Establishing a functioning, well-managed national protected area network is key to nature-based development in Timor-Leste. Here, communities depend heavily on their natural resources. In fact, over eighty percent of livelihoods in Timor-Leste are linked to agriculture, fisheries, and forestry. Yet the environment that underpins these sectors is typically poorly managed, and as a result, increasingly degraded.
By providing the tools and building capacity in-country, our collective goal is to embed sustainability into the development pathway of the nation. Our team is focused on sharing innovative science and expertise, developing policy, and providing livelihood opportunities to indigenous communities to ensure the protected areas have long term success.
Over the past 10 years, Conservation International has worked directly with the government and communities to put the building blocks in place to create a national protected area system.
Our first project site was in Timor-Leste's first national park, Nino-Konis Santana National Park, and since – upon invitation of the government, we’ve expanded our work across the country to all of the protected areas – both nationally and community managed, marine and terrestrial.
Our approach is to assist the communities to implement their traditional law, called 'tara bandu', and through this create protected areas that improve marine and forest health, improve fish stocks, agricultural practices, and biocarbon storage. This has led to an increase in the number of protected areas in the country from just 13 to over 60 across marine and terrestrial habitats.
We have also facilitated and promoted the establishment of networks of protected areas to drive unification and greater benefits locally. Most recently we worked with the communities of Atauro Island to establish the nation's first marine protected area network. The network also set up a fee for access model with dive organizations – marking the first time a group of communities will generate income from their commitments to conservation.
By providing the tools and building capacity in-country, our collective goal is to embed sustainability into the development pathway of the nation. Our team is focused on sharing innovative science and expertise, developing policy, and providing livelihood opportunities to indigenous communities to ensure the protected areas’ long-term success.
Encouraging local stewardship
To provide support for protected areas, we work closely with local communities to build capacity for conservation work. This falls in line with our goal of co-management, wherein bottom-up and top-down initiatives go hand-in-hand to create sustainable development. We do so by recognizing local customary law applied to forest lands and supporting sustainable dependence on forest resources for livelihoods.
Enforce legal protection
Due to gaps in expertise and legislation, all Protected Areas have yet to be actively managed. Conservation International works closely with the government to forge the proper laws for these Protected Areas, ensure accurate demarcation of the boundaries, and establish Management Committees to oversee the newly created Management Plans. That way, natural capital can be preserved to support upcoming generations.
Generate scientific knowledge
Alongside the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for the Environment, we connect scientists and institutions to contribute knowledge on a national scale. We also employ Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to conduct biodiversity assessments to fill in knowledge gaps on unexplored natural spaces that aid in prioritizing key areas for protection.
By the numbers
123,000 hectares under improved management
We have worked to establish improved management and community-government co-management of 123,000 hectares (304,000 acres) spanning both land and sea in Timor-Leste’s Nino Konis Santana National Park.
Nino Konis Santana National Park
Conservation International is working to improve the management of the nation's first national park, Nino Konis Santana National Park. Renowned for its biodiversity it holds rare and endemic birds, geckos, botanicals, and ancient cave paintings over 20,000
years old. Over 123,000 hectares of land and sea the park encompasses three protected areas: The total area of Jaco Island and rocks, reefs and other features of the soil and surrounding it, Tutala Beach and adjacent forest and Lore Forest Reserve.
The park is collaboratively managed by the communities and the Timor-Leste government in a co-management model that is recognized by both legislative and traditional law.
Conservation International began working in Atauro in 2015 to set up a system of protected marine areas. These were formed into the first Marine Protected Area Network in Timor-Leste in 2019, and have formed the basis for a nation-wide Network.
To understand the natural values, we carried out a marine biodiversity survey that documented the highest average number of reef fish per site in the world, garnering global attention. It is increasingly known for holding some of the most remote and pristine dive and snorkeling sites in South East Asia.
In this time we have worked closely with communities to implement traditional law and to establish twelve marine protected areas around the island. Fish have quickly returned around these areas demonstrating the benefit of protection locally. Conservation was bolstered when the communities united and launched the country's first marine protected area network. The network then signed an agreement with dive organizations who will now pay a fee to access pristine dive sites in the network, marking the first time a group of communities has benefitted financially from conservation in the nation's history.
Currently, the network, with the support of Conservation International and local government, is preparing to submit a Resolution to the Government of Timor-Leste for Atauro Island and its waters to become a National Park due to its significant biodiversity and extensive cultural and historical sites.