Kingdom of Tonga
The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation conducted a month-long coral reef research mission to assess the status of coral reefs in the Kingdom of Tonga. The mission included extensive coral reef research and habitat mapping as well as educational activities for students and community members.
We gathered data on coral reef benthic and fish communities around three of Tonga’s island groups: Ha’apai, Vava’u, and Niua, specifically around the sparsely inhabited island of Niuatoputapu (population ~150). In order to gain a baseline understanding of the reef ecosystem, we chose to survey sites both near and far away from populated areas. This coral reef research helps fill major gaps in understanding of the reefs of Tonga. Many of the reefs we surveyed were poorly studied before the Global Reef Expedition, except for a few sites located near populated islands.
Coral reefs in Tonga have been impacted by multiple threats, including large scale disturbances such as tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, sea-level fluctuations associated with El Niño events, a major tsunami in 2009, and major coral bleaching events. Reefs near populated areas have also had to deal with significant anthropogenic threats since the 1980s, including the overexploitation of natural resources and destructive fishing practices. Rapid urbanization and human population growth have also led to increased runoff and siltation.
On the Global Reef Expedition mission to the Kingdom of Tonga, 14 scientists from the Foundation worked alongside participants from the Ministry of Fisheries, the Ministry of Lands, Surveys, Natural Resources and Environment, and the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA). From September 10 to October 3, 2013, they gathered comprehensive baseline data for the reefs in these understudied regions of Tonga, collecting more than 300 benthic coral reef surveys and 190 fish surveys at 58 dive sites around the islands. The Foundation also collected 2,200 square kilometers of satellite imagery to create detailed habitat and bathymetry maps of the region.
Education & Outreach
In addition to our scientific research, the Foundation’s Education Department provided land-based education seminars throughout Tonga at primary and secondary schools as well as for the general public, tourists, and government representatives. These educational efforts were conducted in partnership with local Tongan representatives from the Government of Tonga and a local NGO, the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA). Overall, the Foundation reached over 2,300 people in-person with our education and outreach activities in the Kingdom of Tonga. Our goal with these meetings was to share our knowledge about coral reefs, and let the people of Tonga know what they can do to help protect the reefs for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.