One of the things that brings me most joy working at Blue Ventures is being able to connect with coastal communities to understand their relationship with the ocean. One particularly moving encounter was with 15 fishers from the villages of Beloi, Bikeli, and Beto-Tasi brought together on Atauro for intensive sea safety training.
Over the course of five hot and sunny days, Dreamers Dive Academy taught first aid and snorkelling, the Mariners’ Association of Timor-Leste covered sustainable marine tourism and tourist safety during water activities, and participants spoke about the high number of water-related accidents, and the real need for this training.
Speaking to Antonio Perreira, a fisher from Bikeli in Atauro, really showed me the importance of providing communities and fishers with the skills to keep themselves and other people safe. Shifting his gaze from me, and with tears in his eyes, Antonio spoke about his brother’s fatal fishing accident.
“My brother would be alive today if I had learned this a year ago,” he said sadly, but with a sense of hope that this training could save others.
I sat with Antonio for more than an hour as he talked about his vision for the Bikeli community, and his passion for rebuilding and protecting coral reefs near his village that harmful fishing methods have damaged in recent years.
A snorkel trip to the Tara Bandu, a locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in Beloi, was an eye-opening and inspiring experience for the fishers.
“I have supported this Tara Bandu from the beginning, but have never seen it with my own eyes,” one fisher told us.
“I have spent my whole life fishing but have never seen how it looks underwater. I see the fish I catch of course, but not underwater,” said another.
The seven Bikeli fishers were so impressed by seeing so many fish, including some they had only heard about from older relatives and thought had disappeared, that they were soon asking us how to set one up in their community.
We had spoken with the Bikeli community about LMMAs before and it had not led to an agreement, so it was incredible to see how moved the fishers were by the Beloi visit.
After the training, they got in touch to tell us how they have been supporting marine protection efforts to better conserve their local marine biodiversity, including talking to local authorities and our team about establishing a Tara Bandu less than a kilometre from Antonio’s home.
Antonio told us that the first aid training had been life changing for him, and already proven to be lifesaving.
“I rescued a child from drowning, and my community now trusts me in case of emergencies,” he said.
He also spoke proudly about using his skills at home to help his son stop choking, and how family members were impressed.
Hearing this feedback was a great reminder of the power of bringing communities together to share their experiences and learn new skills. Sometimes, all it takes is gathering the right people and giving them the right knowledge to inspire people to take steps towards local action and lasting change.