Tonga’s EEZ is about 700,000 km2, smaller than the EEZ of Vanuatu, but larger than that of Italy and South Korea. Land (707 km2) comprises only about 1% of Tongan territory. Despite the small land mass, Tonga has a varied topography, including a reef area of 1,500 km2 with barrier, fringing as well as submerged patch reefs. The country’s coastline extends some 419 km with 6 active gazzeted marine reserves as well as several managed areas. Tongatapu is the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga, with the capital Nuku’alofa. It is characterised by flat, fertile plains. The Ha’apai island group is comprised mostly of small coral atolls and extensive lagoons but is also home to one dormant and one active volcano; the Vava’u islands are surrounded by high limestone cliffs and meandering bays; the island of Eua is virtually a limestone mountain rising from the sea.
Coastal and marine resources provide the Government of Tonga, businesses and households many real and measurable benefits. Without a doubt, the country’s largest stock of natural wealth lies within the sea. The role that natural ecosystems, especially marine ecosystems, play in human wellbeing is often overlooked or taken for granted. The benefits humans receive from ecosystems, called ecosystem services, are often hidden because markets do not directly reveal their value — nature provides these benefits for free. Failure to recognise the role that marine ecosystems play in supporting livelihoods, economic activity, and human wellbeing has, in many instances, led to inequitable and unsustainable marine resource management decisions.
In 2015 the MACBIO Project undertook Marine Ecosystem Service Valuations with all five partner countries including Tonga.
Some highlights included:
• Subsistence fishery produces a value of T$ 5.46 (US$ 3.05) million/year.
• Domestic commercial inshore fishery have an estimated value of T$ 4.2 – T$ 7.3 (US$ 2.3 – US$ 4.1) million annually.
• Bêche-de-mer have, in the past, produced a value of T$ 0.45 (US$ 0.25) million a year.
• Offshore tuna was valued at T$ 2.3 – T$ 3.5 (US$ 1.3 – 2) million a year, of which around 10-15 % accrue to Tonga.
• International tourism was valued at T$ 3.5 – T$8.8 (US$ 2 – 4.9) million per year; there were insufficient data for domestic tourism.
• Coastal protection produces a value of T$ 12.9 – 21.5 (US$ 6.5 – 10.9m) million annually.
• Carbon sequestration had a gross value of T$ 1.4 (US$ 0.77m) million per year.
In July 2015, Tonga’s Cabinet decided to initiate marine spatial planning throughout its EEZ to the outer extent of its EEZ. The government Marine Spatial Planning Technical Working Group, called the Ocean 7, is working with MACBIO to define the work-plan, timelines and deliverables as part of Marine Spatial Planning progress for Tonga by 2020.
On the 13-15 October 2015, the Department of Fisheries and the Civil Society Forum of Tonga convened a nation-wide “lessons learned” conference on marine Special Management Areas in Ha’apai, Tonga, supported by the MACBIO Project.
Vision: Ecologically sustainable social and economic development of Tonga’s ocean for the benefit of all Tongans