Written by: Renee Street – Our Amazing Friend, PADI Course Director, and Big Time Ocean Lover
On World Oceans Day (8 June 2020), Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue officially designated the northern waters of Timor Leste as the Ombai-Wetar Strait Hope Spot. Becoming the newest global Hope Spot is a huge honor for Asia’s newest country, recognizing the area’s marine biodiversity and potential for sustainable marine ecotourism development.
Who Is Dr. Sylvia Earle?
Dr. Sylvia Earle (nicknamed “Her Deepness”) is an American marine biologist and oceanographer. Dr. Earle has spent decades working in marine biology and conservation. In 1998, she was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet.
That same year, she was named a National Geographic Explorer in Residence and has been designated as an “Ocean Elder.” In her long career, she has logged more than 7000 hours underwater and led more than 100 ocean expeditions. She has authored more than 175 publications and lectured in over 70 countries. The list of her accomplishments and honors is long and impressive.
What Is A Hope Spot?
In 2009, Dr. Earle founded Mission Blue which aims to establish marine protected areas (called “Hope Spots”) around the globe with a goal of 30% of the ocean protected by 2030. Currently, less than 6% of the ocean is protected in any way. Mission Blue is a global alliance including over 200 ocean conservation groups ranging from large multi-national companies to individual scientific teams.
Hope Spots, as the name implies, provide hope and hopefully protection for the blue heart of our planet. There are a variety of criteria for a spot to be selected:
- Special abundance or diversity of species or habitats
- Populations of rare, threatened, or endemic species
- Potential to reverse damage from human impacts
- Spectacles of nature
- Historical, cultural, or spiritual value
- Economic importance to the local community
Anyone can nominate a site that gives hope; an area in need or protection or an area where more action is needed. If selected as a Mission Blue Hope Spot, Mission Blue helps to build awareness and support through traditional and social media, helps to build collaboration with potential partners, and advocates for official protection for the area. To date, more than 125 Hope Spots have been designated and the global network of marine protected areas continues to grow.
The Waters Of Timor Leste
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste became a sovereign nation in 2002. This small country in the midst of the Indonesian archipelago, has a population of just over 1.1 million people in an area just over 15,000 square kilometers. Interestingly, it is the only Asian country completely located in the southern hemisphere.
Just off the coast of the country’s capital, Dili, lies a small island, Atauro. In 2016, two researchers from Conservation International led an expedition to Atauro to measure biodiversity levels on this small island within the Coral Triangle. At three separate sites, they found over 300 species of fish, more than anywhere else in the world.
Only two other areas in the world support a similar number (North Sulawesi and Raja Ampat, both in Indonesia) with Atauro having an average of 253 species per site compared to 216 from a reef in Raja Ampat, previously considered the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. These findings led to a movement to protect the incredibly rich waters of Timor Leste.
Hot Spot Designation
On World Oceans Day 2020 (8 June 2020) Mission Blue officially designated the Ombai-Wetar Strait Hope Spot. The Ombai-Wetar Strait not only has the highest recorded coral reef biodiversity, but is also a migration corridor for large whales, pelagic sharks, and other marine megafauna in the western Indo-Pacific. When the designation was announced, Dr. Earle has these words to share:
“I want to salute you for what you are doing in Timor-Leste, for celebrating your ocean, taking care of your ocean, and sharing it with people from all over the world. With hundreds of blue whales swimming past Dili every year, families of sperm whales, and many different species of dolphins so close to shore and dugongs just five minutes away from the International Airport, you have the most extraordinary and precious blue world in your hands. Truly incredible!”
The world’s newest Hope Spot is certainly cause for hope… for our oceans, all marine life, and for our beautiful blue planet.
P.s. Did you know that we are one of the 200 organizations that are partners of Mission Blue? We are super proud to work with all these amazing people towards restoring our planet’s blue heart.