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Alexandra Ma / BusinessInsider.com
Updated February 23, 2018

This article originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.

The Seychelles is stepping up its efforts to protect dolphins, turtles and other rare marine creatures in exchange for $21 million of their national debt being paid off.

The island nation, located off east Africa, plans to create two huge marine parks totalling 81,000 square miles in exchange for the pay-off, which was covered by US charity The Nature Conservancy.

This debt-for-conservation agreement, signed on Wednesday, is the first of its kind, according to The Guardian.

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The Seychelles' sovereign debt currently stands at just under $500 million (£358 million), the Associated Press reported. This deal has therefore cut the national debt by around 4%.

The new marine parks will be built around the country's Aldabra and Amirantes island groups, which make up around 16% of Seychelles' waters, The Nature Conservancy said. The area is roughly as large as the whole of Great Britain.

The government plans to heavily restrict access for tourists and fishers and both zones. It hopes to complete the project by 2020.

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The Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to hundreds of thousands of rare giant tortoises, turtles, dolphins, manta rays.

They are also inhabited by dugongs, endangered Indian Ocean mammals known as "sea cows."

Seychelles Environment Minister Didier Dogley called the debt exchange plan "a great honour and privilege" in remarks reported by the Associated Press reported.

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The Seychelles, whose territory is 99% ocean, is dependent on tourism. Jobs in fishing and tourism make up just under half of the entire country's workforce, The Nature Conservancy said.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation contributed $1 million (£720,000) to the Seychelles debt deal, said the new project would help protect the species from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.

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