Conservation International and Timor-Leste Partner on Whale, Dolphin and Dugong Watching Guidelines to Benefit Marine Life and Coastal Communities

June 23, 2020

Arlington, Va. (June 23, 2020) – Conservation International and the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries have partnered to establish safety guidelines for the commercial and recreational watching of whales, dolphins and dugongs. The guidelines were developed to help to ensure the health and safety of more than 26 marine species and their protected habitats while encouraging sustainable tourism practices that will benefit  local communities.

If followed effectively, the guidelines will provide for a sustainable and perpetual income source for coastal Timor-Leste communities while also protecting against the harvesting of whales, dolphins and dugongs in the region.

“These guidelines are paramount because the whale, dolphin, and dugong watching industry taking place in our country is essential to our economy. Therefore we need to ensure that this activity is conducted in the best way possible so as not negatively impact the wildlife in our ocean,” said Manuel Mendes, Country Director of Conservation International Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste is home to a diverse and plentiful number of whales, dolphins and dugongs for watching. It hosts some of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet, making them a prime location for well-established eco-tourism protections.

The guidelines will help tourists, commercial and recreational operators avoid harmful interaction or disruption of the species’ normal movements as much as possible. For example, licensed operators are encouraged to approach whales, dolphins and dugongs from the side and slightly to the rear rather than head-on or directly-behind. Driving too close could result in physical damage to humans, animals and vessels from a collision and negative ecological impacts from changes in normal behavior of the animals.

The guidelines also establish that motorboats, yachts aircraft and helicopters are permitted to partake in whale watching activities but prohibit vessels include jet skis, parasailing boats, hovercraft, wind surfers and kite surfers.

Finally, areas designated for marine life will be off limits. Commercial operators must abide by closed seasons, “no go” areas and “no approach” times for whale, dolphin and dugong populations. These restrictions help ensure Timor-Leste will remain a permanent habitat for breeding, feeding and migration.

Commercial operators will also be responsible for monitoring marine life populations and reporting back to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. This commitment will help with monitoring the effectiveness of sustainability requirements.

Proper licensing, inspection and training will be required under the guidelines. Commercial operators, vessels and tour guides must be properly registered with the Timor-Leste government. Vessels must be regularly inspected and operators must undergo safety training for maritime and in-water activities.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is keen to collaborate with all parties, as we’re all working towards the same goal and that goal is to improve the health and productivity of our oceans,” said Pedro dos Reis, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for Timor-Leste.

These guidelines are the latest effort from Conservation International-Timor-Leste to contribute to a sustainable tourism industry. Previously, a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was formed on the island of Atauro to aid local communities with sustainable income from diving tourism of nearby reefs. Also, a partnership with Zero Mass Water has brought access to renewable freshwater via the use of solar-powered hydropanels to local communities.

Use of the guidelines will likely not take full effect until the global coronavirus outbreak passes. Tourists are currently banned from the country due to the State of Emergency declared by the Timor-Leste government through June 27.

About Conservation International

Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature. Conservation International works  in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation NewsFacebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube.