Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a state and an archipelago comprising 172 named islands, 36 of them inhabited, scattered over 720,000 square kilometres of ocean in the South Pacific. The Kingdom also became known as the Friendly Islands because of the warm reception accorded to Captain James Cook on his first visit there in 1773. Tonga is the only island nation in the region to have avoided formal colonisation. In 2010, Tonga took a decisive step towards becoming a fully functioning constitutional monarchy after legislative reforms paved the way for its first ever fully representative elections which resulted in the election of Noble Siale’ataongo Tu’ivakano as its first democratically elected Prime Minister.
Reverence for the monarch replaces that held in earlier centuries for the sacred paramount chief, the Tu’i Tonga. A direct descendant of the first monarch, King George Tupou V, his family, some powerful nobles, and a growing non-royal elite caste live in much wealth, with the rest of the country living in relative poverty. The effects of this disparity are mitigated by three factors. Tongans enjoy a relatively high level of education, with a 98.9% literacy rate, and higher education up to and including medical and graduate degrees (pursued mostly overseas). Tongans also have universal access to a national health care system. The Tongan constitution protects land ownership: land cannot be sold to foreigners (although it may be leased). While there is a land shortage on the urbanized main island of Tongatapu (where 70% of the 101,991 population resides mostly in the capital Nuka’alofa), there is farm land available in the outlying islands. The third largest island 'Eua deserves particular attention being the oldest and the highest in Tonga. It is located only 17.5km southeast from Tongatapu and noted for it's unique physical characteristics. These include low-lying beaches on the western side, dramatic cliffs of the east coast and 'Eua National Park boasting significant stands of native forest. 'Eua serves as an important supplier of agricultural produce to Nuku’alofa and increasingly natural forest products such as medicines and custom material used in crafts, decoration, and personal adornment.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
Tonga Power Limited, the national utility, generates and distributes electricity on four grids for a total installed capacity of 15 MW. Combined peak demand for all four grids is 9.6 MW. In 2000, when the last energy balance table was compiled, imported petroleum products accounted for 75% of Tonga's energy supply, with 25% from biomass (i.e. fuel wood and wood waste, coconut and palm oil residues) and off-grid solar PV.
In 2009, the Tongan government responded to the twin challenges of global greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and its own energy security, by approving a policy to supply 50% of electricity generation through renewable energy by 2012. With the assistance of International Renewable Energy Agency, the Tonga Energy Road Map (TERM) 2010-2020 was launched in June 2010. The objective of the TERM is to recommend the optimal approach for integrating electricity generation from renewable energy sources into Tonga's four existing island grids over the next 10 years, setting out the solution to Tonga's problems of high and variable electricity prices, and finally, achieving the policy target of a 50% contribution from renewable power sources by 2012. This will be accomplished through a range of appropriate renewable technologies, including wind and solar, as well as innovative efficiencies.
The installation of 64 solar home systems for a total of 60 households on two islands in the Ha’apai group was successfully completed in June 2009. This project was undertaken in close collaboration with IUCN with support from the Governments of Austria and Italy. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is now working with the Tonga Outer Island Solar Electrification Program to install 512 solar home-systems on another 13 remote islands. These systems will provide electricity for lighting, television, computers and refrigeration. Households will pay an installation fee of NZ$144, an amount which is seen as enough to be a serious investment by the household, and therefore likely to foster a sense of ownership of the system, but not being so high as to be unaffordable.
Meridian Energy, a renewable energy service company from New Zealand, Tonga Power, and NZAid are working on a solar photovoltaic project that will feed approximately 1 MW of electricity into the grid. The project will provide around five percent of Tongatapu’s annual electricity requirement and will involve around two hectares of PV panels - a scale that will be a first for the South Pacific. The Tongan government is also in discussions with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, over another one-megawatt solar photovoltaic system. This would increase the solar input to Tongatapu’s electricity to 10%. A biofuel proposal from Fiji-based Niu Industries to convert coconut oil into diesel fuel and a plan to create electricity out of waste products from New Zealand’s Bio Pacific Energy were amongst the innovative schemes exhibited at the first sustainable energy expo event held in April 2011 organised under the TERM initiative.
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
The Waste Authority Ltd (WAL) is a public enterprise that has been established to manage domestic solid waste and the Tapuhia landfill facility. WAL aims to promote a cleaner, healthier environment for the Tongan community. It was originally set up by AusAID as the Tonga Solid Waste Management Project and built the Tapuhia landfill facility and established the weekly household rubbish collections. Talanoa Veve, an initiative by WAL, has been supported by key community partners and seen the creation of educational signage in major public locations around the Kingdom to encourage better waste management practices. The Vava’u Environmental Protection Association started in May 2009 by a group of local leaders has been working on a range of activities including the provision of recycling bins and organizing coastal clean-ups.
A waste characterisation survey was conducted in February 2008 and highlighted various points. Firstly, a weekly household rubbish collection service was introduced to all urban and rural areas in Tongatapu in mid 2007 and is used by the majority of households. Previously a limited collected service existed in Nuku’alofa, with no collection service in rural areas. Secondly, a system for recycling of metal, especially food tins and aluminium cans, was operating with recycling cages established in 142 locations across Tongatapu. Thirdly, burning of rubbish had decreased, largely due to public awareness on the negative health and environmental effects of this practice and the availability of waste collection as an alternative method of disposal. Further detailed information on waste management practices can be obtained from these reports and presentations.
In 2010 a new not-for-profit organization, E-Waste Tonga, was established in Nuku’alofa to develop an e-waste collection and education program that has now been extended to the outer islands. E-waste is a fast growing problem within Tonga with high numbers of end-of-life computers, cell phones, televisions, DVD players, copiers, printers, and other unusable electronics with no plans for safe and effective removal. The Tapuhia landfill doesn’t have the capacity or the proper equipment to deal with heavy metals so Tonga will need to export these hazardous materials. The E-Waste Tonga project will stimulate the creation of new jobs by working closely with Gio Recycling who currently has the only licence to handle hazardous waste within the Kingdom. This GEF funded project aims to set the framework for management of electronic waste within Tonga and is a pilot program for the South Pacific.
Water Management & Security
The source of freshwater for Tonga is either through rainwater harvesting, or extracted from a thin freshwater lens within the highly porous limestone substrate. The water resources of Tonga are primarily in the form of groundwater. Surface water resources are not present on most islands. The exceptions are 'Eua where supply originates from springs in caves high above sea level, and on a number of the volcanic islands including Niuafo'oua and Niuatoputapu and Tofua, where there are several salty lakes.
Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production
Rural Tongans rely on plantation and subsistence agriculture. Coconuts, vanilla beans, bananas, kava, coffee, and root crops such as yams, taro, sweet potatoes and cassava, are the major cash crops. The processing of coconuts into copra and desicated (dried) coconut was once the only significant industry but deteriorating prices on the world market has brought this once vibrant industry, as everywhere throughout the island nations of the South Pacific, to a complete standstill. In addition, the feudal land ownership system meant that farmers had no incentive to invest in planting long-term tree crops on land they did not own. Pigs and poultry are the major types of livestock. Horses are kept for draft purposes, primarily by farmers working their 'api 'uta (a plot of bushland). More cattle are being raised, and beef imports are declining. The export of squash to Japan once brought relief to a struggling economy but recently local farmers are increasingly wary of this market due to price fluctuations, not to mention the huge financial risks involved.
The first organic agriculture initiatives started in the 1990s with New Zealand bilateral assistance to the Tonga Organic Association. Training was provided to get BioGro certification of squash pumpkin, vanilla, kava and aloe vera. However, it stopped after two years, when the Association had no funds to continue with the certification. Some of the problems met at the beginning were related to accessibility of some sites especially in Tongatapu and pollution from neighbors. Some problems were faced also in the production of organic squash and generally there was a lack of research, extension and funds. Currently, there are few certified organic farmers in Tonga but the Guttenbeil family of Vava'u has been harvesting and curing very best grade A organic vanilla for 20 years. The Tonga Community Development Trust is also involved with an organic home farming project whose primary beneficiaries will be women in the village of Hihifo, Ha’apai.
Oxfam New Zealand is working with local partner the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) to support rural communities in Vava’u, Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Eua, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou through virgin coconut oil production. Growers on the island of 'Eua can now produce their own virgin coconut oil thanks to the equipment and building materials Oxfam has supplied them with. This includes electric coconut graters, which are used to extract the flesh from the nut, and coconut driers, which were installed by villagers and work by roasting the grated coconut flesh on a metal plate over wood-burning fire. The dried coconut is weighed before being placed into the new oil press machines, which use pressure to squeeze the valuable oil from the flesh into special oil collection containers. Oxfam has trained villagers to oversee the whole production process, from weighing, quality checks to record keeping, and organised experts from a similar scheme in Samoa to travel to Tonga to share their expertise. This equipment and expertise is vital in ensuring that farmers can produce quality virgin coconut oil to sell at the organic market in Nuku’alofa, across other islands in Tonga as well as for export. Money the oil generates means that farmers will be able to pay to send their children to school, or for medication, or food for their families.
Located on the main island of Tongatapu, Fua’amotu International Airport is a modern, efficient airport catering for international flights from Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and the USA. The domestic airport is located alongside and from there Chathams Pacific, Tonga’s domestic airline flies to Pilolevu Airport in the Ha’apai group and Lupepau’u Airport in the Vava’u group. They also operate flights to Tongatapu’s neighbouring island of 'Eua. Most of the island groups are serviced by inter island ferries that are mainly used by the Tongan people as an affordable means of transport. These ferries also carry cargo and livestock and provide a vital link between the island groups. Visitors to Tonga can also travel on these ferries, most of which depart from Queen Salote Wharf in Nuku’alofa. Like the ferries, bus services are mainly used by locals and because there are no scheduled timetables visitors tend to find their use as a means of transport frustrating.
The government has ventured on the path to promote greener transportation and strengthen the cycling culture of the Kingdom by supporting IUCN Oceania’s Life Cycle Pacific Initiative. Pasikala Nukualofa, a dedicated bunch of people who hold regular community bike rides, is one of the main groups involved with establising Life Cycle Tonga who are developing a strategic plan.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
Travel and tourism in Tonga had not fully recovered from the impact of the global recession when the industry suffered another setback in August 2009. The Princess Ashika, an inter-island ferry, sank with 117 people on board, of which 74 died. The incident attracted negative publicity regarding the safety of inter-island ferries, particularly in the key source markets of Australia and New Zealand. Tonga again hit the headlines after being struck by a massive tsunami in September 2009. Fortunately, the sparsely populated, remote, northern island of Niuatoputapu was the only area of Tonga affected, which lessened the tsunami’s impact on travel and tourism in the country.
There is no shortage of help and advice to attract tourists. The Tonga Visitors Bureau, Tourism Tonga, Tongamazing and Tonga Travel Guide all provide detailed information about the different islands. The National Cultural Centre, just minutes away from the capital, is also a great place to experience all the creative diversity of Tonga in one dynamic venue.
The Fafa Island and Mouna Island resorts appeal to upmarket eco tourism clientele who prefer to spend their holidays in unspoiled places but want to enjoy at the same time high quality facilities, comfort and service. Both resorts use solar power and have fales built in traditional style and materials. For those seeking a more authentic and rustic experience then stay at The Hideway or Taina’s Place on 'Eua Island. Both offer whale watching and cultural tours as well as guided treks in the national park.
In July 2011, Pacific Unearthed launched a program for international school students to conduct their mandatory Year 10 work experience placements within various civil society organisations in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
A review of the Tonga 2006 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan details the status, trends and threats to species and ecosystems. Tonga supports 581 plants and is a home for 45 birds, 23 mammals, 16 reptiles and about 457 species of invertebrates. There are 1139 marine fish and three freshwater fish. The number of protected areas – which includes forest parks - has remained at the 2006 level of 19. The total amount of protected areas is about 1, 010,057 ha of which 99.3% are marine based and the rest are on land. The areas of some of the very smaller reserves are not available. The total area of national forest parks is 6,710 ha representing 9.8% of Tonga’s total land area of 68,687 ha.
The original vegetation of Tonga was tropical rainforest - today this has been almost completely lost, throughout the Kingdom. Only small remnants remain on Tongatapu, some of the Vava'u islands and on 'Eua. The 449 ha 'Eua National Park hosts at least eight flowering plant species found only on the island. These are considered threatened and require undisturbed forest for their continued survival. Most of the ferns in Tonga are found only in 'Eua, including one species unique to the island. 'Eua’s forest is currently under threat from agriculture conversion. Farmers are increasingly entering the state-owned forest to cultivate mainly kava and taro.
There are two endemic bird species. The Tongan Megapode, locally known as Malau, which is restricted to the isolated Niuafo'ou and the Tongan Whistler which is found only in the Vava'u Group. The Tonga Community Development Trust has received support under the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund to survey and develop a model species recovery plan for the megapode. Some of the research undertaken in the 1960s and 1990s saw a severe decline in the population of malau in Niuafo’ou. In 1993, the joint conservation program between the Government of Tonga and the German based Brehmn Fund for International Bird Conservation organised the translocation of 95 eggs and chicks to Fonualei and Late islands in the Vava’u group. A decade later, Dr. Dick Watling paid a visit to the translocation sites and found it to be successful, especially in Fonualei island. This latest project raises the importance of engaging the local community in the effort to protect and recover the population of malau in their original habitat in Niuafo’oa.
The numbers of green sea turtles in Tonga have decreased considerably over the past ten years. There is mounting concern and a recent incident in 2011 has prompted a petition asking the King of Tonga to grant full protection to all species of marine sea turtle when they visit the islands.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
Tonga, like other members of the Alliance of Small Island States is highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. In July 2010 after talking with experts, from scientists to village elders, the Ministry of Environment and Climate produced the Joint National Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management 2010-2015. It is understood that Tonga is the first country in the region to develop such a plan and are keen to be the first to fully implement this joint initiative.
Under the IUCN Pacific Mangrove Initiative, the Mangrove Ecosystems for Climate Change Adaptation and Livelihoods (MESCAL) project was developed to address key challenges to mangrove management and conservation. Tonga is one of the participating countries and has a total mangrove area estimated at 1,000 hectares. Unfortunately, about 60% of their mangrove has already been lost to coastal erosion, development, deforestation, illegal dumping and over fishing. MESCAL project work will include the reviewing of baseline survey and data from previous programs to update and avoid duplication of activities; school and community awareness programs; monitoring of small community mangrove projects; and identifying suitable sites for rehabilitation and replanting. There will also be a lot of emphasis put into the reviewing and reinforcement of existing laws surrounding mangroves.
The expanded SPC/GIZ ‘Coping with climate change in the Pacific Island Region (CCCPIR)’ program aims to strengthen the capacities of Pacific member countries and regional organisations to cope with the impacts of climate change. The forest area of 'Eua is one of the pilot sites although project activities will not be confined to the forest area as abandoned and degraded croplands will also be targeted for rehabilitation and sustainable agriculture development. Some 700 students from six primary schools and two high schools on the island also participated in an awareness-raising program in November 2010 to learn more about climate change, sustainable forest and land management, land-use planning and watershed management, which are not part of the regular school curriculum. The week-long program ended on a high note with the launching of a poetry, essay and drama competition. Similar awareness program are planned for other school clusters in Tongatapu.