Beach Cleanup: Surveying marine pollution on Timor Leste's south coast

The first comprehensive study in the area marks a new phase in the fight against marine pollution.

September 22, 2020

The study aims to determine the sources of pollution challenging Timor Leste's rich marine biodiversity. Photo Gerson Alves/UNDP Timor Leste

The southern coastal municipalities of Viqueque, Manatuto, Manufahi and Covalima are becoming aware of the threats posed by marine debris washed ashore by currents and storms.

Abandoned fish nets, floats and fragments of polypropylene rope often wash ashore or interfere with fishing activities. The plastic fragments break down into microplastic particles which enter the food chain and affect the survival of larval and juvenile fish and reduce fish catches.

A UNDP study of the sources and distribution of marine pollution during August and September found that the south coast was Timor Leste's most vulnerable area to the impacts of climate change and ecosystem threats. The main factors include high rates of erosion, loss of mangrove habitats, destruction of coral reefs and other benthic habitats for fish and other invertebrates including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, clams and mussels.

The study was part of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded Arafura Timor Seas Regional and National Action Program (ATSEA2) implemented by the UNDP. The study will identify the types and sources of marine pollution originating from the land and sea. Much of the marine debris found on the beaches is coming from the sea and from transboundary waters and boats fishing illegally in the territorial waters of Timor Leste.

The study of south shore municipalities is led by Directorate General of Fisheries technical staff with support from UNDP Consultant Dr Abilio Fonseca, and with the collaboration of the community leaders.

Mr. Acacio Guterres, Director General of Fisheries attended one of the survey workshops in Barique, Manatuto on August 22, 2020. He noted that each project site has different targets.

·         Lautem will focus on income diversification within the area of Nino Konis Santana Marine Protected Areas;

·         Viqueque will focus on developing an Ecosystem Approach for Fisheries Management (EAFM) plan for Red Snapper targeted fisheries,

·         Barique will apply Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) initiatives

·         Manufahi will concentrate on new Marine Protected Areas (MPA) establishment

·         Covalima will focus on management actions to prevent potential oil spills and minimize damage if one occurs.

Mr Guterres noted that beach cleanup activities need to work closely with local leaders and local communities to share efforts and responsibilities to meet their pollution reduction objectives.

“As we experienced, many big fish and turtles have been trapped by discarded fish nets. We need to reduce and eliminate these debris to maintain marine biodiversity,” Guterres said. He added that marine pollution and its impacts need to be monitored carefully and continuously

The Marine Pollution Survey will continue until April 2021. Increased awareness of the threat of marine pollution and action to remove debris from the beaches in the south coast mark the first time such events have become nation-wide.