Tonga Ocean Plan receive the thumbs up in Vava’u

NEIAFU, Vava’u – November 9, 2018: 1.55pm (Enviro News): The people of Vava’u have given the proposed Marine Spatial Plan their overwhelming support.

This follows consultation around the island group in the past two weeks.

All communities and groups that have held consultation talks with the MSP team in the past two weeks have expressed their unanimous support for the plan – which will become Tonga’s Ocean Plan.

Minister for Environment Hon Poasi Tei at the MEIDECC Office in Vava’u where he was briefed by the MSP team. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

Minister for MEIDECC, Hon Poasi Tei, who joined the consultation team in Kameli, Neiafu on Friday, October 18 witnessed the support given by community members who attended that meeting.

Hon Tei was pleased with the support and urged community members to work with the consultation team in ensuring that their views and thoughts on the use of Tonga’s marine resources and ocean are heard and recorded.

“I would urge you all to support the consultation process and come out to present your views so that we can include those in the reports that will be made,” Hon Tei said.

“It is important, that we listen to you and ensure that your views and recommendations are taken on board.

“This will then go forward to the reporting team that will prepare reports to form the basis of the planned legislation and plan.”

MSP Project Manager, Ms Lilieta Takau said the team was grateful that the Minister was able to join them in Vava’u.

Hon Tei was accompanied by Chief Executive Officer Paula Ma’u and the Director of Communication Feleti Tuihalamaka.

“His presence boosted the team’s morale here and also was an indication of how much importance he places on this consultation process involving the community and the development of Tonga’s Ocean Plan.”

The Governor of Vava’u, Lord Fakatulolo, told the team that such a plan as the MSP was needed to help manage Tonga’s ocean and marine resources better.

“I believe the work that you doing is important for Tonga and our people and we support it,” Lord Fakatulolo told the team here in Neiafu.

Consultations started on Ofu island on Monday,15 October and continued throughout the past two weeks, finishing off in Houma on Tuesday, October 30.

Different communities around the island group have had their chance to meet the consultation team.

Private sector representatives, including those from the tourism sector here in Vava’u and local business operators, have also met the team.

Vava’u Tourist Association members during their group discussion at the MSP consultation in Neiafu last month. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

Vava’u Tourist Association’s Phil Davis said the MSP will become an important tool for managing Tonga’s ocean use and marine resources.

“We support it because we believe it will be important in managing ocean use and marine resources in Tonga,” Mr Davis told the consultation in Neiafu on October 23.

The VTA shared their views on tourism activities and how it should be managed to ensure that Vava’u is able to continue to enjoy tourist numbers in future.

One such area they were concerned about was whale watching, with the view that there should be separate licenses for whale watching and whale swimming.

“We propose that this be looked at, a possible separation of the licenses so that there are clear definitions of what is involved in what,” Mr Davis added.

Vava’u Pearl Farmer Penisimani Lolohea said the MSP will become an important tool in ensuring that we have a sustainable ocean and marine resources in future.

He said current use needs to be managed so that everyone is able to enjoy the benefits, while at the same time we are able to sustain our resources for the future generations.

“We see that there is a lot of activities being carried out in our oceans and we are using our marine resources throughout the year,” she said.

“Now we see that some of our marine resources have become scarce and lost. We need to bring these back and to have a proper management plan would be the best way to go.”

Members of the Ovaka community who have testified to the success of the SMA program in their island. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

The Town Officer of Ovaka village, Mr Ulaiasi Vaisima said there were too many things happening out at sea and there was no effective monitoring.

He added having a management plan would help ensure there was more coordination on the use of the ocean and marine resources.

“We believe the MSP will help Tonga manage our ocean activities better and also help in bringing back life to our oceans, especially in ensuring that we continue to have fish and marine resources,” he said.

Mr Vaisima used the example of the Special Management Area (SMA) around their island, which has brought back marine life they had lost over the years.

“Thirty years ago we used to have kanahe (mullet) around our island shores. Then they disappeared and during our lifetime we did not see that again,” he told the team.

“Now after the SMA was implemented we now have kanahe returning to our shores and we are indeed grateful.

“So for us the people of Ovaka we support the MSP because we already know the benefits it will bring to our people and our nation as a whole.”

The MSP Consultation team were excited with the general support and feedback from members of the different communities they have consulted with so far,

“It has been exciting and we received very good feedback from the different stakeholders,” Ms Takau said.

“All in all the support for the MSP and to have an Ocean Plan is there and we thank all those who have come forward to meet with us, listen to us and also give us their feedbacks.”

The consultation team that were in Vava’u was led by Ms LilietaTakau and included consultant Dr Vailala Matoto; the Head of the Biodiversity Unit of the Department of Environment (MEIDECC) Ms Ta’hirih Hokafonu; Ms Halalilika Etika of the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Survey; Ms Lu’isa Fihaki of the Ministry of Tourism; Mr Iliesa Tora, the National Communication/Information Officer for the Department of Environment; Ms Silika Ngahe, Fisheries Officer in Charge in Vava’u; Ms Lucy Fa’anunu, Officer in Charge, MEIDECC Vava’u; Mrs Karen Stone, Director of VEPA and Ms Lisa Fanua of VEPA Vava’u.

Feedback from members of the community will be used by the team to help draft proposals to the Tonga Oceans 7 Technical Working Group that will work on writing up the Ocean Plan for Tonga.

Funds for the national consultation were made available by the MACBIO Project, VEPA, WAITT Institute, Oceans5 and the Marine Protected Area project, which is funded by the Italian Government.

The consultations in Vava’u were supported through the Waitt Institute and Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA) in partnership with the Department of Environment under the Vava’u Ocean Initiative. VEPA is a non-governmental organisation based in Vava’u that is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable development of the natural resources for livelihood benefits.

Consultations will now move to ‘Eua next week, from November 12 – 16.
The islands of Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou will also be visited before the end of the year.

Tongatapu residents will have their chance to air their views with the team from January to March 2019.

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