By Shane Penny
Since independence in 2002, Timor-Leste has continued to juggle a sudden influx of income from natural energy resources and persistent wide spread poverty, whilst until recently, neglecting marine and coastal resource management and science. Timor-Leste lies within a hotspot area of marine biodiversity known as the Coral Triangle with reefs along the northern and eastern coasts of the country, as well as Ataúro Island. Coastal villages rely heavily on seafood from the nearby coral reefs for protein and as a source of material for construction and curios. The only assessments of marine and coastal habitats in Timor-Leste were a single FAO funded project (2002), Timor-Leste’s first Reef Check survey (conducted at Ataúro Island in 2004 by a Singaporen team), and a PhD project researching the management and use of coral reef resources by communities on Ataúro Island (2006).
Dr. Leo Dutra (CSIRO) and Shane Penny (Northern Territory Government) have been working on coral reef conservation projects in Timor-Leste since 2006. They are currently working collaboratively with the Timor-Leste Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and Charles Darwin University (CDU) on a program to support sustainable coastal and marine development and management through capacity-building and broad-scale marine habitat mapping. In 2007, Leo and Shane successfully trained 4 divers and 8 snorkelers from MAF in Reef Check methodologies, and in August 2008 they worked with the newly formed East Timorese Reef Check dive team in the establishment of their first monitoring site in Behau, 41 km East of Díli.
Timor-Leste is known by a small number of divers for its relatively pristine and readily accessible coral reefs. The first surveys by the new Timorese Reef Check team show no indication of obvious anthropogenic damage, bleaching or disease to the corals. However, their data do indicate an obvious lack of large predatory fish and macro invertebrates such as giant clams and crayfish. Members of the Reef Check team have recently published an article about the status of Timor-Leste coral reefs in the forthcoming report Status of Coral Reefs of the World – 2008.
Leo and Shane would like to congratulate the following divers and snorkelers for completing the Reef Check EcoDiver course: Mr. Carlos A. de Jesus, Mr. Anselmo L. Amaral, Mr. Celestino B. da Cunha, Mr. Wayne Lovell (Free Flow Diving), Mr. Narciso Carvalho, Mr. Constâncio S Silva, Mr. José Nunes, Mr. Lucas Fernandes, Mr. Benedito Trindade and Mr. José Monteiro.