Abilio da Fonseca

Abilio da Fonseca
Abilio da Fonseca's picture
Alumni - PhD Student
Fisheries aquaculture, Hasanuddin University. Masters of Tropical Environmental Management, Charles Darwin University


Abilio da Fonseca has background in coastal fisheries and environmental policy.  Abilio has worked in fisheries and aquaculture (marine and freshwater) research for more than 10 years on a range of  projects in Timor-Leste and Darwin, including  tiger prawn, sea cucumber, milk fish, gold fish and tilapia and seaweed marine culture. Following completion of his undergraduate training in fisheries aquaculture at Hasanuddin University (Indonesia) in 1994 (and an Honours degree in 1997), Abilio completed a Masters of Tropical Environmental Management (MTEM) at Charles Darwin University in 2004, on the environmental impacts of prawn aquaculture.

In addition to his fisheries expertise, as a policy analyst with the Government of Timor-Leste, Abilio has also worked extensively on international environmental issues (particularly climate change issues). His experience includes working closely with international agencies (UNDP) and specifically, advising on the ratification and implementation of a range of multi-lateral environment agreements for the Government of Timor-Leste (for example, CBD, UNCCD, UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Protocol, UNCLOS and Vienna convention).

His PhD Project is on Exploring Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Options for Coastal Communities in Timor-Leste.



Hope is a powerful weapon, just ask the people of Timor-Leste − a country that has overcome crippling violence and tragic loss of human life to gain independence. And it will look to researchers such as ABILIO DA FONSECA to help prepare for one of its biggest trials yet.


PhD candidate Abilio da Fonseca is investigating the impacts of climate change on coastal communities.

Abilio da Fonseca is a driven man. The PhD candidate and Timor-Leste citizen wants one thing above anything else, and that is to contribute to helping the island nation and its one million-plus population to prosper. But prosperity will never come unless the world’s youngest democracy can repel the newest threat to its shores. Raised in a fi shing village where lives depend on the resources of the sea, Abilio is a young man fighting a new peril that is snapping at his nation – climate change. Born in a small village in the Sub district of Tutuala, in eastern Timor-Leste Island, Abilio’s family of nine brothers and sisters survived by subsistence farming and fi shing. A keen interest in marine life and passion for improving the lives of his people saw Abilio study at the Fisheries High School in Aquaculture in Indonesia before completing an undergraduate degree in fi sheries and  quaculture at Hasanuddin University, Indonesia. He returned to Timor-Leste to carry out fi sheries research for the Government of Indonesia to increase the aquaculture “farming” opportunities of several sources of protein for his people, including sea cucumbers and gold fish.

But in 1999, while he was working as part of the local staff for the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste to help prepare his people for the independence referendum, Abilio’s life changed abruptly. The struggle for independence turned bloody in the lead up to voting. Abilio’s wife and son fl ed to Indonesia and he was forced to hide in the jungle for three months, laying low while order was gradually restored.

In 2002, the year Xanana Gusmao was sworn in as President, Abilio’s talents were acknowledged with a scholarship to study for a Master of Tropical Environmental Management at Charles Darwin University (CDU) in Darwin. The similarity of the tropical environments of the Top End of Northern Australia and Timor-Leste struck a chord with Abilio, who wanted to learn from lessons already being taught in Australia about the urgency of climate change and how to protect the people and resources of his country. Finishing his Masters in 2004, he returned to his home country and took up an influential position with the still fledgling Government. He began working with the United Nations Development Program to counsel the Government of Timor-Leste on the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and to advise the Secretary of State for the Environment on implementing the convention and protocol obligations at a national level. Again his dedication and contributions were recognised last year when he was awarded a joint scholarship to complete a Doctorate at CDU in which he is investigating how climate change impacts coastal communities of Northern Australia and Timor-Leste. He said that one of his greatest challenges was in educating his people on the potential impacts of climate change. “Climate change can impact directly on industry in coastal areas including physical infrastructure through erosion or flooding,” Abilio said. “We need to understand how communities can cope with this issue and provide options and suggestions to help. “Climate change is a big issue for Timor-Leste and we need to establish what climate change will look like and what it is teaching us,” he said. Its affect on natural resources could mean livelihoods and homes are lost. The developing nation is already experiencing unexpected weather conditions and unprecedented fl ooding, and its capital Dili is dangerously close to sea level. “If we don’t reduce the problems now it will be a big problem in the future,” Abilio warned. While the next four years of Abilio’s studies will map and measure the physical and natural resources that could be affected, he must also convince the people of Timor-Leste about the dangers of climate change It is a task all the more challenging when the fishermen in the researcher’s own village need to change their behaviours to protect the maritime and coastal resources, even if it means no food on the table that night.

“I urge them to consider that if we don’t do this now there will be nothing left for our children,” Abilio said.

and what it is teaching us.