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A physical, geographical and ecological review

Mario N. Nunes, Manger ETTA Forestry Unit



I. Geographical condition


a. Location, boundaries, and range of area

The island of East Timor extends from longitude 123°25¢ to 127°19¢E, and from latitude 8º17¢ to 10º22¢S. The total area of the land of East Timor is approximately 14,609 km², which includes the mainland area of 13,679 km², the region of Oecussi, 78 km², Atauro Island, 141 km², and Jaco Island, 11 km². East Timor’s boundaries are as follows:


-         In the north, the boundary of Wetar Strait with Ombai Strait.

-         In the east, the boundary with the Maluku Strait.

-         In the south, the boundary with the Timor Sea.

-         In the west, the boundary with Nusa Tenggara Timor, the eastern region of Indonesia.  


b. Topography

A mountain range runs from the east to the west of East Timor.  The mountainous terrain results in many watersheds and streams, making transportation very difficult. The land is made up of limestone, coral, thick clayey soil, sand and a small amount of volcanic origin. In East Timor there are seven mountains with heights over 2000m as seen in the following table.  The highest mountain with a height of 2,963 metres is the Tatamailau peak of the Ramelau Range in the Ainaro district.




Name of Mountain


Height Above Sea Water




2.963 metres




2.495 metres




2.620 metres




2.293 metres




2.495 metres




2.050 metres




2.373 metres


As a broad outline, the watersheds of East Timor can be divided into two areas; northern and southern. Of the many rivers in East Timor, the following rivers flow all year round; the Laklo river in the district of Manatuto, the Seical river in Baucau district, the Bulobo, Marobo, Malibaka and Nunura rivers in Bobonaro district, Gleno river in Ermera district, Karau Ulun in Manufahi district, the rivers of Dilor, Uca, Uwetoko, Bebui and Irabere in Viqueque district, the Loes river in Liquica, and the Tono river in Oecussi.


Overall the climate in East Timor is classified as tropical. The minimum temperature range is 18-21°C while the maximum temperature range is 26-32°C. In the north (as far east as Baucau) the rainy season begins in November and is usually accompanied by a westerly monsoon; the months of May and October are months of change from dry to wet season. In the east and the south the situation is different - the rainy season is at its height in April. The dry season occurs during May, and the rainy season returns at the beginning of June until August. When it is winter in Australia (August to October), sometimes the temperature in East Timor can be as low as 18°c. This is also true of the opposite scenario. When it is summer in Australia, the temperature is high on the coast of East Timor, even in the rainy season.


II. The Ecological Condition of East Timor


The ecology of East Timor is influenced by its topography.  It is dominated by an ocean and coastal ecosystem, an inland habitat, and biodiverse mountain regions.


a. Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem

East Timor’s seas are the habitat of many species of fish, including fish that have high economic value such as tuna, skipjack, mackerel, and snapper.  These species can be exploited sustainably to support the national economy. On the coasts, especially in the north and east, there are exposed coral reefs that are a source of food and shelter for many kinds of sea organisms, and are also a valuable natural tourist attraction.

There are mangroves on the northern coast of East Timor that are still intact, and provide habitat for several species of sea birds, bats, and fish.  The egg laying areas of several species of turtle are found on several beaches such as Tutuala beach and on Jaco Island.


c. Inland Habitat

In the inland regions of East Timor, there are differences in the plant life between the north, the south and east, and the mountain regions. The northern areas are dominated by plant species such as Eucalyptus alba, Tamarindus indicus, and several species of tree that grow in dry land areas.

In the east and south the plant species are more varied, dominated by Canarium, Red Wood (Pterocarpus indicus), Charia (Taona sureni) and other types of commercial wood such as teak (Tectona grandis). There are also several species of orchid, and the undergrowth is full of variation.

The mountain areas and uplands are dominated by Eucalyptus urophylla and several species of ferns. There are several species that are found in all regions, including Sandalwood (Santalum album) and Casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia).

The fauna of East Timor consists of several species of mammals such as; Deer (Cervus timorensis), cuscus, wild pigs, and monkeys; reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes and lizards; birds such as lorikeets, cockatoos, land and sea eagles and pigeons.


III. Actual Condition

Because East Timor has ruled by other people for so long, the management of natural resources in this country has not received serious attention. The result is that today there is widespread deforestation and there are several species of bird and animals that are threatened with extinction.  This situation requires the attention of all the people of East Timor. Examples of threatened species are sandalwood, teak, and several species of bird including cockatoos, lorikeets and eagles.

Thus if we wish to develop a better future for East Timor, the biophysical environment and natural resources of East Timor must be given attention so as to avoid further destruction and to repair environmental damage.