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Tonga sets example for effective local stewardship
Seacology has worked with communities in the Kingdom of Tonga since 1999. The Polynesian archipelago, comprising 169 islands, provides a model for how local and national efforts to promote marine stewardship can work together.
In 2006, Tonga’s environment ministry launched the Special Management Area (SMA) program. Under this model, the country has tried to strike a balance between national conservation standards and local autonomy. Coastal communities propose a management plan and if the government accepts it, they are granted control over the management and enforcement of their local waters. Often, only the residents of the reserve’s neighboring village are allowed to fish within it. The program has been largely successful, and has grown from its original six sites to almost 30. SMAs, when properly enforced, have been shown in studies to be effective tools in rebuilding fish populations and helping to stabilize coastal ecosystems, while ensuring a reliable livelihood for those who depend on their catches.
Seacology’s work in Tonga has built upon existing SMAs at Ovaka, Felemea, and most recently, ‘Atata, to strengthen these conservation agreements. For example, at ‘Atata, the SMA wasn’t well enforced, and unauthorized people were fishing within it. The agreement with Seacology renewed the community’s commitment to the decade-old agreement, setting aside 440 acres of the SMA as a complete no-take zone in exchange for our funding of a new community building for the village.
On a recent trip to Tonga and Fiji, Seacology’s Mary Randolph visited ‘Atata and met with some of Tonga’s conservation leaders to learn more about the country’s environmental efforts. The government and various local NGOs are very proactive in their response to climate change—building seawalls and planting mangroves, among other efforts. Members of the ‘Atata community were grateful for Seacology’s investment there and enthusiastic about the benefits of the fish preserve established within their SMA, the benefits of which they were already noticing. Seacology Field Representative Sione Faka’osi urged residents “whenever you sit in the community hall, think of the SMA.”