In the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region, overfishing, habitat degradation and the impacts of climate change continue to threaten marine species. Consequently, there is an urgent need for regional collaboration and transboundary management of economically important marine megafauna, crucial ecosystems and fish species. With that in mind, the ATSEA-2 Project recently held a series of workshops to better understand the current state, causes and implications of such issues on marine and coastal environments in the various littoral nations of the ATS.

In line with recommendations and the roadmap endorsed by the 4th Regional Steering Committee (RSC) meeting for the updating of the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) for the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region, an exposure draft of the updated TDA was prepared by Matthew Fox, who is the Regional TDA Specialist (consultant), and disseminated by the ATSEA-2 Regional Project Management Unit (RPMU) to the ATS countries (Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea [PNG] and Timor-Leste) for review. 

With inputs provided by National TDA Consultants, National Working Groups (NWGs)  and National Coordination Units (NCUs) in Indonesia, PNG and Timor-Leste, the Regional Working Group (RWG),  National Focal Points of the four ATS countries and the RPMU, the draft provided information and supporting evidence related to the three priority transboundary environmental issues, including pollution of marine and coastal environments; ecosystem, habitat and biodiversity decline; unsustainable capture fisheries; cross-cutting issues on climate change, gender equity and social inclusion; and marine and coastal governance in the ATS region.

National TDA validation workshops were held in a hybrid (online and offline) format in Indonesia and Timor-Leste on 29 November 2022, and in PNG on 30 November 2022 in order to elicit feedback from ATS countries on the updated TDA draft, specifically in relation to document structure and balance. Participants also helped to validate the accuracy of information on the three key transboundary issues and the subordinate fundamental concerns, while also offering additional inputs that can assist the TDA consultants in their process of refining the draft.

The country workshops were led by Yayan Hikmayani, Director of the Centre for Fisheries Research at the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) in Indonesia (ATSEA-2 National Project Director for Indonesia); Celestino Da Cunha Barreto, National Director for Marine Spatial Planning, Capture Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Timor-Leste (ATSEA-2 Operational Focal Point for Timor-Leste); and Noan Pakop, Deputy Managing Director of the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) of PNG (ATSEA-2 National Project Director for PNG). Representatives of the NWGs, the RWG, National TDA consultants and NCUs provided feedback on the draft TDA in advance and during the workshops.

Of 11 subordinate fundamental concerns, representatives in all three host countries agreed there was sufficient evidence to support a description of the following issues as transboundary in the TDA: oil spills; marine debris and plastic pollution; climate impacts on ecosystems, ecological communities and critical habitats; declining populations of Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species; and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF). Additional information was requested on transboundary elements of fundamental concern, namely Abandoned, Lost and Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG) and unsustainable fisheries.

Conversely, these representatives also decided there was insufficient evidence to support the inclusion of the following fundamental concerns as transboundary: land-based pollution and sedimentation; deterioration of critical ecosystems and habitats resulting from anthropogenic causes; fisheries bycatch; and fisheries impacts on habitats. These issues were shown to be largely localised in nature, with impacts often experienced within sovereign boundaries and limited evidence of impacts crossing international boundaries (as per the agreed definition of transboundary environmental issues).

Australia delivered written feedback instead of conducting a national validation workshop. The feedback came from Dr. Andrew Chek of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), as the ATSEA-2 National Focal Point. The TDA Specialist is currently preparing the second draft of the updated TDA, which will take the results of the validation exercise into consideration.

By Cristine Ingrid Narcise