Until just a few years ago, any Tongan could fish freely anywhere in Tongan waters. Not surprisingly, that led to overfishing. The current system, however, lets coastal communities manage their waters, by creating marine protected areas called Special Management Areas (SMAs).
In Manuka Village’s SMA, marine life is rich and diverse. There are octopus, reef fishes (such as the marbled parrotfish, goatfish, and many more), sea snakes, sea cucumber, and many varieties of shellfish. Fishing is prohibited in part of the SMA, which gives fish stocks a chance to grow both there and in the surrounding waters. People have noticed significant improvement since the SMA was created in 2020.
Community police patrol the SMA and have prosecuted three fishermen from other villages for illegal fishing. There are carefully regulated aquaculture programs, to support sustainable livelihoods. Community members have planted 30 giant clams inside the no-take zone, and more than 1,500 juvenile Trochus (snails) outside the no-take zone.
Village residents will use a Seacology grant to further ecotourism, featuring their now-protected coastal waters. They will create a small Ecotour and Recreational Park at the edge of the marine reserve, charging a small entrance fee and renting out kayaks and snorkeling gear. Local people will sell crafts, and visitors will get educational materials about the SMA. The proceeds will go toward park maintenance and SMA management.
Land for the park has already been fenced off. Village leaders think that an improved park will also bolster community awareness of and support for the protected area. It will be used as a meeting place for youth groups, women’s groups, schools, and other groups, a tangible reminder of the importance of protecting the SMA and a source of pride for their village.