Ohonua consultation – This was after the consultation on the Ocean Plan in Ohonua, ‘Eua island in 2020, one of the many community consultations held around Tonga. Photo: Enviro News.

NUKU’ALOFA:  The Tongan government has approved the Tonga Ocean Management Plan, a milestone in the work to ensure sustainable management of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The plan covers the management of the 700,000 km2 EEZ, its resources and activities.

One of the three co-chairs of the Tonga Ocean 7 committee that was tasked to prepare the plan, Mr Paula Ma’u, says the approval means the plan can now be implemented by the partner government ministries and departments.

He adds that this is a great milestone for Tonga.

“Cabinet’s approval of the Tonga Ocean Management Plan means a lot to us, as we believe this will help sustainably manage our oceans and its resources for the benefit of all Tongans,” Mr Ma’u says.

Mr Ma’u, who is CEO for the Ministry for Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), co-chairs the committee with the CEO for the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Ms Rosamond Bing and the CEO for the Ministry of Fisheries Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi.

Other implementation partners are the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Infrastructure, Tourism, Marine and Ports, and Finance; and Ports Authority Tonga.

In a 2015 cabinet decision, the Government of Tonga initiated the Oceans 7 Technical Committee to formalise and implement the pathway for marine spatial planning to develop and implement 30% marine protected areas within Tonga’s EEZ.

That aligns with the Tongan Strategic Development Framework, Convention on Biological Diversity, and Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life below Water).

The aim for Tonga’s ocean plan is the “ecologically sustainable, social and economic development of Tonga’s ocean for the benefit of all Tongans”.

Marine spatial planning provides an integrated holistic approach to ocean management.

Consultations on the Ocean Management Plan or Marine Spatial Plan began in 2018 for general awareness on ocean use, economic and cultural activities, and as the basis of Tonga’s ocean plan.

Based on this first consultation, the government developed a marine spatial plan that includes marine protected areas and other ocean management areas.

Oceans 7 – Members of the Tonga Ocean 7 committee meeting to discuss the Ocean Plan earlier this year. Photo: Iliesa Tora/Enviro News.

In 2020, the government undertook further consultations, sharing the map of the placement of these areas. This robust consultation process included all four island groups with community, government and private sector stakeholders.

The maps include areas that are used for tuna fisheries.

“This is indeed a great achievement for the future of Tonga’s efforts towards sustaining the ocean and its resources for future generations,” Mr Ma’u says.

Technical and financial support was provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature; Waitt Institute; Oceans 5; Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea; German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and Vava’u Environmental Protection Association.