On 4 May 2022, the GEF/UNDP/PEMSEA ATSEA-2 Project collaborated with a prominent local conservation organisation called ‘The Hadomi Ambiente Youth Group’ in Com Village, Lautem Municipality. Together, they facilitated a focus group discussion (FGD) in relation to turtle conservation for the region. Members of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and representatives of Conservation International (CI) as stakeholders, along with other local authorities and members of the community, gathered together to identify what activities these volunteers could engage in to protect local turtle populations.

The FGD was attended by 37 participants (comprising nine women and 28 men). At the discussion, CI outlined previous turtle protection projects that have been delivered with the help of volunteer groups; in addition, local authorities shared their views on the issue, while UNDP gave their support to the plan.

Based on these discussions, all parties agreed to create an integrated action plan, coordinated by ATSEA-2 and the MAF, which would help to write a new chapter in the history of turtle conservation for the region.

Back in 2009, the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries conducted marine megafauna surveys in Nino Konis Santana National Park to identify opportunities for potential ecotourism. The research identified a high number of sea turtle nesting sites on the coast of Timor-Leste, particularly within the Nino Konis Santana National Park. Although this discovery presented significant opportunities for income through community-based turtle ecotourism and conservation activities, the majority of Timor-Leste’s population, especially those living in coastal areas, continued to hunt turtles for their meat. This was according to Mr. Antonio’s (former Tutuala Village Head), who was speaking at the FGD on 4 May. According to Mr. Antonio, to this day, even the animals of Nino Konis Santana National Park (NKS NP) are not safe from the problem of poaching.

Mr. Alcaterio, one of the CI staff in Lautem added that a village called Muapitin, which is located within the NKS NP, was in need of special attention, as the hunting of turtles is particularly commonplace there. In addition, one of the FGD participants pointed out that around 50 turtles each week are currently being killed for consumption in this region. Therefore, to protect all turtles in the MPAs and NPs of Timor-Leste, local authorities and relevant stakeholders, including the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, have committed to tighter enforcement among populations living in marine coastal areas.

Following the FGD event, ATSEA-2 committed to observing the situation in an advisory capacity, to support the volunteer groups and communities with whatever they need to support turtle conservation in their respective areas. ATSEA-2 is collaborating particularly closely with a volunteer group of turtle protectors in the NKS NP of Lautem Municipality, and encouraging them to voice their opinions and updates through subsequent FGDS. It is hoped that their shared experiences will encourage others to follow the same path. For the time being, ATSEA-2 will support them on their journey with capacity building, education and communications support.

(By Vitalina Dos Santos)