The South Coast municipalities of Viqueque, Manatuto, Manufahi and Covalima have recently become aware of the threats posed by marine debris washed ashore by strong currents and storm surges. Abandoned fish nets, floats and pieces and fragments of polypropylene rope often wash ashore or interfere with fishing activities. The plastic fragments break down into microplastic particles which can affect the survival of larval and juvenile fish and reduce fish catches. 

A recent UNDP study on climate change impact found that the south coast to be the most vulnerable area in the country due to high rates of erosion, loss of mangrove habitat, destruction of coral reefs and other benthic habitats for fish and other invertebrates including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, clams and mussels.

The present study is part of the GEF/UNDP Implementation of the Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Approach Program (ATSEA-2). The study aims to identify the types and sources of marine pollution originating from the land or the sea. Much of the marine debris found on the beaches comes from the sea and from transboundary waters and boats fishing illegally in the territorial waters of Timor Leste.

The field survey of the south shore municipalities is led by Directorate General of Fisheries technical staff with the support of Dr. Abilio Fonseca, a UNDP Consultant and in collaboration with the community leaders.

Mr. Acacio Guterres, the Director General of Fisheries attended one of the survey workshops in Barique, Manatuto on 22 August 2020 and delivered a key message. He noted that, each project site has different targets, for example, activities in Lautem will focus on income diversification within the area of Nino Konis Santana Marine Protected Areas; while, in Viqueque will focus on developing of Ecosystem Approach for Fisheries Management (EAFM) plan for Red Snapper targeted fisheries, Barique will apply Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) initiatives and in Manufahi will concentrate on new Marine Protected Areas (MPA) establishment and finally, in Covalima will focus more on management actions to prevent oil spills and to minimize damages if one occurs.

He noted that communities need to work more closely with local leaders and government officials to share efforts and responsibilities to achieve collective objectives to clean beaches. As we experienced, many big fishes have been trapped by fish nets, including turtles, we need to reduce and halt these debris that reduce marine biodiversity. He added that marine pollution and its impacts need to be monitored carefully and continuously.

The Marine Pollution Survey will continue until April 2021, with the aim to increase awareness of the threat of marine pollution and action to remove debris from the beaches in the south coast, which will make it a first will make this issue part of the national activity for the first time.