Ecotourism off the ground and into the sea in Timor-Leste

August 22, 2016

TL2 Project Update: Jan thru June 2016

In the last reporting period, BV identified Atauro as their base for ecotourism activities in Timor-Leste and Barry’s Place in Beloi as the provider of accommodation and food but the Partner continued to progress well in this period and will continue to examine multiple places to replicate their model.

BV hired major staff for the ecotourism project – two local people were employed, one as a diver instructor and the other as a science assistant. Important equipment for field work and in support of the ecotourism project was acquired – a boat and a SCUBA compressor.

BV’s ecotourism model launched successfully with the first expedition of volunteers to Atauro Island, on 20th March. Two more expeditions took place with 11 volunteers in total and the fourth expedition is currently underway with their first full complement of 12 volunteers.

So they have already exceeded their initial target of 25 tourists in their first year of the project. All but one of these 31 volunteers have spent more than 25 nights on the island, meaning a total of 562 bed nights.

BV monitored regularly ecotourism expenditure in local communities.

Early results suggested that most volunteers spent between $100 – $200 whilst they were with the local community on items such as souvenirs, trips and food and drinks.

Participants on the first three expeditions were encouraged to provide candid feedback on their experience – several suggestions made by ecotourists were incorporated and this model of feedback, incorporation and improvement will continue throughout the lifespan of the Project and beyond.

At the beginning of May, BV held a community stakeholder meeting for local and national partners, local governmental representatives and members of the local traditional and community leadership at Barry’s Place on Atauro. The meeting was well attended locally with representatives from four communities across the island – participants received an introduction to BV’s work, progress to date and next steps, including BV’ plans for further local employment and training of local community members. The meeting also provided a forum for members of the local community to provide suggestions on how BV can integrate and involve the ecotourism project with local projects and initiatives. The most common request to maximise community benefits was to employ additional Atauro residents as the project develops.

During the stakeholder meeting, BV’s team was able to identify the villages of Akrema and Uaro-ana in the north of Atauro for the community-based nature resource management (CBNRM) and co-management activities.

Efforts to collect baseline data on the status of Atauro’s local marine resources were in the early stages in this reporting period, with ecotourists and staff currently in the discovery phase of the project, carrying out exploratory dives, snorkels and manta tows across the island. Environmental conditions in the coastal waters of Atauro are challenging and BV sought methodologies for baseline ecological data collection that are both robust and could be integrated in the ecotourists’ and eventually CBNRM models.

BV communicated regularly on data collection on local resources and resource use patterns with both the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Conservation International to ensure proper coordination in relevance to other projects in Timor-Leste under the global Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project and any other projects and initiatives on the island. (global Project activity 311)