Assessing management challenges and options in the coastal zone of Timor-Leste

Type Book
Title Assessing management challenges and options in the coastal zone of Timor-Leste
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2008
Publisher Griffith University
The overall aim of this study was to look at how human activities are impacting on the
coastal zone in Timor-Leste, what type of management challenges arise from these
impacts, and what kind of management approach can help to address current and
future problems in the coastal zone.
The FIRST PART of the assessment explores the environmental, economic, social
and institutional characteristics of the coastal zone. The first chapter looks at
ecological characteristics such as types and condition of coastal (terrestrial and
marine) ecosystems and wildlife. The natural environment of the coast to date is in a
relatively healthy and pristine condition. The coastal environment consists of a variety
of coastal and marine ecosystems that are home to a great number of plant and
animal species, many of which are listed as endangered species. The coastal zone is
also rich in natural resources such as minerals, especially petroleum, and fisheries.
The land and marine parts of the coast are of great natural beauty; the pristine sandy
beaches, stunning coral reefs, and unique opportunities for whale watching are main
tourist attractions in the country.
The second chapter discusses social characteristics within the coastal zone such as
distribution of urban and rural communities, traditional indigenous coastal
management regimes and marine tenures, and cultural and heritage values of the
coast. The population living in coastal areas is highly dependent on environmental
goods and services derived from the coastal environment. Rural communities sustain
their livelihoods through subsistence and semi-subsistence agriculture and fisheries,
and they need firewood as a primary energy source. In many areas, coastal
communities have developed close relationships with the land and sea, which are
reflected in local customs and beliefs and traditional natural resource management
mechanisms (tara bandu) that are still practiced today. On the other hand, many
have been forced to abandon their homelands and re-settle in areas to which they
have no ancestral claims and no historical relationship. Many people are still
displaced in their own country and live in IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps
scattered throughout the country. These relatively recently established coastal
communities lack traditional knowledge how to harvest at sustainable levels and
protect ecosystems and environmental goods and services that their livelihoods
depend on.
Chapters 3-5 discuss the main human impacts on the coastal zone. Impacts are
currently at a relatively small scale and confined mostly to urban areas. The most
pressing current urban problems include untreated sewage and solid waste disposal,
and unregulated coastal development and land occupation. Due to the unsettled
issue of land ownership, many properties are illegally occupied, and many IDP
camps are located on coastal lands. In rural areas, current problems in coastal
communities relate to their high dependence on natural resources and their
vulnerability to food shortages. Many of the rural communities along the coast are
impoverished and isolated. They are poorly connected to urban centres and thus
have very limited access to markets, so that they depend on subsistence farming and
fishing. Unsustainable agricultural practices not only result in low agricultural
productivity but also cause soil degradation, deforestation, and downstream
sedimentation. While many rural households rely on external food supplies, the
bountiful fishery resources are far from being harvested to their potential level, mainly
due to limited equipment and know-how for commercial-scale deep sea fishing.
The human impacts can be expected to grow significantly with population growth and
increase in economic activities. Industrial development, tourism, and urbanizationcan exacerbate the pollution of coastal waters from untreated domestic and industrial
waste. The need to increase agricultural productivity in order to improve food security
and feed a growing nation will require additional land conversion and increase in
fertilizer use. An expansion of port operations and the construction of a new
international port would necessitate land reclamation and cause pollution of the sea
from increased shipping. Destruction of habitat by unregulated coastal development
can cause loss of valuable coastal ecosystems that have important ecological
functions such as protecting the shoreline from erosion and serving as nursery for
fishes and as habitat for the country’s rich biodiversity. Increasing demand for natural
resources from a growing population could also stimulate overexploitation of fisheries
and accelerate soil degradation and deforestation. Another set of potential threats
arise from climate change. Timor-Leste has been classified as extremely vulnerable
to climate change impacts such as increased climate variability and increased
frequency of climate-related natural hazards such as flooding and droughts.
The SECOND PART of this study gives an overview of institutional roles and
responsibilities in the coastal zone. It summarizes the main institutional players in the
area of coastal management, and it highlights the key components of national and
international law that are of relevance in the coastal zone. The analysis of the legal
and institutional framework reveals a number of weaknesses, including lack of key
laws and regulations (relating to land ownership, coastal development, environmental
protection) and lack of enforcement, ill-defined and overlapping jurisdictions, and
insufficient mechanisms for cooperation between ministries and between different
layers of government.
The THIRD PART is dedicated towards highlighting some of the current
governmental and non-governmental partnerships, projects, and initiatives related to
coastal zone management. Recent initiatives include the signing of a number of
regional and international environmental protection agreement, and local-scale
efforts such as the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the
country’s first national park.
Finally, the FOURTH PART builds upon the assessment of the previous chapters
and develops management options and recommendations for Timor-Leste. The
Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) concept is discussed as a management
approach that can help to integrate different sectoral policies, stakeholders, and
decision-making levels. The ICM approach is gaining momentum in the country and
the government is in the process of planning its first local-scale pilot projects. It is
recommended that the process of developing and implementing ICM in the country
be flexible and adaptive to the changing institutional and regulatory landscape and
the dynamics of population growth and economic development. Taking into
consideration human capacity constraints and financial limitations, the ICM strategy
should work within the existing institutional and legal framework and strengthen
cooperation between stakeholders rather than creating new bureaucracies. The
limited availability of baseline data calls for close cooperation and exchange of
information and know-how from a variety of knowledge sources, including traditional
local knowledge. A combination of local and national level approaches is likely to be
most appropriate in dealing with the range of different management challenges that
were discussed throughout this report. Decision-making should be delegated to the
local level where possible, while the role of government focuses on enabling and
facilitating the building or strengthening of local capacity through training and
education. The main current obstacles include lack of information exchange and
coordination, lack of human and financial resources and baseline data, loss of
traditional knowledge, and conflict and political instability.

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