Vava'u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA)

Coral Reef Monitoring: finding hope

In October, project activities included monitoring the coral reef habitats within the Vava’u Archipelago, with this the 5th consecutive year following on from the “Rapid Assessment of Biodiversity of Vava’u (BioRAP)” in 2014 through Government of Tonga and Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP).

Coral reefs worldwide are under immense threats and pressures to survive and provide the critical habitats for biodiversity and the resource benefits that humans gain. Long term impacts from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change need to be addressed both globally and locally, of which the team here can advocate and expand upon through communities and supporting management and policy activities.

The team of marine researchers from the Department of Environment (DoE) and VEPA are currently identifying and monitoring ongoing changes to the near-shore coral reef habitats. The replicated sites include inner harbour, channel islands and reefs and outer islands, 7 sites are from the BioRAp in 2014.

Sweets (Tu’amelie Fusimalohi) from DoE records coral recruitment

Vava’u was once known for its pristine reefs and abundance of reef fish and invertebrates however has taken a downward spiral in coral reef health and species dynamics over the last 30-40 years impacting upon biodiversity and livelihood security.

Why? A common question about the reef status but the answer is not an easy statement or clear single issue, in fact its decades of compounded issues from coastal development to fishing pressure, unsustainable practices to climate change, Crown of Thorns (‘Alamea), pollution and sedimentation (see there is sadly a lot going on!) but which one occurred when and which is having the biggest ongoing impact.

Looking to the future and resilience of the coral reef habitats is important, identifying on going impacts that adaptable management can undertake and reduce is one step to seeing how the reefs will survive and the hope that they thrive in the future.

Management programs such as marine protected areas and special management areas (community based fisheries management areas) play a vital role in the future of marine habitats and marine biodiversity and the outcomes of developing shared monitoring and governance roles will also aim to ensure ownership is transferred and beneficial to multiple sectors and stakeholders.

The research team reviews data and reflections on the week Photo © Lahaina Tatafu, DoE Intern and Deep Blue Diving

Yet, the photo above is one that gives VEPA great hope for the future, the growth of researchers in country, committed not just through research but the very core of ensuring that ownership is passed between generations.

The 2020 annual research and monitoring was supported by the Strengthening Protected Area Management (SPAM), Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea under Department of Environment (MEIDECC).

S.E.A Program Coming Soon……

Under the Vava’u Ocean Initiative in partnership with the Waitt Institute and Ministry of Fisheries, we are excited and delighted for the upcoming launch of the Special Management Area (SMA) Environmental Ambassador Program (S.E.A).

SMA Committee Member at ‘Ovaka

Special Management Areas (SMAs) are a community based fisheries program under the Ministry of Fisheries since 2002, which allows for communities to manage near-shore marine habitats and resources, within each gazetted boundary is a Fish Habitat Reserve (FHR) or no-take area as well as ongoing development of aquaculture areas that support livelihoods.

The S.E.A program is a joint initiative to further shared knowledge and field activities for community monitoring on environmental issues such as land based pollution and water quality and threats (overfishing and climate change) but will also cover knowledge on coral reef habitats, intertidal areas and mangroves.

Over the next 4 months, each outer island SMA community in Vava’u will select a representative for the ambassador program to engage in a 2-week initiative (2 communities represented at a time) alongside VEPA and Ministry of Fisheries staff with a final barbecue (our favourite sausage sizzle) for all participants at the end of the project. This is a paid internship program approved by the CEO, Dr Halafihi of the Ministry of Fisheries under the project Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Vava’u Ocean Initiative.

Field activities will include a range of basic monitoring programs that ambassadors can conduct in their own SMA such as monitoring and managing Crown of Thorn (‘Alamea) populations, intertidal habitats, coral health, water quality and waste management practices sharing information and knowledge about current practices and status that will further the SMA management program.

Photo by Karyn Von Engelbrechten © 2019

Ambassadors will also share activities in data collection on other programs such as fish gut surveys for micro plastics and invasive species management to show the different local approaches to supporting monitoring and evaluation of the environment and habitats.

So yeap! We are excited and can’t wait to share the upcoming activities and stories and to learn further from the outer island communities about their experiences.

Thorn in our Side….

Well actually the thorns mostly hit our fingers and for many of us the memories of the week stay in the tingling tips of our fingers.

What were we up to? Removing those nasty, spine heavy starfish called Crown of Thorns (COTS), (Acanthaster planci) or locally known as ‘Alamea.

Did you know that COTS can have up to 21 arms and reach diameters of over 80cm! The spines are long and carry a toxin in them that will make your fingers swell up and be extremely painful. Though the toxin is not life threatening, several stings can be quite traumatic and care needs to be taken.

COTS starfish are a native but voracious predator to coral reefs in the Pacific region and for a starfish are able to move fast covering 20 meters per hour (Ref), they eat the fleshy polyp of the coral leaving a trail of white destruction.


The white coral skeleton left behind as the predatory COTS moves on to the healthy side. Photo credit: © Karyn Von Engelbrechten

As COTS are native to coral reefs, small occurrences can be beneficial (estimates of 6-20 per km2), however when occurrences are observed over this and destruction of corals is extremely visible, management practices need to happen. The COTS natural predators include the Triton Trumpet (Charonia tritonis), Kele’a and some fish species including Napoleaon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), puffer fish (Arothron hispidus) and triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) (Ref) however these  predator species are often in low abundance and slow moving to be able to deal with COTS on a frequent basis.



The SCUBA team from Department of Environment, Penikoni ‘Aleamotua, Senituli Finau and Brian Fusimalohi. Photo credit © Karyn Von Engelbrechten



Population outbreaks are strongly linked to nutrients enrichment primarily from heavy rain fall and subsequent run off and it appears from surveys conducted we have “hotspots” located near channels and high current areas. When COTS spawn, they release eggs which are fertilised and develop into larvae which are carried currents, these larvae settle on other coral reefs, allowing for other reef sites to be affected.





SCUBA diver from VEPA removes COTS using barbecue tongs and places them in a flour sack to be brought back to land. Photo credit: © Karyn Von Engelbrechten

Currently, our only way to manage COTS is with active hands on removal, though worldwide new techniques have emerged for injecting them with vinegar, we currently don’t have the equipment to manage them this way. Manual management programs are costly and to be able to maintain and monitor COTS populations, we need to be out there as often as possible whilst at the same time looking for way to gain the equipment that would ease the management process.

In order to make sure manual management is successful, the following is critical:

  • COTS must not be broken up when removing, each arm can become a new COTS if broken
  • Care is taken not to damage other corals around when removing the COTS
  • COTS must be removed completely from the ocean
  • Use long tongs to keep hands a safe distance away from the spines
  • Wear heavy builder gloves (not always available here) to protect from spikes but be mindful not to grab on to live corals around (its why we are gloveless!)
  • If your fingers meet a spine and gets pricked, make the affected area bleed through the pricked area as much as possible and for as long as possible immediately following the incident

It is extremely important that COTS are removed effectively and that management practices are adhered to, otherwise “help” can create an even bigger “storm in the teacup”.

Over the course of the 3 day management programme we removed 638 individuals from primarily 3 reef areas. Still today, we are getting reports from kind visitors about other areas they are seeing. We hope to be out there again soon and developing ways that communities and tourism operators can assist.


Data is collected on the minimum and maximum diameter of the COTS by the SCUBA and snorkel teams. Photo credit: © Karyn Von Engelbrechten


Penikoni ‘Aleamotua from Department of Environment, uses a pry tool to remove the COTS without damaging it. Photo credit © Karyn Von Engelbrechten











The oceans and coral reefs face many threats from over exploitation (fishing), climate change and pollution (land and marine based) and COTS outbreaks are high on the list too.

The COTS marine team consisted of trained SCUBA divers from the Department of Environment (MEIDECC), Ministry of Fisheries and the VEPA team. These partnerships are invaluable to the future of our corals and coastal management.

This program was funded jointly by the “Strengthening Protected Area Management (SPAM)” through the Department of Environment and VEPA (through grateful donations!) and the vessel was provided by the Ministry of Fisheries. Big thanks as well to Karyn Von Engelbrechten for the photos that help us to tell the story.

Further Reading:

News from the field:

Here it is the launch of our new series “News from the field” which highlights our findings from surveys and projects. More detailed information will be posted to our latest news.  Let’s make 2019 one of shared experiences and knowledge. vepa_news


A  mix of macroalgae

Koe hokohoko hono tuku atu ‘emau polokalama fo’ou, “Talafungani ‘oe ‘Atakai” ‘oku mau tuku atu ai ‘ae ngaahi ola ‘oku ha mahino mai ai ‘a e ngaahi ola ‘oe fekumi moe ngaahi poloseki kuo lava lelei ‘emau fakahoko fatongia ki ai. Pea ki ha fakaikiiki ‘oe polokalama ni ‘e ‘oatu pe ia ‘I he’emau website. Kapau ‘oku ‘iai ha ngaahi kaveinga ki he ‘Atakai moe me’amo’ui ‘oku ke loto koe kemau toe fakamatala’I atu ke toe mahino ange ‘oku mau talitali lelei koe ke tuku mai ho’o fiema’u ka mau tokoni atu ki hono fakamatala’I ke toe mahinoange. Pea ko ia ai tau feinga leva he 2019 ke tau fevahevahe’aki ‘a e ngaahi ‘ilo mo ‘etau taukei ngaue ‘oku tau ma’u ki he lelei fakalukufua pe hotau ‘atakai vepa_news_to_2018

Reducing the Plastic Footprint in Vava’u Communities


The Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA) is a NGO based in Neiafu, Vava’u dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity, increasing community knowledge of environmental issues and securing sustainable livelihoods for future generations. VEPA operates a range of terrestrial and marine based projects to achieve this goal. VEPA recently collaborated with Ocean Ambassadors, working together on plastic pollution initiatives for Vava’u.


The goal of this project is to reach-out to communities and to develop a broader understanding about plastics and its impacts. Plastic pollution negatively affects local habitats and environments (land and sea) as well being toxic to humans and animals. Many Tongan’s are unaware that discarded plastics can kill animals and destroy habitats.

The project includes community outreach, plastic clean-ups with youth groups and communities and sorting plastics for repurpose. The aim of the project is to correlate data on the different types of plastics that are being imported and to find solutions to reduce and remove plastic pollution from Vava’u.


Community Awareness Events to Minimise Plastic Consumption

VEPA Staff and the Ocean Ambassadors team completed an awareness presentation to youth groups, schools and coastal communities which included some of the outer islands of Vava’u. The presentation was about introducing the impacts of plastics and ways to reduce plastics within the community.


Saineha High School 

Beach Clean-up Events

After the presentation, youth groups and community members participated in beach clean-ups events. Plastics collected were then sorted and weighed with a scale and data was recorded on quantity and type of plastic.


Community programs with Falevai, Ocean Ambassors and VEPA crew


Data collection was conducted by Ocean Ambassador volunteers and VEPA team (pictured above)

Plastic Shredder Machine

The Ocean Ambassadors donated a Plastic Shredder Machine to VEPA, the first of its kind in Tonga. Plastics are cleaned, sorted and prepared for shredding. The plastics are then fed into the machine which breaks them into flakes. The shredded products will be turned into new products, giving the plastic pollution a value and second life.


Finding solutions for reducing plastic

Reducing, reusing and recycling their household waste is being discussed, as well as providing practical examples of actions they can take to be more environmentally sustainable and manage waste in the outer islands.

The next phase is to bring in an injection machine as well as to continue the drive and effort shown during this intiative, as well as pushing for reductions and regulations for single-use plastics.


Talanoa (talking) sessions with communities on ways forward, exchanging knowledge and ideas are an intergral part of sustainable projects

A massive thank you to the crew and volunteers from Ocean Ambassadors during the project and malo’aupito to the communities, youth groups and schools for committments to a sustainable future.

Part 1: Overview – Near-shore, Vava’u

Up until the 1990’s, ocean areas within Tonga were declared as open access for all Tongans, in the hopes of allowing everyone equal and fair sharing of its resources.

Over the years this caused a serious downfall in the status and health of the marine habitats, fish and invertebrate resources, that the communities heavily rely on for both subsistence and commercial activities. Coupled with increasing populations, land based pollution, run off, impacts from cyclones and storms, habitat destruction, the increasing threat of climate change and the rapid development of the coastal areas. The marine habitats suffered greatly, in some areas in Vava’u were reduced to less than 10% coral cover.


Healthy hard corals provide habitat, food and shelter to a myriad of marine life

Marine habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass all play an important ecological benefit to the marine resources offering habitat, food and shelter for the reef fish and invertebrates. Reef builders are the important component, these hard corals and coral building algaes (crustose coraline algae) are the developers of the coral reefs with secondary lesser benefits provided by soft corals, sponges and seagrass. Both live hard coral cover and species diversity of hard corals are needed for a reef to provide multiple ecosystem services.

With weakend coral reefs, the overfishing of important ecological species such as groupers, snappers, emperorfish and other high carnivores and piscivores, as well as roving herbivores such as parrotfish and surgeonfish, can create a more dominant algae shift on the coral reefs. These fish are also the important species for human consumption causing a downward shift in fishing potential.

Many macro algaes alongside turf algae and cyanobacteria are reef competitors, meaning they can take over coral reefs, smothering the ability for the corals to photosynthesise and feed.


Coral showing the algae which has smothered and reducing the corals ability 

For coral reefs to survive, develop and to have larval recruitment of corals, the impacts have to be reduced. Ecosystems and species are heavily intertwined, and each species has its role.

When the ecosystem balance shifts from continuing impacts, dominance of lesser ecologically important species takes over, causing further inbalance in the coral reefs. This not only ecologically affects the coral reefs but also impacts the other services that are provided including food sources for consumption, domestic economic benefits, tourism benefits and providing shelter from waves.

Its not all doom and gloom though, Tonga and Vava’u are making important decisions in the management of their near-shore resources. We will talk more about this in the upcoming weeks as well as other important ocean information!







Beyond the Reef: Ngaahi ‘elia ‘o e ‘Oseni

Ngaahi ‘elia ‘o e ‘Oseni

‘I he’etau hiki atu mei he ngaahi matafanga pea mo e ngaahi nofo’anga hakau feo ‘I he tahi mamaha, tongo pea mo e ngaahi ‘elia matatahi, ‘oku liliu ‘e ‘oseni hono fotunga ha mai (maama( fakatupu ‘e he maama), mafana pea mo hono ivi malohi) pea pehe foki ki he ‘ulungaanga ‘o e me’a mo’ui pea mo hono ‘atakai.

‘I he ‘oseni loloto ‘oku ‘I ai hono ngaahi tefito’I leia vetikale ‘e 5:

‘Epipelagic pe Photic Layer: ‘oku ‘I he mita ‘e 200 ki ‘olunga ki he fukahi ‘oseni, ‘oku ‘I heni foki mo e ngaahi me’a mo’ui ‘oku nau liliu ‘a e ivi mei he la’a ki he me’atokoni hange ko e plankton ‘a ia ‘oku ne tauhi e maama fe’unga mei he la’a ke fa’u ‘aki e me’atokoni, pea ‘oku ne fa’u ‘a e leia taupotu taha ki lalo ‘a e anga e fononga ‘a e me’atokoni ‘I he ‘oseni.

Mesopelagic pe Mesophotic- ‘Oku ‘I he vaha’a mita ko e 200 ki he 1000, ko e me’a mo’ui ‘oku ne ngaohi ‘ene me’atokoni ‘oku fetongi ia ‘e he ‘organic matter ‘oku ngoto hifo mei he fukahi tahi ‘a ia ko e tefito’I ma’au’anga me’atokoni ia ‘I he ‘elia ni ‘o kau kiai pea mo e plankton. ‘I lalo ‘I he tu’unga loloto ko’eni ko e me’a mo’ui  ‘oku nau ma’u me’atokoni mei he ngaahi ivi mei he organic matter pe ko ha ngaahi kakano’I manu mei he ngaahi me’a mo’ui lalahi. ‘I he konga loloto ange ‘o e ‘oseni , ‘I he vaha’a mita ‘e 500-1000 ‘oku a’u ki he peseti ‘e 95 ‘o e fanga ika ‘o e tahi loloto ‘oku ma’u ai pea ko e peseti ‘e 65 ‘o e ngaahi me’a mo’ui hange ko e paka, uloula’avai pea mo e ‘uo ‘oku nau ‘I ai foki. Lahi ‘o e ngaahi me’a mo’ui ‘oku nau fa’u e bioluminescence, ‘a ia ko ha liliu ia ‘oku hoko ki he kemikale ‘a ia ‘oku ne fakatupu ha ma’u’anga maama.


ocean layers

Image created by Ben Eliason

Bathypelagic: ‘Oku fakapo’uli pea momoko ‘I lalo ‘I he vaha’a mita ‘o e 1000 pea mo e 4000, ka ‘oku kei lahi pe e ngaahi mo’ui ai, ko e ngaahi me’a mo’ui ‘o e ‘oseni ‘oku nau malava ke nau feangainga kinautolu ki he toe ma’olugaange ‘a e ivi malohi ‘o e vai ‘o e ‘oseni pea ‘oku fa’a fuo iiki honau mata, ‘oku nau malava foki kenau bioluminesce pea ‘oku ‘uli’uli hono lanu. Ko e me’a tokoni ki he ngaahi me’a mo’ui ni ‘a e organic matter (sinou). Ko e hydrothermal vents ‘oku ma’u kinautolu ‘I he ‘elia ni foki.

Abyssopelagic: ‘Oku ‘I he vaha’a mita ‘o e 4,000 ki he 6,000, pea ‘oku toe fu’u malohiange hono faingata’a pea ‘oku ma’ulalo ‘aupito hono tu’unga mafana, ko e tu’unga kehekehe koia ‘o hono fa’ahinga me’a mo’ui ‘oku fu’u holoki lahi. Ko e tefito’I me’a mo’ui ‘I he takele ‘o e ‘oseni ‘oku kau kiai ‘a e fa’ahinga hange ko e uloula’avai, ‘uo pea mo e paka. Ko e takele ‘o e ‘oseni ‘oku momo iiki pea mo pelepela ‘a hono ngaahi tokalelei, ‘oku ma’u foki ‘I he ngaahi loloto ni ‘a e fanga ki’I tafa mo’unga ‘I he kilisitahi ‘oku nau tupu hangatonu ki he fukahi vai, pehe pe foki ki he hydrothermal vents. Ko e ngaahi kakano mei he tofua’a ko e ngaahi me’atokoni tefito ia ma’ae ngaahi me’a mo’ui ‘oku nau nofo ‘I he ‘elia ni.

Kaikehe ‘oku kei toe pe me’a lahi ketau fononga kiai, ka ‘oku toe pe leia ‘e taha:

Ko e Hadal Layer: Ko e ‘elia loloto taha, fakapo’uli taha pea mo e momoko taha ‘I he ngaahi leia kotoa ‘o e ‘oseni, ‘oku ma’u ia ‘I lalo ‘I he mita ‘e 6,000. Ko e ‘elia ni foki ‘oku ‘iloa ko e tauhi’anga koloa loloto taha ia ‘o e mamani: ko e Marianas pea mo e Tongan Trenches ‘oku na tokoto ‘I he mama’o ‘o e loloto ‘o e fukahi ‘oseni. Ko e ngaahi nofo’anga ‘I he takele ko’eni ‘oku kapui ia ‘e he pelepela momoiiki pe ko hono me’a mo’ui ‘oku tatelau hono lahi, pea ‘oku toki ala ma’u e fanga ki’I komiuniti iiki ‘oku nau nofo takai ‘I ha ‘elia ‘oku ‘I ai ha kanomate kuo to ki tahi pe ha ngaahi me’a kuo mate.

Neongo ko e lahi taha ‘o e ngaahi ‘elia ko’eni ‘o e ‘oseni, ‘oku ‘ikai ketau lava ‘o mamata kiai, ‘oku nau fu’u mahu’inga fau ke poupou ki he’etau mo’ui, pea neongo pe ko e ha hono loloto ka ‘oku nau kei fehangahangai pe mo e ngaahi faingata’a. ‘I he ngaahi leia ko’eni, ‘oku lahi e ngaahi me’a mo’ui ‘oku nau fehikitaki ‘o nofo ai hange koia ko e fangamea, tuna, ngaahi me’a mo’ui ‘oku toto mafana, feke kae pehe ki he ngu feke.

‘I he ngaahi uike ka hoko mai te mau talanoa fakaikiiki atu ai ki ha ni’ihi ‘o e ngaahi nofo’anga laulotaha ko’eni pea mo hono ngaahi me’a mo’ui.


Beyond the Reef: Ocean Layers

As we leave the shorelines and the shallow water habitats of coral reefs, mangroves and intertidal zones, the ocean changes its physical (light (photic), temperature and pressure) as well as biological and ecological characteristics.

Within the deep ocean there are 5 specific interconnected vertical layers:

Epipelagic or Photic Layer: found within the upper 200 meters of the ocean, found here are the primary producers such as plankton that maintain enough sunlight to photosynthesize forming the bottom layer of the food web.

Mesopelagic or Mesophotic – between 200 and 1000m the primary producers are replaced with sinking organic matter as the primary food source including plankton. Down at these depths the consumers are often scavengers finding nutrition in the organic matter or sunken carcasses from larger marine animals. In the deeper part, between 500-1000m up to 95% of all deep-water fish species are found and 65% of decapod (Crab, shrimp, lobster) are found. Many species create bioluminescence, a special chemical reaction that creates a light source.

ocean layers

Image created by Ben Eliason

Bathypelagic: its dark and cold down here between 1000 and 4000 meters, but even still there is much life, the marine organisms are adapted to high pressures of ocean water and often have small eyes, the ability to bio luminesce and are dark in colour. Food for these animals is often the sinking organic matter (snow). Hydrothermal vents are located within the bathypelagic area.

Abyssopelagic: between 4,000 to 6,000 meters, and at extreme water pressures and low temperatures, species diversity is greatly reduced. The primary organisms on the sea floor include the decapods (shrimp, lobster and crabs) The floor is a find mud sediment on these largely flat plains, found at these depths can be the sea mounts rising towards the ocean surfaces as well as hydrothermal vents. Dead carcasses from whales are often the main form of food for those animals that dwell here.

However, we still have further to travel, there is one more layer left:

The Hadal Layer: the deepest, darkest and coldest of all ocean layers, found below 6,000 meters. The world’s deepest known treasures: the Marianas and Tongan trenches lay far under the ocean’s surface. These bottom habitats are covered in a fine mud and marine organisms are sparse, finding small communities residing around fallen carcasses and dead matter.


Beyond the Reef: Ocean Areas

Malo e lelei we are excited to introduce a new Ocean themed awareness campaign that will be soothing the radio waves over the next few months as well as being posted on bogs and websites. In order to ensure the sustainability of our oceans, we need to understand the current uses, issues and threats that are going on. So, let us take a look “Beyond the Reef”

Malo e lelei kau fanongo, ‘oku mau mafana ‘aupito ke fakafe’iloaki atu e kaveinga ‘oku ‘amanaki ke faka’ilo atu ‘I he’emau kemipeini fekau’aki mo e ‘oseni ‘a ia tene fakanonga kitautolu mei he’etau letio ‘I he ngaahi mahina ka hoko mai. Ke malava ke fakapapau’i ‘e tu’uloa hotau ‘oseni ‘oku fiema’u ketau mahino’i e ngaahi founga lolotonga ‘oku ngaue’aki kiai, ngaahi palopalema mo e ngaahi fakafe’atungia ‘oku hoko. Koia ai, tuku mu’a ketau vakai ange ki he “Mama’o atu ‘I he hakau”.

Near shore habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves and intertidal mud flats provide many benefits (ecosystem services) for livelihood support and economic activities such as tourism and commercial fishing; regulatory services such as carbon storage, resilience to storms and disasters and provides habitats for biodiversity. They also provide social and cultural benefits including relaxation and spiritual sanctity.

‘I he ngaahi nofo’anga ofi ‘I he matafanga hange ko e feo, tongo mo e ngaahi ‘elia ‘I he tahi mamaha, ‘oku ne  tokonaki ha ngaahi lelei lahi (ngaue ‘oku foaki ‘e he ‘ekosisitemi) ke ne poupou ki he’etau mo’ui faka’aho kae pehee foki ki he’etau ngaahi ngaue faka’ekonomika hange ko e takimamata mo e toutai faka-komesiale. ‘Oku malava foki ke mapule’I e ngaahi ngaue hange ko hono tanaki koia ‘o e kaponi, mo hono matu’uaki e ngaahi matangi malohi mo e ngaahi fakatamaki fakaenatula pehe foki ki he’ene foaki nofo’anga ki he ngaahi me’a mo’ui  kehekehe ‘o e ‘oseni. ‘Ikai koia pe, ka ‘oku ne toe foaki e ngaahi lelei fakasosiale pea  tuku faka-holo fakafonua hange ko’etau  malolo mo vete puputu’u ‘i he ngaue pea mo e fakalaumalie foki.

However, the open oceans are also intertwined and linked with livelihoods, often without us seeing the ecosystem services directly. Over the following weeks, the programs will bring information on the deep ocean habitats and species, the activities and threats that are faced, and ways forward managing and protecting these vital ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Kaikehe, koe ‘oseni ‘oku faka-feakafi mo fehokotaki ia pea mo ‘etau mo’ui faka’aho. Ko hono angamaheni ‘oku ‘ikai malava ketau sio hangatonu ki he ngaahi lelei moe aonga  ‘oku foaki mai ‘e he ‘ekosisitemi. ‘I he ngaahi uike ka hoko mai, ‘e tuku atu ai ‘e he’etau ngaahi polokalama ha ngaahi fkamatala fekauaki mo e nofo’anga ‘I he tahi loloto mo hono ngaahi me’amo’ui,  ngaahi ngaue moe ngaahi fakafe’atungia ‘oku fehangahangai moia, pehe foki ki he ngaahi founga ke leva’I mo malu’I ‘aki ‘a e ngaue lelei ‘oku fakahoko ehe ngaahi ‘ekosisitemi.

To begin with, lets discuss these ocean boundaries, areas that define both nationally and internationally the rights of uses:

Te tau kamata leva ‘I hono talanoa’I ‘a e ngaahi fakangatangata ni ‘I he ‘oseni ‘aia ‘oku ne fakamatala’I e ngaahi totonu hono ngaue’aki ‘o tatau ‘I he faka-lotopule’anga pea mo e faka-tu’apule’anga foki.

The United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans. Tonga is both a signatory to the UNCLOS declaration and regulates the ocean areas under the Maritime Zones Act 2009.

Ko e konivesio ‘a e ngaahi fonua fakatahataha ‘I he lao ‘o e tahi (UNCLOS) ‘oku ne fakamatala’I e totonu mo e tefito’I fatongia ‘o ha fonua ki he founga hono ngaue’aki honau ‘oseni ‘I he mamani. Ko Tonga foki kuo fakamo’oni ki he fuakava ‘a e UNCLOS pea mo pule’I ‘a e ‘elia ‘o e ‘oseni ‘o fakatatau ki he lao ‘a e Malini pe ko ‘oseni 2009 ‘a ia ‘oku ‘iloa ko e Maritime Zone Act 2009.

Through this, the declared areas are:

‘I heni foki, ko e ngaahi ‘elia kuo fuakava’I ‘oku kau kiai

Internal Waters – 3.7 kilometres from the nearest land. This is where the coastal habitats are found including coral reefs, mangroves and intertidal areas.

Vai ‘I loto fonua – 3.7 kilomita mei he fonua ofi taha. Koe feitu’u eni ‘oku ma’u ai e ngaahi nofo’anga, kau kiai e hakau feo, tongo mo e  ‘elia ‘I he tahi mamaha.

Internal waters shown in orange around each land area within the 4 island groups.




Google Earth image showing the 12 nautical mile boundary area around each of the four island groups in Tonga.

Territorial seas – up to 23km (12 nautical miles) from the nearest point of land. The territorial seas can be protected by the nation for domestic activities.


Potu tahi fakalotofonua– lahi hake he kilomita e 23 (maile tahi ‘e 12)  mei he poini ofi taha ‘o e fonua. Ko e konga tahi ni ‘oku malava lelei ke pule’I  ia ‘e he pule’anga ki he ngaahi ngaue fakalotofonua



Continental Shelf – describes the sovereign ownership of the seabed and subsoil of the submarine area up to 370km from land.



Image showing the placement of the continental shelf by courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc, copyright 2013, use with permission.

Faliki ‘o e konitineniti – ‘Oku ne fakamatala’I ‘a hono pule’I faka-Tu’I ‘o e faliki pea mo e kelekele ‘o e ‘elia ‘o e ‘oseni ‘o a’u ki he kilomita ‘e 370 mei he fonua.

Proclamation Boundary – a sovereign declared ocean boundary covering approximately 395,000 kilometres squared over the 4 island groups

Ngaahi ngatangata’anga kuo fakaha  –ko ha ngata’anga ‘i ‘oseni kuo fakaha kuo pule’i ‘oku ne kapui ha ‘elia faka-fuofua ki he kilomita ‘e 395,000 sikuea ‘i he kotoa ‘o e ngaahi motu ‘e fa.


Google Earth image showing the Proclomation boundary in yellow and the EEZ in white.

Exclusive Economic Area (EEZ) – 200 nautical miles or 370 kilometres from the nearest land covering an estimated ocean area of  700,000 km2.

‘Elia tu’umalie faka-‘ekonimika ‘o e fonua (EEZ)– ‘oku maile tahi ‘e 200 pe ko e kilomita ‘e 370 mei he fonua ofi taha ‘a ia ‘oku ne kapui e ‘elia ‘o e ‘oseni ‘oku fakafuofua ki he kilomita sikuea ‘e 7000,000.

These ocean areas define where habitats lay, species interact and migrate and where varying commercial and subsistence activities are conducted.

Ko e ngaahi konga tahi ko’eni ‘oku ne fakamatala’I e feitu’u ‘oku ‘I ai e ngaahi nofo’anga, felalave’I ‘a e ngaahi me’a mo’ui pea mo e feitu’u ia ‘oku nau nofo kiai pea ‘oku fakahoko ai e ngaahi ngaue faka-komesiale pea mo faka-taumu’a ki he ma’u me’atokoni mo e silini ‘a e famili

So, let us take a journey together “Beyond the Reef”…….

Koia ai tuku mu’a ketau fononga faka-taha pe pea mo e “Mama’o atu ‘I he Hakau”……

This programme supports the National Marine Spatial Planning Project.

Species of the Month: Humphead Wrasse

Featured Photo credit: © Konstantin Tkachenko/Marine Photobank


Cheilinus undulatus – Tangafa                                 IUCN Red List of Species: Endangered

Other common names: Napoleon wrasse, Maori wrasse.

Family: Wrasses/Labridae                                       Max length: 2 meters

Maximum Age: 25 males and 32 females             Max weight: 190 kg/ 418lbs

Reproductive Maturity Age: 5 – 7 years

Idetified through their big thick lips and distinctive head shape, the Humphead wrasse is the largest of all the wrasse family.  During their lifetime, the wrasse will change colour and even sex!

This is called “Protogynous Heraphrodites” where some females will become males!

They have specialised conical teeth are used to eat molluscs (cowrie shells/pule),  crustaceans (crabs (Paka)/lobsters (‘Uo)), echinoderms (starfish) and other invertebrates. Adults may also feed upon the predatory Crown of Thorns (‘Alamea)!

One of  the most beautiful and majestic fishes, is also a highly prized fish for consumption but also for the live aquarium trade in Hong Kong. Both of these have led to extreme overfishing of the species.


IUCN Red List:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF):