WorldFish and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), Timor Leste, are partnering with communities to tackle declining catch in coral reef fisheries, build climate change resilience and support coastal livelihoods. In Timor-Leste, coral reefs are important for livelihoods and food security among coastal communities but are showing clear evidence of decline and over use.

On Friday April 15, the community of Adara on Atauro Island will formally launch new rules that are designed to ensure sustainability of the local reef and fisheries, and support local livelihoods. Adara has traditionally relied heavily on fisheries for both food and income, with men and women actively involved in many types of fishing. More recently, eco-tourism has provided a new and growing source of income and employment. The community approached WorldFish and MAF to assist with the development of these rules.

The people of Adara chose to implement the new rules through a traditional management system, tara bandu. Translated as ‘hanging law’, tara bandu sets out a system of rules and penalties that community members and those visiting from outside are expected to abide by. Through discussion meetings held with men and women over the past two years, community members in Adara have chosen to declare a small locally managed marine area that is closed to all fishing activities. This will protect the reef immediately in front of the eco-tourism venture in the community, ensuring it remains in good condition for tourists to enjoy. A number of fishing restrictions have been declared that apply to all waters nearby to the community. These include banning of small-mesh gill nets, banning all collection of turtles, and prohibiting the use of poisons and the taking of small fish.

Joao da Costa, Adara village Chief said: “It is important that the current generation starts using tara bandu to manage our resources now, even if we just start small”. A women’s representative, Joana da Costa stated that “In Adara , not only men but also women fish, including for octopus. It is important that we make sure there is good habitat for these animals to breed close to the community”. The tara bandu agreement has been signed-off by the village chief, church representatives, a woman’s group representative, district authorities and commanders of marine and community police.

Closing an area to fishing will, at least in the short term, reduce the catch and income of local fishers. To provide an alternative, WorldFish and MAF have worked with the community to deploy a fish aggregating device (FAD) nearby. FADs are a simple anchored set of buoys, in this case set about 800m from the community in 300m of water. FADs attract oceanic fish, such as scads and mackerel, to come close to the community, meaning that fishers with small canoes are no longer reliant only on reef fish. In Timor-Leste there are far fewer fishers catching oceanic fish, so these resources can potentially help improve livelihoods of fishers, and improve food security.

This system of community-based management is the first to be initiated on Atauro Island, an area of high biodiversity, high tourism potential, but also with a high proportion of households relying on fisheries for food and income. A number of other communities have already expressed interest in implementing similar systems. Community based management, involving fishers actively in the process of managing the resources they rely on, is increasingly seen as central to improved sustainability of fishery resources in Asia, the Pacific and throughout the developing world. The activities have been funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, building on earlier community work supported by the Asian Development Bank (Coral Triangle Pacific Program) and the Australian Government. Funding from the Norwegian Embassy, Jakarta under the Fisheries Sector Support Program will allow MAF and WorldFish to further adapt FAD technologies for use in Timor-Leste.

Story first published by WorldFish as Communities tackle coral reef sustainability in Timor-Leste. Photo: Holly Holmes/WorldFish