Biophysically special, unique marine areas of Tonga

Thirty-eight special and/or unique marine areas have been described for Tonga by national experts in a workshop and described in a report released in 2017. This findings will inform decisions in marine resource management including decisions about where to locate different types of Ocean Management Areas in Tonga’s future Ocean Plan. The areas were described, justified and scored to a maximum of “3” according to each of four criteria: geographic explicitness (how well defined are the boundaries?), justification (what are the number and detail about the reasons for this site’s identification), information sources (how many and how reliable are these sources?) and legal obligations associated with each site. Each site was described in as much detail as the available information sources allowed, and given a score out of 12. Sites were divided into large-scale sites and finer-scale sites, and the latter were divided into island groups.



In December 2014 a surtseyan eruption was observed at (S 20.542241°, W 175.405597°) in the Tongan archipelago, followed by the emergence of the new Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai island in early 2015. This island is the youngest landmass on earth and it’s evolution is therefore of global significance. Recently Dr. James Garvin, Chief scientist at the NASA Goddard space flight centre published an article in Geophysical Research Letters outlining the evolution and predicted long-term dissolution of the island. This is of particular interest to work NASA is doing on similar formations on Mars, helping shed light on the origins of volcanic formations in our solar system. Researchers from James Cook University are also examining both how preexisting coral reefs around like island coped with a cataclysmic event, as well as how new coral reefs form on a brand new blank ecosystem. The findings have revealed i) corals and other reef organisms colonizing  the new landmass and ii) varying degrees of survival and annihilation around the island. While much of the reef system within 1km of the blast zone was destroyed, surprisingly there are large porites colonies that survived. In addition on the eastern side of the prexisting island the reefs appear to have been relatively unharmed and are in apparently pristine or near pristine condition despite the eruption occurring within 1500 m. Although the biological features on the island itself remain largely unstudied, there are a large number of nesting sea birds which appear extremely vulnerable to human interference and would benefit from protection.

Refer to Research Letter: Garvin et al, 2018. Geophysical Research Letters – [2.79MB]

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