were protected. The island nation comprises 115 islands and boasts the largest shallow tropical marine ecosystem in the region. The country’s Outer Islands have been heralded as landmarks of biodiversity, containing seemingly untouched habitats where mega fauna thrives. In the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean”, sharks hold court over coral atolls, while tropical parrotfish, humphead wrasses, rockfish, groupers, and triggerfish glide between the nutrient rich open sea and safety of coral lagoons. Although wildlife reigns supreme in this region, humans have left an indelible mark as plastic debris litters the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s
With less than one percent of the country’s precious marine resources protected, Angelique decided to take action. In 2015 she co-founded the Seychelles chapter of the Small Island Development States (SIDS) Youth Hub, that mobilizes young people to advance sustainable development through youth-led projects. In just four years, the Seychelles government has been motivated to protect 26 percent of the country’s 1.3 million square miles of coastal resources, and enact a ban on single use plastic bags, straws and cutleries.
“In 2015, I was working as a commercial lawyer by day and youth environmental activist by night,” Pouponneau said. “I decided I wanted to marry my profession and my passion for the marine environment. I’ve been snorkeling in areas that used to look like an underwater rainforest and returned two or three years later and it was like a graveyard. My lifetime is not a long one, yet I’ve experienced too many changes to the natural marine environment that has affected the people of Seychelles,” she said.
According to Pouponneau, a thriving ocean ecosystem is essential to the future of the Seychelles. “The marine environment provides us with our food, it provides us with livelihoods for our population, it is the driver of our economy that is significantly dependent on fisheries and tourism and for the local population, and it is a place for recreation. It seems difficult to imagine the existence of a Seychelles without the ocean.”
Mission Blue has been a staunch advocate of this highly productive region, naming the Outer Seychelles a Hope Spot in early 2014. Hope Spots serve as beacons in the ocean ecosystem for a number of reasons: these spots attract an abundance of species, provide habitat to keystone species, and draw public attention to a significant cultural or economic aspect of a coastal community.
“National Government Organization’s like Mission Blue have tremendous expertise and convening power,” Pouponneau said. “With the advocacy expertise that Mission Blue has, they help ensure that the commitment of the Government of Seychelles is upheld by ensuring that people understand the importance of marine protected areas on a long-term basis. This will be critical to sustaining the protected areas system, in particular for SIDS, that have limited resources to put towards the huge task of enforcement. We have the quantity, but we need to ensure the quality.”
Since 2015, Pouponneau has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for young Seychellois to play an active role in the country’s blue future. She was named CEO of the Seychelles Conservation & Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), and manages a public-private trust fund, established through the Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust of Seychelles Act of 2015.
“Angelique is actively empowering and building the capacity of young people to be effective sustainable development advocates and change-makers,” said UN World Oceans Day moderator Mariasole Bianco. “She is now leading one of the world’s most innovative financing approaches for conservation.”
With the focus on “Gender and the Ocean” at this year’s World Oceans Day, Angelique felt particularly motivated to share her story. “What attracted me about speaking at the United Nations was the opportunity to share my experience as a young woman responsible for a multi-million-dollar fund,” Pouponneau said. “I tried to show with my speech that women identify problems or challenges, and we set out to fix them so that there are improvements for people daily. It’s my first year in this organization and I’ve made inclusion and accessibility my number one priority.”