In the first quarter of 2024, the ATSEA-2 Project held a series of national consultation workshops which aimed to promote the mainstreaming of key actions in the updated 10-year Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS), and supporting National Action Programmes (NAPs), into the work and budget frameworks of the countries and strategic partners in the region. SAP and NAP Mainstreaming Workshops were held in Dili, Timor-Leste on 1 February 2024, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on 5 February 2024 and in Bogor, Indonesia on 29 February 2024. 

Enthusiastic attendees at the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) and National Action Programme (NAP) Mainstreaming Workshop in Indonesia

Engaged a total of 111 participants (45 women, 66 men) from various government agencies, local governments, the academe, development partners, and the regional and national project teams, the workshops in three countries were organised by the ATSEA-2 Regional Project Management Unit (RPMU) in collaboration with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) of Indonesia, National Fisheries Authority (NFA) of Papua New Guinea, and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Forestry (MALFF) of Timor-Leste, and the respective ATSEA-2 National Coordination Units.

The ATS SAP 2024-2033 provides a common framework for the ATS countries to work together in addressing four priority transboundary environmental issues in the region as identified in the updated Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) completed in early 2023. These include marine plastic pollution including abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gears (ALDFG), oil spills, small-scale illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and decline in endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species and critical habitats. The SAP also identifies key actions for integrating climate change and gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) concerns in addressing the four priority issues, and operationalizing the regional governance mechanism (RGM) to support the implementation of the SAP and NAPs.

The SAP was endorsed by the 5th ATSEA-2 Regional Steering Committee (RSC) Meeting on 22 November 2023 along with the detailed arrangements, transition plan and financing plan for the long-term RGM that will support its implementation. A 5-year SAP financing plan has been prepared, which will be finalised considering inputs from the mainstreaming workshops.

Participants at the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) and National Action Programme (NAP) in Papua New Guinea

The workshops were opened by the ATSEA-2 National Project Directors.  Mr. Celestino Da Cunha Barreto, Director General of Fishery, Aquaculture and Marine Resources of MALFF highlighted the importance of the workshop results for the Ministerial Forum which will be hosted by Timor-Leste in 2024 Representing Indonesia, Yayan Hikmayani, Head of the Centre for Fisheries Research of MMAF, expressed appreciation for how the SAP and NAP were developed in support of national priorities. While Leban Gisawa, Deputy Managing Director for Corporate Services of NFA of Papua New Guinea, reaffirmed NFA’s support for ATSEA and the workshop objective to align the SAP and NAP with the national programs implemented by relevant national agencies. 

The opening of the workshop in Timor-Leste was also graced by H.E. Mr. Marcus da Cruz, the Minister of MALFF. “The Government of Timor-Leste has laid out its priorities and the challenges we face. It is our expectation that government partners will internalise these priorities within our government programs for joint implementation. This includes a focus on marine biodiversity conservation, marine tourism, and other areas crucial to the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) and National Action Programmes (NAP) for ATSEA.”

In the three workshops, Dr Handoko Adi Susanto, the ATSEA-2 Regional Project Manager, provided updates on the development of the ATSEA governance system and benefits from the ATSEA collaboration. He highlighted ATSEA’s role as the sole regional framework encompassing various environmental issues across the ATS region, involving the four littoral countries. “ATSEA stands out as the key regional platform for addressing diverse issues across the ATS region marking a significant step in our collaborative efforts,” Dr Susanto stated.

Maria Corazon Ebarvia, ATSEA-2 Financial Consultant, presents an insightful presentation on the SAP Financing Plan

In addition, Maria Corazon Ebarvia, ATSEA-2 Financial Consultant, presented the draft SAP Financing Plan including the estimated cost of implementing the SAP and the different financing options, while national consultants presented each country’s NAP and accompanying financing plans. Representatives from key agencies in each country also delivered presentations that provided an overview of national policies and priorities for sustainable marine/coastal and blue economy development, and sectoral priorities and programs relevant to the priority issues in the SAP. 

With this information, the workshops discussed key actions from the SAP especially in the first two years after the conclusion of the ATSEA-2 Project in December 2024, and identified relevant activities in the NAPs and other existing or planned country and development partner programs and funding sources that can support their implementation. Participants also agreed on key steps to facilitate the mainstreaming of priority actions into the countries and partners’ work programs. Continuing in this vein, similar consultations are underway with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water (DCCEEW), ATSEA-2’s national focal agency in Australia.

 These discussions are critical to the broader aim of formalising the SAP, NAPs, RGM, and their financing plans for implementation through a Ministerial Declaration to be signed at the Ministerial Forum in Timor-Leste in August 2024. This momentous occasion will mark the beginning of the transition from the donor-supported ATSEA-2 project to a sustainable regional governance mechanism, dedicated to realising the shared vision of “A healthy, resilient, and productive ATS that supports human wellbeing and nature,” and ensuring the long-term conservation and productivity of the Arafura and Timor Seas.

By Ingrid Narcise