How tradition, culture, and faith can help us protect the ocean

Dedy Martins

Originally from Balibo, close to the border with Indonesian Timor, Blue Ventures’ Dedy Martins shares his thoughts on the wonders of the ocean, the ancient customary practice of Tara Bandu, and having faith in the younger generation to take part in sustainable tourism and secure Timor-Leste’s future.

Image © Laetitia Clément / Blue Ventures

Dedy Martins

Image © Laetitia Clément / Blue Ventures

I joined Blue Ventures as a Conservation Officer in November of 2019. As a young Timorese, I am so proud to be part of the Blue Ventures team and work on marine conservation.

While Timor-Leste is surrounded by the ocean, life beneath the waves is not something that many Timorese get to experience. One reason for this is that the majority of our people still have limited access to and knowledge of life in the ocean. Through my work with Blue Ventures, I want to do my part to change that.

I wanted to work for Blue Ventures because, like many young people from Timor-Leste, I hadn’t been able to continue my education at a university. As a young nation, the education system here in Timor-Leste is not yet able to fully support the development of young people. For example, the school curriculum doesn’t always prepare students for the globalized world that we live in, many teachers are not able to teach their specialty, and schools lack resources. But by working with Blue Ventures, I knew I would be able to continue growing both professionally and personally. I knew that it would be a great opportunity for me.

Originally from Balibo, close to the border with Indonesian Timor, Dedy is a Blue Ventures Conservation Officer in Timor-Leste · Blue Ventures

I initially joined Blue Ventures as an Administration and Operational Assistant in the Dili office. I took care of visa applications, filing letters, bookkeeping, and other administrative tasks. This may sound like an admin job that anyone could do, but I remained grateful, dedicated and kept up a strong work ethic. My time in this role taught me that it doesn’t matter what job you do, as long as you are passionate and have a good attitude, it will pay off in the future.

I eventually began supporting Blue Ventures’ conservation work more directly, working with the community-based fisheries monitoring groups and participating in community meetings focused on marine resource management. I then began supporting the capacity-building programs to help coastal communities better manage the ocean ecosystems on which they depend.

I also had the opportunity to explore Timor-Leste’s underwater life, one of the most exciting moments of my life. Seeing all of the life in my country’s waters was extraordinarily beautiful and brought peace to my heart.

For me, the ocean is the nearest thing to heaven on earth that I have ever experienced, and I really wish all Timorese could experience the ocean someday.
Dedy taking to the water and learning to scuba dive · Blue Ventures

Timor-Leste is one of the youngest nations in the world. We are facing social and economical challenges and our healthcare and education infrastructure is not robust. Additionally, our history has been riddled with conflict. We were annexed by the Portuguese for over 400 years, the Japanese for a few months, then Australia, and finally Indonesia for 24 years. This has left a long legacy filled with pain; but it has also provided Timor-Leste with a unique blend of influences.

And through it all, we retain a strong sense of our own identity and culture. We have preserved our language, Tetum, a key cultural element, and our society is based on deep bonds between families and communities. We pull together in our everyday lives and many of our cultural events have endured, despite our difficult history.

Different nations are unique in their own way, and as a Timorese, I value the story of our land, its coasts, culture, people, and the languages that make our nation. Timor-Leste faces many difficulties, but we are an incredibly unique nation that is also full of opportunities.

Emerging from a history riddled with conflict, the people of Timor-Leste have retained a strong sense of their own identity and culture · Andy Mann

I often describe myself while working as “the man beholding the underwater cinema.” This is because Timor-Leste’s underwater life is truly like a cinema for me. I want to see Timor-Leste become a beacon in ocean protection to show how communities can live in harmony with the sea. I believe that this begins by “sharing the cinema” with others.

And this is something Timorese have done for a long time through Tara Bandu. Tara Bandu is an ancient customary practice, or traditional law, created to preserve natural resources and to regulate other social matters. On land we use Tara Bandu to control the cutting of trees, or while entering a sacred place. Sanctions are in place to prevent people from breaking the law.

Our coastal community has maintained Tara Bandu on the water, to help control fishing activities with agreements and written regulations. Through this time-honoured practice, we can help to protect the marine environment and to help sustain ocean ecosystems. 
Timor-Leste hosts a diverse reef coral fauna · Cristina Mittermeier

Timor-Leste is one of the most marine biodiverse places in the world. What keeps me hopeful is the strong cultural link with the ocean, and the desire among the communities to cultivate an awareness of the issues affecting Timor-Leste’s marine environment.

There are two things I wish to see in my beloved country of Timor-Leste. First, more young people participating in sustainable tourism and supporting it as a pillar of our country’s development. One day our oil will run out, so if we focus our energy and attention on sustainable tourism today, we will be able to nurture and protect our ecosystems for nature and people for generations.

Second, our government’s vitally important sustainable tourism development strategy contains five pillars. One of these pillars is “protection,” including marine protection. I want to see greater numbers of people taking part in protecting our biodiverse marine environment to preserve the abundance of our oceans.

Dedy enjoying a lunchtime walk on the beach with his fisheries monitoring team · Blue Ventures

Timor-Leste has great potential due to its wealth of natural resources. But the Earth is facing a crisis due to accelerating human-induced climate breakdown.

I’m inspired by working alongside communities and other partners, both here in Timor-Leste and internationally, to help drive change and solve the conservation challenges ahead.

I encourage young people in Timor-Leste to follow their dreams. As I was always told growing up, “Fiar de’it katak! Loron ida, ita nia servisu no esforsu tomak sei selu-kotuk,” which means, “Have faith that one day, your work and effort will pay off!”

Explore the series to learn more about Timor-Leste, the home of the most biodiverse reef left on Earth

Dedy Martins

Conservation Officer, Blue Ventures

Originally from Maliana, close to the border with Indonesian Timor, Dedy joined Blue Ventures after a few years with a research organization in the capital Dili, where he worked in office management and HR. In his role as a Blue Ventures Conservation Officer, Dedy supports coastal communities in his homeland while learning more about marine ecosystems.

Blue Ventures

Locally led marine conservation

Blue Ventures is a science-led social enterprise that develops transformative approaches for nurturing and sustaining locally led marine conservation. The organization works in partnership with coastal communities in places where the ocean is vital to the culture and economy.

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