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Luis Melky Here-Huno — or Melky as he is known around here —  is East Timor’s first qualified diving instructor.

We meet in Dili, where Melky is teaching more than 40 Timorese kids how to swim and introducing them to diving theory, before taking them on their first dive.

For most of these children, Melky’s lessons are their introduction to East Timor’s stunning coral reefs, recognised as the most biodiverse in the world.

“I want to keep teaching Timorese people to dive and help them understand what is down in our ocean so we Timorese people can learn to take care of our coral reefs,” he says.

‘Everyone talks about climate change’

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is one of the world’s youngest nations, gaining its independence and officially changing its name in 2002, after a brutal war with Indonesia.

From its inception, the tiny nation has sought to project itself as an eco-tourism alternative to Indonesia’s island of Bali, 2,000 kilometres west.

But as Timor-Leste reopens to the world post-COVID a key challenge remains: how can its pristine natural environment be maintained while building sustainable livelihoods for locals like Melky?

“Everyone is talking about climate change here — people are worried about the future of the reefs,” Melky says. “I know what is inside the ocean here now — and if the coral reef is dying we won’t have an industry.”

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