|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (March 2012)|
Atauro Island (also Ilha de Atauro, Ata'uro) is a small island situated 25km north of Dili, East Timor, on the extinct Wetar segment of the volcanic Inner Banda Arc, between the Indonesian islands of Alor and Wetar. Politically it comprises one of the subdistricts of the Dili District of East Timor. It is about 25 km long and 9 km wide, about 105 km² in area, and is inhabited by about 8,000 people. The nearest island is the Indonesian island of Liran, 12 km to the northeast.
The name means 'goat' in the local language, and it is also known as Kambing Island (Pulau Kambing) by the Indonesians (Kambing means 'goat' in Indonesian). It was so named because of the large number of goats kept there.
The island is separated into 5 districts, each surrounding a village: Biqueli and Beloi in the north, Macadade (formerly Anartutu) in the southwest, and Maquili and Vila Maumeta in the southeast. The largest town is Vila Maumeta. Other major towns include Pala, Uaroana, Arlo, Adara, and Berau. One bitumen road connects Vila Maumeta to Pala, with walking paths to the other villages on the island. In Indonesian times there was an airstrip, north of Vila Maumeta, but this is now unusable to fixed-wing aircraft (IATA designation: AUT (WPAT)).
Mt. Manucoco is the highest point at 999m above sea level. The ocean strait between Atauro and Timor drops 3500m below sea level; conversely, it is much shallower along the ridge leading to Wetar. Geologists from Melbourne University are working together with the East Timor Energy Minerals and Resources Directorate (EMRD) and the Polytechnical Institute of Dili to make the first geological map of the island, in part to improve the infrastructure of the island.
Atauro is a small and unstable island with a rugged landscape, frequented by landslides and a shortage of fresh water, especially during the drier months. Fresh water springs are present approximately 2km north of Berau, with minor reservoirs around Macadade, and the eastern slopes of Mt. Manucoco. Wells along the coast provide water of poor quality to most coastal townships. In 2004 Portugal funded a project to improve the availability of water and its distribution infrastructure but the island remains critically short of water.
Atauro has two distinct seasons - wet and dry. Vegetation consists of open Eucalyptus sp. woodland, representative of its Australasian affinities, on open slopes and hillsides commonly where limestones outcrop. Rainforest is present within valleys. The island has suffered from extensive clearing.
A ferry, the Nakroma, a gift from Germany, connects the island to the capital Dili, which takes about two hours. It can also be reached by fishermen's boats. Atauro is also being considered as a destination for eco-tourism, and its coral reefs are becoming known to scuba enthusiasts.
Atauro is unusual in East Timor because many of the northern inhabitants are Protestants, not Catholics. They were evangelized by a Dutch Calvinist mission from Alor in the early 20th century. There are also some Protestants among the southern population, as well.
- See also: History of East Timor
The Netherlands and Portugal agreed Atauro to be Portuguese in the treaty of Lisbon 1859, but the Portuguese flag was not raised before 1884, when there was an official ceremony. The inhabitants of Atauro did not start to pay taxes to Portugal before 1905. Atauro was used as a prison island soon after settlement by the Portuguese.
In Portuguese Timor, Atauro was organized as part of the Dili municipality, coinciding with modern Dili District. When East Timor became independent, there was a proposal to reorganize the districts and split off Atauro as an autonomous area. However, that has not been put into effect, and it remains a subdistrict of Dili District.
On August 11, 1975, when the UDT mounted a coup in a bid to halt the increasing popularity of Fretilin, the Portuguese Governor Mário Lemos Pires fled to Atauro, from where he later attempted to broker an agreement between the two groups. He was urged by Fretilin to return and resume the decolonisation process, but he insisted that he was awaiting instructions from the government in Lisbon, then increasingly uninterested. The chaos ultimately led to the Indonesian occupation. The island became part of independent East Timor on May 20, 2002.
- Australian editorial on Atauro's poverty
- Community Run Eco Tourism on Atauro Island
- Atauro dolls project