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‘Atata Island


Conservation benefit: Support of 440-acre fish habitat reserve for 15 years

Community benefit: Rebuilding of community center, alternative livelihood program

Date Approved: 02.2017


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

Like many island communities, the village of ‘Atata has seen the rapid depletion of its inshore fishery in recent years. The causes? Overfishing, erosion, and climate change.

Just offshore from the village is the ‘Atata Special Management Area (SMA). It has a total area of about 1,965 acres and includes a 440-acre no-take fish reserve. Legally, only the people of ‘Atata and others approved by the ‘Atata SMA committee may fish there, but the rules have not been well enforced.

The ‘Atata community has pledged to work closely with Tonga’s Ministry of Fisheries to prosecute poachers. Community members also want to explore possible sources of income, including handicrafts and weaving, as alternatives to fishing.

A Seacology grant will fund rebuilding the village’s community center, which was destroyed by a cyclone. It will be used for many purposes, including community meetings, women’s weaving and other development activities, and a preschool. Community members will rebuild the structure and add a bathroom. They will also  install tanks and guttering to help ensure a reliable supply of fresh water for the village.

This project is similar to successful Seacology efforts in other Tongan villages where SMAs were not being enforced. Our NGO partner, the Tonga Community Development Trust, promoted awareness of the value of the marine resources. As a result, community members now know more about local natural resources and feel a greater sense of pride, ownership, and responsibility.

Project Updates

February 2022

The January 15 eruption of the underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga volcano caused an enormous tsunami that swept over ‘Atata Island and destroyed almost every home and building there. Amazingly, the Seacology-funded community center survived. All island residents were evacuated to Tonga’s main island, and the community center is being used by Australian troops who are helping with emergency cleanup efforts.

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May 2019

The new ‘Atata community hall was officially opened on March 2, 2019 by the village traditional title holder Siikula and the District Officer of Western Tongatapu. Seacology field representative Sione Faka’osi and two other staffers from our nonprofit partner, the Tonga Community Development Trust, also attended the ceremony. The community is keeping the marine reserve just offshore well protected.

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December 2018

The main hall has been finished and painted. The toilets have been built, and septic tanks are being finished. The only task still to be done is to install a water tank. The marine reserve is being well respected.

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June 2018

Fortunately, Cyclone Gita caused only minor damage to the building and materials stored inside it. But since then, strong winds and rain have continued to delay construction work.

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March 2018

Cyclone Gita, with sustained winds of 144 mph, caused extensive damage in Tonga last month. The storm tore roofs off many houses and collapsed the Tongan Parliament building. We were afraid of what might happen to the unfinished ‘Atata community hall. But damage was minimal–meaning the building may well serve as a storm shelter in the future. Although the building project has been delayed as community members grapple with shortages of fresh water and food, it will resume soon.

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January 2018

Most of the community hall has been built, and the roof is finished. Installation of the ceiling, windows and doors is not yet complete. The fish reserve is being protected.

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July 2017

All the building materials have arrived on ‘Atata, and construction of the community hall is well underway. Seacology field representative Sione Faka’osi and program manager Mary Randolph got a look at the progress when they visited the site in July and met with the town manager and community residents. They also took a boat through the fish sanctuary and discussed community protection of the area.

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May 2017

Construction materials have been ordered from one of the main suppliers in the capital, Nuku’alofa, but unusually strong winds and hurricane warnings have delayed shipment. Five small fishing boats from the ‘Atata community are on standby, ready to transport the materials to the islands when the weather allows it.

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