Marine biologist Olive Andrews warns of the negative impact of oil and gas exploration off East Timor and suggests seasonal changes in order to mitigate the effects on migratory cetacean activities that cross the area.
“Exploration can cause disruption to the habitat, particularly through noise from ships and the platforms needed for extraction,” said Olive Andrews, head of the conservation program at Conservation International (CI). from Auckland, New Zealand.
“There is certainly an overlap in the distribution of threatened marine animals and oil and gas extraction platforms, and this is a matter that the Government of Timor-Leste and CI are particularly interested in analyzing,” he added.
The biologist believes that the solution to minimize the effects of the exploitation is due to seasonal changes in the extraction activities in a region with “high density of cetaceans”.
Asked what action can be taken to reduce the impact, Olive Andrews suggested: “seasonal changes in the activity of oil and gas exploration platforms to allow the movement of these animals.”
For the biologist, the underwater noise caused by the circulation of ships is the main problem that cetaceans face in Timor-Leste and believes that the situation may worsen with oil exploration.
“Underwater noise is one of the major problems facing whales. I am not referring to the exploitation of natural resources, but to international shipping, which crosses the narrow neighbours.” At one point there may be ten large freighters anchored in Dili. with the generators on without being moving, there is a lot of noise produced by these vessels, “said Andrews, who recalled a situation during the study in East Timor.
“During our study, we were close to a group of 500 pilot whales and I put the hydrophone – an underwater microphone – underwater to record the sound, and I could not hear whales.” Whale sound was being masked by the noise of the ships in the area, “he explained.
For the biologist, this situation presents a problem for cetaceans, who use sound signals to communicate, navigate and find food.
In 2016, CI conducted a five-day study north of East Timor that identified 11 species of cetaceans and more than 2,200 specimens.
“Many of the groups we saw contained several species, with some having more than 500 whales,” said Andrews, who believes that whale watching can be “very positive” for Timor-Leste since it is “unique” and that happens in a few regions.
Olive Andrews believes that Timor-Leste has the opportunity to observe whales and dolphins very close to coastal areas and welcomed the efforts of the Timorese Government to enhance the marine diversity off the archipelago and to create a “sustainable marine ecotourism industry”.
“Timor-Leste has actively sought sustainable economic development based on the conservation and management of its natural resources,” said the biologist, who recalled that CI has collaborated with the Government and with Timor-Leste communities since 2010.
In order to ensure a sustainable promotion of ecotourism, CI has already organized a number of initiatives in the archipelago, including a training workshop aimed at local tour operators to maximize the educational value of cetacean observation, as well as to how to interact with animals without disturbing them.