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Conservation benefit: Support of 531 acres of Fish Habitat Reserve for 10 years

Community benefit: Refurbishment of a community hall, plus new bathrooms, water tank, gutters and furnishings

Date Approved: 01.2012


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

Like many coastal communities in Tonga, the village of Ovaka is facing the fast depletion of its inshore fisheries resources, loss of fish habitat, and land erosion. The main causes include overfishing on the reef, destructive fishing methods, land-based environmental disturbances by human activities, and climate change.

In 2008, the government of Tonga started creating special managed areas (SMAs), to give coastal communities more control over local waters. The Ovaka SMA, with a total area of 1,140 hectares (2,817 acres, including Ovaka and Avalau Islands) was one of the first SMAs. It has an action plan, which the community developed with help from the Ministry of Fisheries. However, there is little understanding of how effectively the SMA has been managed. Increased community involvement in monitoring is crucial to effectively manage the Fish Habitat Reserve within the SMA.

Working with our NGO partner, the Tonga Community Development Trust, the community has agreed to actively manage their 215-hectare (531-acre) Fish Habitat Reserve for at least 10 years. They will use a Seacology grant to repair the dilapidated community hall, and add bathrooms and a rainwater collection system. Adults and children alike will use the hall for meetings and activities, and visitors to the island will stay there. This project is very similar to one in Felemea, Tonga, which a Seacology expedition visited  in 2014.

Project Updates

January 2015

The renovated and expanded community hall is now the center of all community activities. There is good news about the SMA: After three cases of illegal fishing were prosecuted in 2013, fishermen from neighboring islands seem to have gotten the message, and there were no known incidents in the SMA in 2014.
Funding from Seacology appears to have encouraged additional support for the community. The Global Environment Facility Small Grant Program (GEF/SGP) has paid for trainings on governance and enforcement, new mooring buoys to mark the SMA boundaries, and fuel, GPS, and cameras for policing. MORDI Tonga Trust has promoted growing traditional food crops, especially vegetables and yams, for both food and income, reducing reliance on the marine resources.

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June 2014

According to Field Representative Sione Fakaosi, “The renovation and extension for the community hall of Ovaka has been completed. The community was waiting for tiles from Tongatapu to complete the floor tiling and also the water tanks and now it is all done. The fencing has also been completed. The only thing remained is to put up a sign board acknowledging the kind assistance of Seacology.”

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February 2014

The project was set to be completed in November 2013; however, delays in shipment of supplies from the mainland caused the project to be behind schedule. As of this writing, one water tank is on island, and the second has been ordered from Tongatapu. Due to the national response to the needs of Ha’apai, which was devastated by Cyclone Ian, Field Representative Sione Fakaosi is prioritizing Seacology’s storm-damaged project in Felemea.

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June 2013

Tonga Field Representative Sione Fakaosi reports that the extension for the village hall has been completed, as well as repair and replacement of the windows louvers and roofs. Work on the fence has commenced; some of the materials such as tiles have yet to be shipped from the main island, Tongatapu.

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June 2012

The first payment was wired in April 2012, and project partners conducted an inception meeting on April 27. Discussions were focused on the implementation arrangement and processes and timeline. It was clear that 2012 is a busy year for Ovaka as they have a number of developments projects to be completed this year. The Head of Ministry of Fisheries thanked Seacology for the opportunity to refurbish Ovaka’s community hall. She reminded the community members in attendance that this opportunity came about because of their willingness to protect their Special Managed Area. Since last year, the people of Ovaka have already noticed a reduction in illegal fishing by their neighbors.

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