Country Profiles

Tonga - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Kingdom of Tonga comprises 171 islands (some coral and some volcanic) located in the South Pacific Ocean, of which about 37 are inhabited. Although the total land area of the country is only about 700 km2, its territorial waters cover about 700,000 km2.

Tonga’s flora includes 419 fern and angiosperm species. There are also 20 species of terrestrial and sea birds, 2 of which are endemic to Tonga and near-threatened, such as the Tongan Whistler and Polynesian Megapode. There are more than 100,000 Sooty Terns and, according to the latest survey conducted in Late and Fonualei Islands in September 2013, the Polynesian Megapode continues to survive in good numbers on Fonualei but was not located on Late. The volcanic islands of Late and Tofua have some of the best remaining high diversity native forest and still support large populations of birds and reptiles.

There is a reduction in the variety of traditional crop species as you move further north from Tongatapu, due to the small size of the islands and remoteness from Tongatapu. The variety of fruit trees has decreased due to increased competition for land use, especially for commercial farming and expanding populations. Tonga’s limited genetic pool may lead to loss of traditional genetic materials that may have been endemic to Tonga. There is poor diversity in root crop species (tuber-base cultivars) in comparison to fruit trees (seed-based cultivars). The increasing economic value of indigenous plants, such as paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera (L.)Ventenot), vanilla (Vanilla fragrans Andrews), kava (Piper methysticum Forster f.) and pandanus (Pandanus spp.) or pineapple, has taken the place of yam as the main crop in the traditional cropping system. Currently, in many outer islands, forests are being cut down and cropped with these cash crops in traditional farming systems. The modern cropping system is very much dependent on the production of few varieties of a single species crop (mono crop) for export. In the 1960s, copra from coconut and fresh bananas were the main exports while squash is currently the main export crop and also the main user of mineral fertilizer and pesticides. Livestock species diversity has been found to be very narrow, as a result of Tonga’s remoteness. Most of the new breeds were imported for pig, cattle and goat, though various genetic improvement programs carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Forests and Fisheries (MAFFF).

The overall trend of the marine biodiversity is still unknown due to lack of baseline study. However, based on export production of commercial marine species, a decline in resources, especially inshore fisheries resources (e.g. sea cucumber, aquarium production), is evidenced. The main fisheries in Tonga are offshore tuna (the Albacore tuna species dominates landing catch and export importance, followed by Skipjack, Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna), snapper, grouper and inshore fisheries. The demand for marine resources has increased due to Tonga’s growing population, a change in diet towards more marine protein-based products, and an increase in demand for marine products (e.g. sea cucumbers fisheries resources, seaweeds) from overseas, particularly from Asian countries. Nearly 40% of Tonga's coral reefs are currently threatened (medium or high risk), mainly from the effects of overfishing and pollution, with the reefs around the most populated islands of Tongatapu and Vava'u most at risk.

Since the fourth national report was prepared in 2010, the contribution of forestry towards the national GDP increased almost twofold. Much of this increase resulted from the export of sandalwoods (Sandalum yasi). Despite this positive economic benefit, there are critical risks associated with lack of management of sandalwood harvesting. Also, the export of local woodcarvings comes at the expense of harvesting the remaining hardwoods, especially local coastal trees, namely: Hibiscus tiliaceus, Casuarina equisetifolia, Thespesia populnea, Tournefortia argentea, Callophyllum inophyllum, Myristica hypargyraea, Terminalia catappa, Mertya macrophylla, and Ficus scabra. This results in coastal regions being exposed to soil erosion, loss of vital medicinal plant sources and an increase in events causing wind and salt spray damage.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Pressures on biodiversity include, among others, the lack of and/or absence of management plans for the conservation and protection of endemic species; uncontrolled and illegal harvesting of resources; encroachment; invasive species; the use of pesticide and fertilizer in agriculture; pollution and eutrophication. Also, with an increase in climate change impacts, there is a correspondent increase in the frequency of occurrence and intensity of natural disasters, such as cyclones and tsunami. Commercial farming and heavy mechanization threaten forest ecosystem conservation. The main threats to lagoons are nutrients which drift down to the lagoon from agricultural lands and expansion of developments and urban areas to lagoon perimeters resulting in the degradation of mangrove strips. Unsustainable stripping of mangroves for tannins (a pigment that is used to make dyes) for tapa making and medicine, and for firewood and building materials, pose additional threats to the remaining mangroves in Tonga. Additionally, dramatic overexploitation of the inshore fisheries compared to the last decade has been recorded. Destructive fishing activities, such as dynamite fishing, fish poisoning and using hookah and scuba diving are still ongoing even though they are illegal practices under the Fisheries Management Act (2002).

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Tonga adopted its first NBSAP in 2006. To date, of the NBSAP’s 37 objectives, progress in relation to 5 (14%) objectives pertaining to ABS and financial resources is considered unsatisfactory; 24 (65%) objectives related to the forest ecosystem, marine ecosystem, agro ecosystem, species conservation, mainstreaming and financial resources are in progress; while progress in regard to 8 (21%) objectives pertaining to local communities and civil society, mainstreaming, the marine ecosystem and financial resources is deemed satisfactory.

Activities to revise the NBSAP are underway.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

To date, most progress has been made regarding the achievement of Aichi Targets 10 (Pressures on vulnerable ecosystems reduced), 11 (Protected Areas) and 17 (NBSAPs adopted as a policy instrument), while no progress has been made in regard to Aichi Target 16 (Nagoya Protocol). Activities are in progress for all other Aichi Targets.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The following legislation, policies and plans exist to support CBD implementation in Tonga however enforcement is weak due to lack of staffing and financing for operations.

National Spatial Planning and Management Act (2012)
Environment Management Act (2010)
Environment Impact Assessment Management Act (2010)
Maritime Zones Act (2009)
Water Resources Management Bill (2011)
Seabed Minerals Act (2014)

National Strategic Planning Framework 2010
Nukuálofa Integrated Urban Development Plan
Urban Infrastructure Development Plan
National Strategic Spatial Framework
National Planning and Management Systems Final Report (2010)
Agriculture and Tourism Linkages in Pacific Island Countries (2012)
National Water Policy (2011)
National Water, Sanitation and Climate Outlook (2011)
Tonga Energy Roadmap (2010)
National Tsunami Plan – Disaster Risk Management (2012)

As of 2013, community-based marine managed areas (Special Management Areas or SMAs) totaled 9 areas. Another 6 new areas in the Ha’apai group and 4 in the Vava’u group have been confirmed, with funding support provided by UNDP and GEF. Potential aquaculture areas were approved by Cabinet in December 2013 which permits local communities to conduct aquaculture activities and, in consequence, reduce pressures on fishing seaweed, giant clams, farming fish, etc.

Donor funding for projects related to species conservation has increased. For example, Tonga is a participant in two significant GEF-supported multi-country projects focused on biodiversity conservation and the management of major threats that cause biodiversity loss. Both projects are under the auspices of the Pacific Alliance for Sustainability, housed under the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (PAS-SPREP). One project, titled ‘Implementing the Island Biodiversity Programme of Work by integrating the conservation management of island biodiversity’ is being implemented across the forestry, marine and environment sectors, with active involvement of key stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs and the private sector; the other project is on Pacific invasive species. Through these projects, activities for species conservation have been greatly enabled. To date, 13 additional Special Management Areas have been added to the 13 protected areas that existed in 2010, and 12 organically certified sites and in situ and ex situ based projects have been funded for terrestrial and marine organisms. Due to this major boost in donor-funded projects for species and resource conservation, there is a good possibility that Tonga may become a major conservation hub in the region. There is also a collective effort to put a regulatory framework in place that could govern conservation efforts. Collaboration and partnerships between donors, government ministries and civil society have also been instrumental to this success.

Since the fourth national report was prepared in 2010, the level of biodiversity mainstreaming in national plans and programmes has been enhanced. The Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources (MLECCNR) has integrated biodiversity conservation and sustainable development into Tonga’s Strategic Development Framework, while relevant sectors are increasing their efforts to integrate biodiversity conservation in corporate plans and annual management plans. The MLECCNR also has several ongoing programmes which include plans and policies to enhance biodiversity conservation and climate resilience. As a result of financing provided by the GEF Small Grants programme and other international sponsors, the number of community programs for biodiversity has also increased.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The monitoring programme for protected areas and biodiversity conservation activities in Tonga is very weak due to lack of financial support from the Government. Although the Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources (MLECCNR) conducts monitoring activities while a project is carried out, monitoring ends upon completion of the project.