Marine Environment


Blue Ventures
Wilstar has been a partner of Blue Ventures since 2015, supporting their work in Timor-Leste. Blue Ventures develops transformative approaches for catalysing and sustaining locally led marine conservation. They concentrate their work in places where the ocean is vital to local cultures and economies, and protect marine biodiversity in ways that benefit coastal people.

Timor-Leste – a country at the heart of the Indo- Pacific coral triangle is home to the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth. Despite its globally important marine biodiversity, Timor- Leste’s history of recent conflict and long struggle for independence have hampered the development of conservation efforts, which remain undeveloped relative to neighbouring countries in the region.


Blue Ventures

Wilstar has been a partner of Blue Ventures since 2015, supporting their work in Timor-Leste. Blue Ventures develops transformative approaches for catalysing and sustaining locally led marine conservation. They concentrate their work in places where the ocean is vital to local cultures and economies, and protect marine biodiversity in ways that benefit coastal people.

Timor-Leste – a country at the heart of the Indo- Pacific coral triangle is home to the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth. Despite its globally important marine biodiversity, Timor- Leste’s history of recent conflict and long struggle for independence have hampered the development of conservation efforts, which remain undeveloped relative to neighbouring countries in the region.

Given the critical importance of the country’s marine environment to its coastal populations, who remain some of the region’s poorest and most vulnerable, there is a critical need to help build the island’s capacity for sustainable marine and fisheries management. Responding to this, Blue Ventures is working with coastal communities, government agencies, and conservation and development organisations to help develop new approaches to engaging coastal communities in marine conservation.
Their marine conservation volunteer program helps 
develop village-level economic incentives for communities to support conservation, and provide a financially sustainable framework for future marine protection efforts. As part of this volunteers will also help collect critical data on the status of marine resources, in particular threatened seagrass beds, which are home to numerous vulnerable species, including dugongs.

Given the critical importance of the country’s marine environment to its coastal populations, who remain some of the region’s poorest and most vulnerable, there is a critical need to help build the island’s capacity for sustainable marine and fisheries management. Responding to this, Blue Ventures is working with coastal communities, government agencies, and conservation and development organisations to help develop new approaches to engaging coastal communities in marine conservation.

Their marine conservation volunteer program helps
develop village-level economic incentives for communities to support conservation, and provide a financially sustainable framework for future marine protection efforts. As part of this volunteers will also help collect critical data on the status of marine resources, in particular threatened seagrass beds, which are home to numerous vulnerable species, including dugongs.


PROJECT

The first year of this partnership project has seen the successful launch of Blue Ventures’ marine ecotourism model in Timor-Leste. The project has introduced a new form of tourism to the country, developed sustainable community tourism benefits and exceeded Blue Ventures’ preliminary targets by more than 100%. Alongside the tourism successes Blue Ventures has launched the country’s first long-term coral reef and seagrass monitoring program and initiated a dialogue with communities for the establishment of long-term local conservation interventions. In-country partnerships have developed quickly and government and community engagement and support have far exceeded their expectations as Blue Ventures has developed meaningful and influential strategic partnerships with ministries and authorities. The project has enjoyed a strong start, with significant successes as well as challenges during the reporting period. The remainder of the report explains in more detail the progress to date.

ACTIVITIES SUMMARY

1. Ecotourism model up and running:

  • The Blue Ventures expedition ecotourism activities began on the 20th March 2016 on Atauro Island, Timor-Leste. To date six sequential 6-week educational expeditions have been completed.
  • By establishing an ecotourism expedition, Blue Ventures has introduced volunteer ecotourism as a new tourism model to the country. Government and other key stakeholders have welcomed Blue Ventures’ work and the influence it will have on the tourism sector.
  • A key aim of the project has been to establish a homestay accommodation model in Timor-Leste. Homestays have been hugely successful for Blue Ventures’ expeditions in Belize and provide direct economic benefits to host communities while offering volunteers a more authentic experience of the country they are visiting. A homestay pilot will begin on Atauro Island in January 2017 with eight host families. If the pilot is a success the program will expand to benefit further families Atauro, and replicate the model in at least one more community in 2017.
  • Recruiting and training Timorese staff is crucial to achieving Blue Ventures’ aim of wider community involvement in natural resource management, conservation and local participation in resource monitoring. Their Timorese dive/science assistants, Jemima Gomes and Amos Da Costa, have each completed four levels of PADI dive certification since joining Blue Ventures in May; Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Emergency First Response and Rescue Diver. They will be moving on to their PADI Dive master programs shortly, a professional level certification.
  • Above and beyond homestay benefits, Blue Ventures’ presence contributes to communities through ecotourism activities. Volunteers have contributed over USD1,000 in accommodation, food and Tara Bandu (Locally Managed Marine Area) access fees for diving and snorkeling in the village of Adara.
  • An English language support programs has been developed with a language school on Atauro Island to help the teachers with English education. This has proven very successful with lessons and activities providing a stimulating learning environment.
  • Feedback from volunteers has been consistently positive. Close monitoring of − and quick responses to − feedback from in-country and headquarters staff has been instrumental in continuously improving the volunteer experience.

Results to Date:

  • 6 Expeditions with 51 volunteers hosted since 20th March 2016 from 13 countries, with a further group of 8 joining Blue Ventures’ last expedition of the year from 14th November – 19th December.
  • 1,841 Eco tourist nights contributing to local businesses and the wider Timorese tourism industry.
  • Over USD50,000 spent with Timorese tourism providers
  • 6 Timorese and 3 international staff recruited and trained
  • 12 coral reef sites surveyed
  • 2 seagrass areas surveyed and mapped
  • 5 communities engaged in marine conservation and management
  • 25 students involved in English language programs.
  • 2 formal community meetings with local stakeholders to introduce Blue Ventures’ work and objectives in Timor-Leste

 

2. Developing capacity for community based marine resource monitoring:

  • Engaging community based monitors (CBMs): In October Blue Ventures hosted a stall at the Beloi market (Atauro’s weekly central market) to promote community involvement in natural resource monitoring and gather names of potential CBMs for dugong and seagrass monitoring. Over 20 people signed up for training from all over Atauro Island and even some from Dili (Timor-Leste’s capital city on the mainland). The first sensitisation and training sessions for those that expressed interest took place on 12th and 20th October 2016.
  • In April 2016, the community of Adara inaugurated the first locally managed marine area (LMMA) in Atauro, designated through a traditional process known as Tara Bandu on a section of coastal reef directly in front of the village. The management system comprises a no take zone (NTZ) (reserve) and Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) anchored in the adjacent deep water, the latter aimed at attracting pelagic fish to the FAD, to help alleviate fishing pressure on overfished coral reef species. Blue Ventures has assisted the community and technical partners, WorldFish, in maintenance and upkeep of the FAD and provided income to the community by paying an entrance fee to dive within the NTZ. Discussions have begun with the community and Worldfish to offer Blue Ventures resources and expertise to carry out underwater visual census surveys to monitor changes in the reserve, and in fish populations around the FAD.

Results to Date:

  • Over 20 people recruited as Community Based Monitors.
  • 4 Community Based Monitoring training sessions planned by end November 2016.

 

3. Identifying priority sites for conservation of dugong and seagrass:

  • Blue Ventures has carried out two informal ‘drop-in’ participatory mapping sessions at their stalls in the Beloi market. One that asked participants to identify areas where sightings of dugongs and other megafauna are most common, and one that asked participants to map and identify activities they carry out in seagrass areas. The sessions proved very successful, with over 25 participants.
  • Blue Ventures has been asked by partner NGO Conservation International to assist with dugong surveys on Atauro. Training of CBMs for this will begin in November and surveys will follow.

Results to Date:

  • Sites are not yet identified. Blue Ventures are mapping seagrass and coral reef resources on Atauro Island through ecological monitoring and participatory mapping exercises, with communities leading on identifying priority areas for conservation.

 

4. Identifying communities for co-management initiatives:

  • Progress to identify partner communities for co-management activities has been slow in 2016. This activity has been delayed as the community leaders whose support is key to commencing discussions on co-management are approaching the end of their five-year terms in office. To ensure the retention of the political capital necessary to engage the wider community on matters of marine management and conservation, Blue Ventures plans to focus their engagement efforts with the new cohort of community leaders at the start of their terms of office in November.

Results to Date:

  • Blue Ventures’ work to identify communities on Atauro that will engage with them in conservation initiatives is currently on hold. With elections for new community leaders imminent, this will be delayed until after the elections, in order to establish relationships with new leaders at the early stages of their six-year terms in office.
  • Three focus groups/meetings/presentations with communities. The outcomes of these meetings included increased local awareness and understanding of Blue Ventures’ mission and objective in Timor-Leste, and an updated timeline of activities and outputs provided to attendees.

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