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Toloa Rainforest Reserve


Conservation benefit: Protecting and restoring 52 acres of the Toloa Rainforest Reserve for 20 years

Community benefit: Information and Education Center

Date Approved: 02.2019


This project protects forest, preventing the release of greenhouse gases and reducing erosion that damages coastal and ocean ecosystems.

Lowland tropical rainforest once covered nearly all of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu. Now, however, only fragments are left. Many Tongans have never seen some kinds of native trees, which were common when their ancestors used them for medicinal purposes, food, or to make dye for tapa cloth.

The Toloa Rainforest Reserve is the largest of these remaining patches. It contains more than 200 plant species and two threatened bird species (the Pacific pigeon and the red shining parrot). Large fruit bats, or flying foxes, are a common sight. Human activities, however, have heavily disturbed the reserve, and invasive plants and animals compete with natives throughout the forest.

Tupou College, a boys’ boarding school established in 1866, is committed to restoring the rainforest reserve to its natural state to the greatest extent possible. The school is the custodian of the reserve; the only entrance is through the campus, and teachers and students patrol the forest. Since 2014, the school has worked to remove invasive plants and mammals, plant native trees, and raise public awareness. They have also built a trail through the reserve to facilitate guided tours.

The school will use a Seacology grant to build an Information and Education Center, which will display photos and information about the rainforest and provide facilities for visiting students. Our nonprofit partner is the Tonga Community Development Trust, which has worked with Seacology on several successful projects.

Project Updates

June 2023

The Toloa Rainforest Reserve Information and Education Centre officially opened in late February and is open to the public; it’s especially popular with students and tour groups. A teacher and group of students maintain the facility and are tending a botanical garden near it, which features endangered tree species that are important in Tongan culture and medicine. Our partner, the Tonga Community Development Trust, is developing a brochure about the reserve for other schools and tour agencies.

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June 2022

The education center has been built and furnished. The huge underwater volcanic explosion in January covered the building with ash but didn’t cause any lasting damage. Field representative Sione Faka’osi reports that the reserve is being strictly protected. The opening ceremony was planned for June 2022 so the king of Tonga could preside, but has been delayed indefinitely.

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February 2022

Field representative Sione Faka’osi reports that the reserve is being strictly protected. An opening ceremony was planned for December 2021, then delayed until June 2022 so the king of Tonga could preside. The catastrophic volcanic explosion and tsunamis on January 15 will doubtless put all such plans on hold. We do not believe that the building suffered significant damage.

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June 2021

Community members have tentatively scheduled an opening ceremony for the new center in August.

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February 2021

Only a little work remains to be done on the new education center: some painting and tiling, construction of a small veranda, and fencing. Barring further COVID-related delays in getting materials, these tasks should be done soon. Our project partner also plans to set up a botanical garden, to make information about native plants and animals, including their medicinal and cultural significance, available for students.

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June 2020

Construction of the education center had to stop when Tonga locked down the country in mid-March. (Tonga is one of the few countries that has managed to stay free of COVID-19.) Community members started work again in mid-May but are waiting for some materials.

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December 2019

The reserve is being strictly protected, and construction of the education center has begun.

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May 2019

Field representative Sione Faka’osi reports that the principal of Tupou College is finalizing the list of materials with the builder before ordering supplies for the new education center. The reserve is being strictly protected.

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