NUKU’ALOFA – The island kingdom of Tonga has reached its target of zoning 30% of its waters as marine protected area (MPA), meeting a government commitment made at the 2017 United Nations Ocean Conference.
The Minister for Environment (MEIDECC), Hon. Poasi Tei, announced this when he launched Marine atlas: maximizing benefits for Tonga to commemorate World Oceans Day, as well as celebrating the achievements towards developing Tonga’s Ocean Plan, at the Davina House in Ma’ufanga on June 8, World Oceans Day.
“We are marking the completion of processes towards achieving Tonga’s 30% MPA target by the year 2020 that our leaders committed to at the UN Ocean Conference back in 2017,” Hon. Tei said.
“In choosing to develop a comprehensive ocean plan that protects 30% of Tonga’s waters, Tonga is choosing to ensure a sustainable future for current and future generations.”
In the past six years, Tonga’s Ocean 7 committee, which is made up of seven government departments, has worked on the Tonga Ocean Plan.
The committee is made up of leaders in the Department of Environment, under the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communication (MEIDECCC); the Ministry of Fisheries; Ministry of Tourism; Ministry of Lands and Survey; Ports Authority; Ministry of Revenue and Customs; and the Marine Department.
Marine protected areas are essential for safeguarding biodiversity and the health of marine ecosystems. They provide a sanctuary for species to mature and reproduce in, and help restore healthy populations within and beyond their borders.
MPAs also build resilience against threats such as climate change and pollution by maintaining vital natural processes, storing carbon, and buffering coastlines, as well as ensuring sustainable food supplies for coastal communities.
Around the world, national and international organisations are working together to protect marine areas within their borders and beyond national jurisdictions. Experts agree that 30% of each marine biogeographical region must be conserved by 2030 to safeguard biodiversity and the benefits humans derive from nature. They said they must be conserved in ways that are effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative, and form well-connected systems of marine protected areas.
The United Nations has designated 8 June as World Oceans Day – a day for people to celebrate the ocean and to remember how important oceans are for our existence.
Hon. Tei said that the Government of Tonga, as the manager a large ocean sovereign state, understood the impacts on and threats to ocean biodiversity and community livelihoods.
The government also understood economic reliance on marine resources and the need for sustainable development.
“In fact, sustainable development of Tonga’s natural assets is a key component of forward planning for Tonga,” he said.
“Tongan culture and history are deeply tied to and intertwined with the ocean, relying heavily upon marine biodiversity and resources for ecosystem services, including subsistence and economic activities (such as tourism, shipping and fishing). Technology and increasing demand on resources have accelerated ocean activities and threats to the future sustainability.”
Tonga’s ability to reach the 30% MPA target of its large ocean is testimony to the great partnerships forged by government, communities and overseas partners and donors that helped in the consultation processes, and also technical advisers who helped locals understand the need for such programs to be implemented.
Ocean Plan includes most Tongans’ views
Hon. Tei said that the development of Tonga’s Ocean Plan had been conducted by using overarching and guiding principles to ensure a transparent and open platform for discussion. Community and stakeholder perspectives were integrated into management decisions, with an understanding that the process was intended to provide benefits for the majority.
The Tonga Ocean 7 committee and working group started public consultation in 2018 throughout the islands of Tonga, and completed consultations in 2020 when the draft Tonga Ocean Plan was taken back to the communities.
The Tonga Ocean Plan includes the area from shore to the boundary of Tonga’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The minister said that the government acknowledged the continuous support of the Waitt Institute and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Both have been helping Tonga financially and technically.
He also acknowledged the continuous support of the ministers of Fisheries and Lands for their commitment.
The chief executive officer for Fisheries, Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi, said this year’s World Ocean Day theme was timely.
The theme is “The ocean: life and livelihoods”. or Ko e Oseni- hono ngaahi me’a mo’ui pea koe ma’u’anga mo’ui.
“This theme sheds light on the wonder of the ocean and how it is our life-source, supporting humanity and every other organism on earth,” he said.
As in most recent years, this year also serves as a declaration of intentions that launches a decade of challenges to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 14, “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” by 2030.
Tonga joins the rest of the world in recognition of the vast ocean that provides and sustains us and connects our global community.
Dr Halafihi said government acknowledged the Tonga National Marine Spatial Planning Program, which had been endorsed by the Cabinet in 2015 to spatially plan Tonga’s marine environment to achieve long-term sustainability of Tonga’s ocean resources.
He said the process to create the Tonga Ocean Plan utilised best available science and relied on extensive input from ocean stakeholders and communities.
Marine atlas highlights the value of the ocean
The marine atlas has been produced under the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Management in Pacific Island Countries (MACBIO) project.
It details the value of Tonga’s marine and ocean activities plus the planning and management issues of all these resources and activities.
The island nation contains many marine ecosystems, from globally significant coral reefs to mangroves, seagrass areas, seamounts and deep-sea trenches. They support at least 1,142 fish species, including tuna, sharks, whales, dolphins and sea turtles.
The atlas states that Tonga’s marine ecosystems are worth at least Tongan paanga (TOP) $47 million a year, an amount that exceeds the total value of the country’s exports.
Lands and Survey chief executive officer, Ms Rosamond Bing, who is also the joint chair of the Tonga Ocean 7 committee, said the Tonga marine atlas was essential for Tonga’s management of the ocean and its resources.
“Improvements in research over the years have enabled us to better understand the ocean system and to develop solutions with a sustainable approach,” she said.
That had included mapping Tonga’s tuna fishing areas and ensuring that these areas were mapped to help tuna fishermen.
The atlas covers important discussions such as the values the ocean provides to Tonga to support the kingdom’s wealth and wellbeing, and how Tonga should plan the uses of the ocean and address conflicts and threats.
It is designed to help decision makers in all sectors appreciate the values of marine ecosystems and the importance of using spatial planning when working out how they can be used.
Header image: The Tongan Minister for Environment, Hon. Poasi Tei (right) receives a copy of the Tonga marine atlas from the Director of Environment, Ms Atelaite Lupe Matoto, as the chief executive officer for MEIDECC, Mr Paula Ma’u, looks on. Photo: Iliesa Tora.