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.