Traditional Community Conservation in Timor-Leste

Traditional Community Conservation in Timor-Leste

CCRN PhD Student Cintia Gillam recently returned from Timor-Leste where she was engaged in doctoral fieldwork. Cintia is connecting with two communities in Timor-Leste, Vila Maumeta and Tutuala, as case studies for her dissertation.

Fishing is important to support the livelihoods of people living in the communities of Vila Maumeta and Tutuala. In addition, artisanal fishers in both communities are also subsistence farmers. The Vila Maumeta community is organizing a Marine Protected Area, while the community of Tutuala is located in an already established Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Nino Konis Santana National Park. These MPAs are distinguished because while in Tutuala the establishment of the MPA happened in a top-down manner, in Vila Maumeta there is significant community participation in the development of the new MPA.

Fishing is important to Timor-Leste, a new coastal country facing many economic and social challenges. Timor-Leste faces increasingly complex challenges in use and management of natural resources, such as a lack of investment in transportation and infrastructure, low consumer purchasing power, high unemployment, low crop yields and high post-harvest losses. These challenges have resulted in low food production, and in consequence, food insecurity in the country. Fishing provides animal protein, employment, and income earning opportunities for communities. However, declining fish stocks, illegal commercial fishing and climate change are fishery-related challenges encountered by the coastal communities in Timor-Leste. Indeed, natural resource management is essential for economic development and poverty reduction in Timor-Leste.

Community of Vila Maumeta

The community of Vila Maumeta is undergoing the establishment of a new locally driven MPA. The local non-governmental organization (NGO) Roman Luan, based on Atauro Island, is assisting the Timorese government (Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture) on the establishment of the Vila Maumeta MPA. Roman Luan works with community members to help organize and set rules and regulations based on tara bandu (traditional knowledge).

Tara bandu is a traditional knowledge system based on customary laws aiming to help community members gain awareness of conservation. Tara bandu guides community members on the methods and equipment to be used in the MPA and provides information on which species can be harvested. The community sets rules, such as partial fisheries closures in certain areas, to protect marine species that the community relies on. These species include such as coral fishes, corals, seagrass, turtles and other marine species that help to increase fish catch and consequently, food security in the community.

The Xefe de Suco (Village Leader) organizes a cultural ceremony to establish temporary fisheries closures and species ban and thus implement local rules and regulations. People in the community follow the rules and regulations that are being set up. In addition, fishers and community members are responsible to care, manage and look after the MPA at a local level. In addition, during the establishment of the MPA, the community must follow the laws of the MPA at the government level.

Vila Maumeta’s community members and fishers plan to reserve part of the MPA for sustainable ecotourism through diving and snorkeling. Fishers will receive training in how to use their boats to guide tourists to certain areas of the MPA. Then, fishers will not catch fish in the closed area due to tara bandu, but they will keep their livelihoods from ecotourism. Ultimately, the community expects that the MPA will improve the community and fishers’ lives in the long term.

Beloi Market, Atauro Island (Left) and Vila Maumeta beach (Right)

Community of Tutuala

The community of Tutuala is a coastal community within the Nino Konis Santana National Park. Tara bandu rules establish that community members conserve certain types of vegetation and marine areas, and for this reason farming and fishing are limited to certain areas in the Nino Konis National Park. Although fishers apply tara bandu rules to protect land and fisheries in the National Park, they are concerned with illegal foreign fishing boats in the Park.

Timor-Leste’s fishermen (Left), a map of Tutuala (Center), and Jaco Island, Tutuala region (Right)

Author:  Cintia Gillam

This Field Research Trip was funded with the support from the SSHRC-funded Community Conservation Research Network and partially by the Saint Mary’s Vice-President Academic & Research (VPAR) International Mobility Awards.


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