ADB Team Visits Fishing Village in Timor-Leste to establish Marine Protected AreasConfiguration
Timor-Leste’s coastal marine ecosystems, like those of other countries in the Coral Triangle, suffer from overfishing. Climate change is likely to increase the pressure on these ecosystems. In response, the Government of Timor-Leste has decided to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) and a climate change information center, and these were included in the government’s National Plan of Action under the Coral Triangle Initiative.
ADB is providing support to these activities through technical assistance. As part of this assistance, an ADB team visited Timor-Leste on 22-31 May 2013 to conduct a rapid assessment of two prospective MPA sites, Batugade and Atauro. The team met community leaders, themselves fishers, who described the problem.
“There are just too many fishers these days,” says Sr. Joao Pereira, village leader of Batugade, a coastal village within Balibo Sub District in Bobonaro, 149 kilometers (km) northwest of the country’s capital of Dili. “When I was younger, just 2-3 hours of fishing using cast nets could yield 20 kilos of fish. We used to say that it is the fish that is looking for fishers. Not anymore. We have to go farther out to sea, spend on petrol for the motor boat but still we don’t catch the same amount as we used to.”
The overfishing problem is the same on Atauro Island, located 25 km north of Dili. Fish are the villagers’ main protein source and fishing is the primary source of income for most. Fishers in Batugade often engage in agricultural activities, such as farming or livestock raising.
Almost all fishers from Atauro and Batugade are subsistence fishers who use simple fishing gears, such as spears, hand lines, fish traps, cast nets, and gill nets. Most of them use small dugout canoes or paddle boats, allowing them to exploit only the near-shore fishing grounds.
Both communities want an MPA but have limited knowledge of what it entails. Sr. Joao explains: “We need to protect our coral reefs and set aside “no take zones” just like the traditional Tara Bandu so that our fish catch can improve and we need the help of the government to do it.” The coral reef areas set aside for an MPA in Batugade are traditionally regarded as no fishing zones to prevent damaging the reefs and their fishing gear. Despite this, fish are still scarce in the area mainly due to encroachment.
Sr. Romeo Cairo Moises, head of the MPA establishment committee in Batugade, hopes that once the MPA there is established, encroachment of fishers from across the Indonesian border into the community’s coral reef areas will stop and that Batugade’s fishing grounds will recover.
Atauro fishers also hope an MPA will improve the fish catch. “If we do not protect the fishing grounds now, we might not have fish to eat in the future,” says Sr. Augusto Barbosa, leader of the village where the MPA is to be located. They know that destructive fishing practices, like using herbal fish poison and destroying the corals while fishing (by breaking or displacing them) need to be stopped. He added: “We need help to tell people about their role in protecting the coastal area, to demarcate the site and to declare it as a no take zone.” Atauro has good potential for ecotourism to supplement the income of the communities that in the short term might be affected by the fishing restriction within the MPA boundaries.
The assessment team found the sites to be good candidates for protection. There is strong political will both nationally and locally and a strong community spirit. The areas being considered have good potential to support the diverse coastal and marine ecosystems, which are presently at risk from population pressure and climate change.
Protection of these ecosystems is crucial to food security and overall well-being of the two fishing communities. The technical assistance from ADB can help address such issues as beach erosion, solid waste, mangrove deforestation, and coral reef degradation, and create a model from which other coastal communities in the country can learn. Partnership with the fishing communities is expected to lead to the elimination of unsustainable and destructive fishing practices to help ensure that there will always be fish on the table for Timor-Leste families.
(With contributions from Aleixo Amaral and Lea Tamayo)