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State of Environment Report 2018

The Tonga State of the Environment 2018 report has been developed to answer two key questions for Tonga:

  1. What is the current condition of the environment?
  2. What measures are needed to reduce impacts on the environment?

The report finds that parts of the environment of Tonga and heritage are largely in good and stable or improving condition but for other aspects of the environment the status is poor or deteriorating. Pressures on the Tongan environment include a growing population, social and economic activities, land use changes and climate change. These pressure result in challenges such as pollution, resource extraction, increased consumption and the generation of waste. The approach of the Government of Tonga in managing these challenges will be vital for safeguarding the environment.

The report discusses the key responses adopted by the government and private sector to sustainably manage the environment and reduce the negative impacts on thematic areas. More importantly, it provides key recommendations to be carried out by government agencies to improve the status of the environment.

Mixed results for Tonga’s environment

Tonga’s Special Management Areas:
A success story

Tonga’s Special Management Area (SMA) program was introduced to provide greater community ownership of inshore fisheries and coastal marine protected areas.

SMAs grant communities exclusive access to the marine environment adjacent to their village to a depth of the 50-metre contour or 2.5 km from shore and only registered member of the community are permitted to fish in this area. A subset of each SMA is designated as no-take Fish Habitat Reserve (FHR). The size and boundaries of FHRs are determined by the Ministry of Fisheries in consultation with communities. Management and enforcement of SMAs is the responsibility of each community and this includes a requirement for developing a coastal management committee and associated management plan.

An ecosystem in need of restoration

The Fanga’uta Lagoon catchment includes much of the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, and is home to 47,529 people across 29 villages. This is 64% of the population of Tongatapu Island.

Many communities are dependent on the ecosystem services provided by the lagoon. However, a range of human pressures are taking a toll on the lagoon ecosystems and urgent management attention is required to reduce those pressures and rehabilitate Fanga’uta Lagoon to a healthier state.

A range of human pressures are taking a toll on the Fanga’uta Lagoon ecosystem

Rubbish being burnt

Illegal Dumping

Rubbish being burnt

High Faecal coliform counts

Rubbish being burnt

Mangrove clearing and land reclamation

Rubbish being burnt

Leaking sewage

Declining seagrass cover

These actions will help to restore Fanga’uta Lagoon:

  • Enact the Water Resources Bill 2016
  • Introduce zoning policy for urban planning
  • Legislate to stop land reclamation, including provisions to prosecute illegal reclamation
  • Establish esplanade reserves, 15m from high-water level
  • Enforce fines for illegal dumping
  • Replace leaky septic systems with fiberglass or plastic tanks
  • Ban fertiliser use within 100 m of high tide level
  • Ongoing Department of Environment funding for lagoon rehabilitation
  • Stop untreated liquid waste discharge from Vaiola hospital and other sources
  • Quarterly monitoring of faecal coliforms and installation of automated water quality monitoring
  • Continue initiatives that encourage community involvement in lagoon management

Data and knowledge resources

A growing number of data portals, knowledge libraries, and communication materials are available to support Pacific environmental management. The following are external links to the major environmental information resources.


The Tonga State of Environment Report 2018 was made possible through the support of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Inform Project (funded by the Global Environment Facility, implemented by UN Environment Programme, executed by SPREP). We acknowledge the significant value in time and resources of the Department of the Environment, Tonga on this project. Water Technology Pty Ltd was commissioned by SPREP to lead the development of the report.

The views expressed in this publication are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of these supporting Governments or agencies.

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