Ombai-Wetar Strait, Timor-Leste
The Ombai-Wetar Strait encompasses the Timor-Leste waters of the Ombai and Wetar Passage, including the 3-km deep waters of the Ombai and Wetar Trough. The ecosystems within this area are globally significant and include the world’s highest recorded coral reef biodiversity and the Ombai-Wetar Strait, a recognized Important Marine Mammal Area and a major migration corridor for large whales, pelagic sharks, sea turtles, and other marine megafauna in the western Indo-Pacific. This site includes Atauro Island and the 24km passage between Atauro and Dili.
Whales observed in the area include species recognized by the IUCN red list, such as the ‘endangered’ blue whale, ‘vulnerable’ sperm whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale, and the ‘near-threatened’ false killer whale. Other non-threatened whale species observed include the Sei whale, short-finned pilot whale, pygmy killer whale, and melon-headed whale. Dolphin species observed in the region include Risso’s dolphin, Fraser’s dolphin, spotted dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, and spinner dolphin.
Whales and dolphins have been part of Timorese history since before its independence as a nation; these animals are frequently celebrated in festivals and museums across the country. Several tour operators run organized whale watching tours in the proposed areas, with local community members employed aboard tour vessels. Some research activities are also conducted by these operators.
Communities and stakeholders are already playing a big part in developing sustainable tourism opportunities and addressing the challenges threatening the island. An established Marine Protected Area is protecting the site, and Atauro has been recognised as an important area for marine and terrestrial biodiversity by the Government of Timor-Leste. Also, the commitment to bring you the best standards of sustainable tourism and protecting its environment is evident through the ‘’Strategic Development Plan’’ and the ‘ Atauro Island Sustainable Tourism Strategy’’. By 2030, this community aims to:
– Be a pristine protected area and world-famous ecotourism destination.
– Have low impact development.
– Operate on renewable energy.
– Establish healthy reef populations.
– Welcome a limited number of respectful visitors by a vibrant community to celebrate the marine environment together through its authentic culture, festivals, and museums.