23 December 2012

Conservation International records illegal exploitation of trochus in Nino Konis Santana National Park

ETLJB 23 December 2012 - Conservation International has recorded an illegal vessel taking trochus from the marine section of the Nino Konis Santana National Park.

CI reports that in October 2012, the illegal fishing vessel entered the waters of Timor-Leste and "cleaned out an entire population of Trochus, a valuable seashell in the food export market, from a “no-take zone” located within the Nino Konis Santana National Park. Although this is technically a protected area — in fact, the country’s first and only national park — criminals don’t play by the rules. The total value of their loot was a cool US$ 20,000, which is a fortune to the community that had spent the last two years allowing the Trochus population to regenerate."

CI notes in its report that "one of the saddest aspects of this tale is that the illegal vessel was operating in full view of the community, who could only watch as the boat’s crew made off with their ill-gotten gains with impunity. Confronting these illegal fishers would have been tantamount to a death wish, as they were armed with weapons they would not hesitate to use."

CI has been supporting the communities in advocating to the Timorese government to put a formal protection system in place within the park, including coast guards. 

Much of Timor-Leste’s environment has yet to be explored and much environmental harm was perpetrated by both the Portuguese and Indonesians in their rapacious exploitation of the vast sandalwood forests which once covered the entire island and fish stocks*. Even so, the island is situated in the Wallacea biodiversity hotspot between Australia and Asia and in the heart of the Coral Triangle and so the lands and waters of Timor-Leste are home to potentially globally significant biodiversity and high rates of species found nowhere else in the world.

CI is the first international environment NGO registered in Timor-Leste. With the support of USAID under the Coral Triangle Support Partnership, CI has conducted a successful marine conservation program in collaboration with the communities of Com, Tutuala and Lore.

CI has had great success in engaging communities to protect their own natural resources, because it is these communities who depend on their environment the most for their daily needs and livelihoods. About 90% of Timorese depend on natural resources for their daily survival. The difficulty is poachers from outside the communities who take whatever they want and leave the communities to deal with the repercussions.

*An East Timorese friend of this post's author (Mr Pedro de Sousa, former head of the East Timor National Directorate of Land and Property) noted, after a visit to Darwin in Australia where there are many flocks of birds and around the city, that "Dili used to be like that - before the Indonesians came." The Indonesians used environmental destruction as a means of subjugation of the people during the illegal occupation.

1. Conservation International Blog "In Timor-Leste, Striving to Protect Resources for Local Communities"
2. East Timor's first national park will protect the community's wealth http://easttimorlegal.blogspot.com/2008/09/east-timors-first-national-park-will.html
3. Timor Bush-warbler rediscovered http://easttimorlegal.blogspot.com/2012/01/timor-bush-warbler-rediscovered.html
4.Environmental laws fail to protect endangered fauna in East Timor http://easttimorlegal.blogspot.com/2009/07/environmental-laws-fail-to-protect.html
5. Sandalwood & Environmental Law in East Timor http://easttimorlawjournal.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/sandalwood-and-environmental-law-in-east-timor/
6. Tara Bandu: The Adat Concept of the Environment in East Timor http://easttimorlawjournal.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/tara-bandu-the-adat-concept-of-the-environment/

Author: Warren L. Wright BA LLB

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