By Max Sudnovsky
In the early morning on Sept. 16, Molly Timmers, Charles Young, and Max Sudnovsky of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) departed Dili, Timor-Leste, on their way to Atauro Island to kick off the first day of a five-week field operation. Timmers, Young, and Sudnovsky, along with Michael Abbey from the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Rui Pinto of Conservation International (CI), and Lloyd Lee of Dive Timor Lorasae, spent the next four days in the district of Beloi processing a suite of instruments and installations that had been deployed two years ago by CRED staff to monitor biodiversity and ocean acidification in nearshore coral reef ecosystems of Timor-Leste and removed by Pinto and Lee.
The NOAA team is working with CI Timor-Leste staff, national and district fisheries officers of the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), staff from a local scuba dive shop, and local fishers to facilitate retrieval of the suite of monitoring instruments previously deployed in October 2012. The instrumentation includes subsurface temperature recorders (STRs), which are used to assess trends in water temperatures; calcification accretion units (CAUs), which are used to assess rates of reef calcification and accretion; and autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS), which are used to assess biodiversity of reef cryptobiota of coral reef ecosystems.
Later during this mission, the team will collect surface and bottom water samples, which can be used to monitor long-term trends in carbonate chemistry (i.e., ocean acidification) and conduct photoquadrat surveys along transects on the seafloor to capture the benthic composition around the site.
This field operation is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development Timor-Leste Mission, and the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, in collaboration with MAF and CI Timor-Leste. This collaboration will enable CI, MAF, local dive operators, and community members to build local, institutional, and organizational capacity to continue efforts in long-term coral reef monitoring so that future managers will have scientifically credible observations by which to make informed decisions. The field team is based out of Barry’s Place, a lodge with a business strategy based on the ethics and principles of ecotourism and permaculture.
Atauro Island is situated approximately 22 nautical miles (41 km) to the north of Dili, on the extinct Wetar segment of the volcanic Inner Banda Arc. This island is 25 km long, 9 km wide, and about 105 km2 in area with a mountainous spine and narrow coastal plains. Two deep straits, the Ombai (5000 m deep) and Wetar (3000 m deep), meet at both the northern and southern ends of the island. The mountains are mostly limestone with some volcanic rock foundations. The highest of them, Manucoco (with an elevation of 995 m) is considered sacred.
The Atauro community of approximately 8000 people, mostly subsistence fishers and farmers, live in five districts (or sucos). The main centers of Maquili, Vila, Beloi, and Bequeli sit along the eastern coast, and Macadade rests in the mountains. Small communities live in isolated hamlets along the coast and in the mountains.
The team from NOAA and Conservation International very much appreciates all the support that we have received so far from Barry Hinton and his staff at Barry’s Place, Compass Charters, Lloyd Lee, local fishers, and the community members of Beloi who have stopped by to check out what we have been up to. Obrigadu Barak!
Stay tuned for more updates as the team next heads to Beacou!