Vaini eco-tourism project first to be trialled

NUKU’ALOFA – January 4: 9.56am (Ridge2Reef Media): The new Vai ko Felefonu eco-tourism project in Vaini, here in Tongatapu, was launched by the then Acting Prime Minister Lord Ma’afu on November 17 as part of a ‘Ridge To Reef’ management approach for the Fanga’uta Lagoon Catchment (FLC).
This project was funded by the GEF/UNDP, and facilitated by the Department of Environment, under the Ministry of MEIDECC, working in collaboration with other government and non-government organisations, private sectors, and the community of Vaini.

Lord Ma’afu with guests and members of the R2R and Vaini community team at the launch of the eco-tourism project. Photo: R2R MEDIA

It is the first of such projects to be trialled under the Pacific Ridge To Reef project.

Tonga is the first of 14 countries where the R2R project is being implemented.

In launching the project site Lord Ma’afu, who is also Acting Minister for Environment, said he and the people of Vaini were proud of the achievement and thankful for the assistance from the government ministries and the funders in enabling the project to be completed.

“My sincere gratitude is extended here to UNDP, for their ongoing financial support, and providing administrative support as the implementing agency for this ridge-to-reef funded programme.”
Lord Ma’afu said that Tonga is the leading country in the implementation of the Pacific Ridge to Reef Program with GEF financing.

“Today we are now witnessing another milestone completed and looking forward to the learning gathered and capacities built through this ridge to reef management approach. This reflective learning will endow us with the knowledge on best practises that should be replicated in other sites in Tonga,” Lord Ma’afu added.

He said he was hopeful that the eco-tourism site at Vai ko Felefonu may be regularly utilized to support the wellbeing of not only the people of Vaini but the well-being of others.

Vaini women celebrating at the Vai ko Felefonu during the launch on November 17. Photo: R2R MEDIA

The then Acting CEO for MEIDECC, Mr Andrew Toimoana welcomed guests at the event and said that the Tonga Ridge to Reef Program was developed as a response to the Pacific Islands National Priorities ‘Ridge to Reef’ (R2R) Program to enhance their country’s ecosystem goods and services to contribute to poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods and climate resilience focusing on Fanga’uta Lagoon Catchment area.

He said the project is a pilot site, with the hope to support the livelihoods of the women and youth interested in Tourism activities.

“We hope to document learning from the experience gathered by the community from utilization of this space,” he added.

The Vai ko Felefonu Make Over Approach, is part of the coordinated package of interventions devised to meet the needs of the Vaini community.

The interventions were developed to be implemented as a ‘makeover’ to ensure maximum impact on the community for the amount of funding available.

The makeover focuses on a community spring, with a cemetery nearby, and an area of degraded mangroves with long term historical value.

The area has a population of 2,900 people in 492 households.

The surrounding Vaini District has a population of 13,000 people (Tonga Census 2011), encompassing the villages of Longoteme, Folaha and others.

The plan for the Felefonu Spring was a result of consultations held with the Vaini Women’s Group and Vaini Town Council for eco-tourism activities.

The makeover plan included the installation of Signs or Information boards; Construction of 3 fales for the display and selling of handicrafts; Construction of a boundary fence around the area; Replanting and landscaping work for the area; waste clean-up; water quality testing and provision of rubbish bins for the site.

A total of $72,619 Pa’anga was spent on the project co-sponsored by the UNDP with GEF financing, through close collaboration with Tourism Ministry and line ministries engaged in the Ridge to Reef program.

Approximately 90 people turned up for the event, including representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, town officers, members of the Vaini community, representatives from different NGO’s and members of the media.

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