A meeting at the MAF office, held shortly after the ATSEA-2 team’s arrival

The clock had just struck half past six in the morning in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, when four staff of the Regional Project Management Unit team arrived for a visit. Since the last time they were here, in early 2020, Covid-19 had caused the world to shut down. Therefore, the visit to Timor-Leste was a happy and long-awaited reunion for the regional and national project teams, and a chance for many to meet face-to-face for the very first time.

A meeting at the Universidade Nacional de Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL)

The occasion provided an opportunity for most of the regional team members to meet with country partners, such as colleagues from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and Universidade Nacional de Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL), with whom ATSEA-2 has been working closely (albeit remotely) over the past two years. There was little time for pleasantries, as the teams had to prepare for site visits the following morning, accompanied by the Director General of Fisheries and his team.

Mr. Patricio Vilanju, a member of the Com Village conservation group
A meeting with the CTC team

The first site the team visited was Com Village in Lautem Municipality, situated within Nino Konis Santana (NKS) National Park; the first national park in Timor-Leste, which was established in 2007. Upon arrival, the team met up with community conservation group members, who shared their passion for saving sea turtles. “We would like to learn how to better protect the turtles, either by building a pond for the hatchlings or fences to protect the nests,” said Mr. Patricio Vilanju, a member of the conservation group. The group has been working to save turtles from poachers and predators by moving the eggs somewhere safe and then guarding them until they hatch; sea turtles are on the brink of extinction, due to illegal take and predation. Protecting them will be good for the turtles and the community, as turtles can be a valuable tourist attraction.

“I hope ATSEA-2 will facilitate the capacity building of Com community group, (so) they can learn how to conserve sea turtles from the already established group in Perancak, Bali,” said the Director General of Fisheries Acacio Guterres.

In the evening, the team met with the Coral Triangle Centre (CTC) team. CTC is contracted by ATSEA-2 to support the improvement of management effectiveness in NKS National Park and facilitate the creation of a new MPA, spanning from Betano to Clacuc in Manufahi municipality.

CTC team surveying the coral cover in Manufahi waters
Welcoming ceremony at Uma Boco Village

Earlier that day, the CTC team was also accompanied by a group from the MAF, who had just conducted a public consultation with Manufahi local government. They shared their findings from the underwater survey conducted in March 2022, demonstrating the beauty and richness of the southern coast of Timor-Leste.

“The six areas of interest we surveyed show good live coral cover, with an average of 50% (coverage),” explained Mr. Marthen Welly, CTC’s Marine Conservation Advisor. “The areas also have relatively high fish biomass, especially from snappers,” he added.

Mr. Bernardo de Jesus Pereira Belo, site mobiliser for Manufahi

The following day, the team moved to their second destination: Uma Boco Village, in the Barique Administrative Post of Manatuto Municipality. The team was welcomed by community members, including a women’s cooperative and students from UNTL, who were conducting a community service programme. Barique has been selected as a pilot site for the implementation of Integrated Coastal Management (ICM). In January 2022, this commitment was strengthened by a community declaration in support of the ICM plan and the launching of a women-led cooperative, named Tok Derek, which took place in June.

Riding to a coconut tree planting site with UNTL students
Ms. Maria da Gloria Mendes, president of the Tok Derek cooperative
Mr. Arantes Isaac Sarmento, Head of Manufahi Municipality

“We would like to learn more about conservation and ecotourism, so that protecting nature can also bring economic benefits to the community,” said Ms. Maria da Gloria Mendes, the President of Tok Derek. Some representatives from the team and community members then planted coconut seeds to symbolise the joint commitment they have made to conserve the coastal environment. ATSEA-2 will facilitate another training session on financial accountability and management in the upcoming weeks.

The following day, the team met with the head of Manufahi Municipality, Mr. Arantes Isaac Sarmento, along with some local government staff and community members, including fishers. ATSEA-2 plans to support the establishment of a new MPA in Betano to Clacuc, Manufahi. This initiative was warmly welcomed by the government. “We are committed to supporting the new MPA establishment,” said Mr. Sarmento. “Establishing an MPA will protect this important area and in the long run will bring benefits to the community,” he added.

In Timor-Leste, the ATSEA-2 Project will continue to work with coastal communities and local governments in five municipalities, namely Lautem, Manatuto, Viqueque, Manufahi and Covalima, to address transboundary environmental problems and improve the well-being of coastal communities.

(By Casandra Tania)