Kingdom of Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian Archipelago in Oceania consisting of 176 islands. During a month long coral reef research mission in Tonga, the Foundation focused on islands in the Ha’aipi group, Vava’u and Niuatoputapu. Haʻapai, directly west of the Tonga trench in the central part of Tonga, is made up of 51 volcanic islands and includes Kao, the highest point in the kingdom (1,046 m). Vavaʻu has one large island and 40 smaller ones, and includes the second largest city, a large harbor.  The north side of the main island is lined by 200 m high cliffs and extensive open network of fjord-like channels that stretch inland on the north side. Nearly 300 km north of Vavaʻu, close to the border of Samoa is Niuatoputapu, a sparsely inhabited (population 150)  eroded remnant of a volcano surrounded by a large uplifted reef. This island was badly damaged by a tsunami following a submarine earthquake off Samoa in 2009.

Our coral reef research in Tonga will fill major gaps in understanding.  These reef communities have been poorly studied, with exception of a few locations near more populated islands.  Coral reefs in Tonga are reported to have been impacted by multiple threats, including large scale disturbances such as tropical cyclones (1982, 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2000), crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks (in the 1970’s, in the 1980’s, with some moderate numbers recorded in 1992), sea-level fluctuations associated with El Niño events, and a coral bleaching event in 2000.  Reefs near populated areas have also been confronted by major anthropogenic threats since the 1980s, including overexploitation of natural resources, destructive fishing practices, siltation and runoff resulting from rapid urbanization and human population growth.

The Science Team is made up of around 14 scientists from the Foundation as well as local participants from the Ministry of Fisheries, the Ministry of Lands, Surveys, Natural Resources and Environment, and the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA).

Meet the team