On 21 and 22 November 2023, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) hosted the 5th Regional Steering Committee (RSC) Meeting for the Arafura-Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase II (ATSEA-2) Project. The meeting represented a collaborative effort to engender sustainable practices and strengthen marine and fisheries governance in the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region.

Antam Novambar, Secretary General of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries

Antam Novambar, Secretary General of the MMAF, provided a timely reminder of the wider objectives of the RSC, stating that “this meeting underscores our shared dedication to safeguarding the marine resources of the ATS region and ensuring the governance of fisheries remains sustainable.”

Collaboration among ATS member countries is crucial to strengthening governance and achieving sustainable development. The 5th RSC meeting provided a valuable opportunity to review progress and address challenges, while also endorsing a number of key documents that will provide a roadmap for long-term collaboration among the four littoral countries of the ATS region; Indonesia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Timor-Leste and Australia.

Participants at the meeting discussed the establishment of a long-term, program-based, country-led Regional Governance Mechanism (RGM). The 5th RSC provided its endorsement for the Transition Plan that forms part of the RGM, along with the Investment and Financial Strategy and Plan for the ATS RGM. This comprehensive plan includes commitments made by respective countries to support the bridging phase, marking a pivotal step towards the effective implementation of the RGM.

Dr I Nyoman Radiarta, Chairperson of the Agency for Marine and Fisheries Extension and Human Resources in Indonesia, gave his appreciation to the ATSEA-2 Project: “the project collaborates with the government at national and provincial levels, focusing on developing an Early Warning System (EWS) for disasters in Rote Ndao, supporting the management of marine protected areas in Aru and establishing new MPA. Gender mainstreaming is a key consideration in all our efforts.”

Formal endorsement was secured for the final draft of the Strategic Action Program (SAP) 2024-2033, connected with the Updated ATS SAP and National Action Programs (NAPs). Aimee Gonzales, Executive Director of PEMSEA, noted: “The collective endorsement of the regional SAP for the ATS by the four countries is a critical step towards the formal establishment of a regional ATSEA program.”

Dr Handoko Adi Susanto, ATSEA-2 Regional Project Manager, noted that the RSC meeting provides a crucial forum for evaluating the ATSEA-2 Project’s progress in 2023, while also shaping its plans for 2024. “Our primary objectives include gaining consensus on the RGM and its operationalisation, alongside finalising the RGM financial plan,” said Dr Susanto. “The ATSEA-2 Project aims to establish a unified vision for the SAP, charting a course for the ATS region’s sustainable development through the responsible management of marine-coastal ecosystems,” he added.

The 5th Regional Sterring Committee Participants

As per Dr Susanto’s expectation, the 5th RSC successfully gathered endorsements, inputs and recommendations on each topic that was discussed. Additionally, the RGM Terms of Reference and the Transition Plan were endorsed, along with the final draft SAP (2024-2033) and a roadmap for its implementation in alignment with national priorities.

Moreover, commitments from Indonesia, PNG and Timor-Leste were secured for the Investment and Financial Strategy and Plan for the ATS RGM. These countries also agreed to facilitate the desk-to-desk signing of the SAP by their respective ministries, underscoring their support for the financial aspects integral to the success of the SAP.

The event appointed Dr Hendra Yusran Siry as the chair and Acacio Guterres as the co-chair. Delegates from Timor-Leste, PNG, Australia and Indonesia actively contributed valuable insights, reflecting the collaborative spirit of ATS member countries. The RSC acknowledged actions taken based on recommendations from the 4th RSC Meeting and Intersessional Meeting. Recognition was given to Australia for hosting the Regional Senior Government Officials Meeting and to Timor-Leste for hosting the Ministerial Forum in 2024. Various initiatives from Australia and Indonesia’s consultation process for ATSEA membership were acknowledged.

Another key development from the 5th RSC Meeting was that Indonesia, PNG and Timor-Leste all demonstrated their support for the Project Identification Form (PIF) submission to the GEF Council. This commitment signals a united effort among these countries to ensure the timely progression of the ATSEA-3 project, reflecting a shared dedication to the objectives of the larger initiative.

Looking ahead, the 2024 East Asian Seas (EAS) Congress in Xiamen, China, presents an opportunity to introduce the ATSEA Program to a broader audience. Indonesia is confirmed as the host of the 6th and final RSC Meeting in Bali, November 2024, marking the next key milestone in the ATSEA-2 Project journey.

By Stella Yovita Arya Puteri