The beautiful white sand beach at the coastal village of Com, within the Nino Konis Santana National Park in Lautem Municipality, is recognised as an important nesting site for hawksbill turtles. However, the decline of sea turtle populations threatens the sustainability of community-based ecotourism. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), ATSEA-2 seeks to reduce threats to sea turtles and explore ways in which tourism can contribute to their conservation.

There are five recorded species of marine turtles in Timor-Leste; hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), and olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). In 2009, the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) conducted marine megafauna surveys in Nino Konis Santana National Park to identify opportunities for potential ecotourism. The research has identified a high number of sea turtle nesting sites on the coast of Timor-Leste, particularly within the Nino Konis Santana National Park. As such, there are significant opportunities to generate local income and livelihoods through community-based turtle ecotourism and conservation activities.

The State Secretary of Fisheries released sea turtle hatchlings at Com Village in Nino Konis Santana National Park. Image credit: UNDP Timor-Leste
Almerindo Oliviera Da Silva, who is the National Project Coordinator for the ATSEA-2 National Coordination Unit (NCU) of Timor-Leste, introducing the ATSEA-2 Programme to the conservation groups in Com Village. Image credit: UNDP Timor-Leste

On 18 August 2021, the government of Timor-Leste, through the Fishery Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), organised the release of 450 sea turtle hatchlings at Com Village in Nino Konis Santana National Park to promote community-based ecotourism. Turtle tourism in Lautem Municipality, particularly the establishment of turtle hatcheries, has great potential to create alternative livelihoods and shift local villages from illegally harvesting turtles to generating income from ecotourism. As most tourists love to admire the view of the white sandy beach, turtle tourism can provide a unique opportunity for visitors to witness sea turtles nesting in a controlled setting.

Mr. Elidio de Araujo, who is State Secretary of Fisheries, encouraged the existing community groups to be actively involved in protecting the sea turtle population in Com Village. With the support of the ATSEA-2 Programme, the government is committed to providing capacity building and proper hatchery facilities on the nesting beach at Com Village.

This event was aimed at promoting the significance of protecting the populations of sea turtles as part of a larger conservation effort and contribution to ecotourism. UNDP Timor-Leste, as the ATSEA-2 National Coordination Unit (NCU), attended the event and initiated a group discussion with the marine conservation groups in Nino Konis Santana National Park. The MAF also assigned one coastal guard to monitor the sea turtle nesting beach in Com Village on a daily basis.

Since its inception in 2019, the ATSEA-2 Programme has been working to improve the quality of life of people in the ATS region through a combination of restoration, conservation and sustainable management of marine-coastal ecosystems. In Timor-Leste’s Lautem Municipality, the GEF/UNDP/PEMSEA ATSEA-2 Programme focuses on strengthening Nino Konis Santana MPA management, supporting a locally managed marine area in the adjacent waters and promoting alternative livelihoods for local people.

(Almerindo Oliveira Da Silva)