Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


The success of Tonga's current and future development depends on sustainable management of its natural resources. However, with increasing population, changing socio-economic aspirations and activities, the quality and quantity of the biophysical environment are declining. This is likely to be exacerbated if the major environmental issues are not addressed immediately. Unsustainable practices in agriculture and fishing, and population related pressures such as waste generated and increasing demand for natural resources coupled with a specific system of management have been identified as the major causes of environmental degradation. The Government has not been committed to sustainable management of natural resources and to the management of the outputs of resource use. Thus, most of the previous legislation and policies have lacked provisions for environmental consideration in socio-economic developments.

This work aimed to fulfil a number of objectives that contribute to the process of sustainable resource and environmental management in Tonga. These are: I) assessing the state of the environment; 2) evaluating the barriers to sustainable resource and environmental management; 3) determining the development priorities of the community in Tonga; and, 4) formulation of a new national policy framework for sustainable resource and environmental management

Identification of environmental problems was carried out through a review of the state of the environment of Tonga. However, the inconsistency ofhistorical data available, varying quality, and paucity of data in some areas highlight an urgent need to establish nationally agreed sustainable development indicators for reporting and informing decision makers.

The existing resource and environmental management regime was analysed to identify its weaknesses in addressing the national goal of sustainable development. The main weaknesses involve legislative, policy, institutions, lack of devolution of decision-making and community participation.

The identification of community environmental and management issues and priorities was carried out through community environmental perceptions survey. Two methods were used. The first method was a nationwide face-to-face survey using structured questionnaire, completed by 447 respondents. The second method used was a Delphi participatory survey conducted in a representative island/village for each of the main island groups of Tonga, Manuk:a in Tongatapu, Felemea in Ha'apai and Taunga in Vava'u. The Delphi surveys focused on investigating community perceptions of coastal resources and habitat trends. During the Delphi survey, and at the same locations, a biophysical condition survey of coastal habitats was carried out in order to compare community perceptions with biophysical conditions, and to identifY biophysical issues relevant for sustainable management ofbabitats and resources.

Data from the face-to-face survey were collated and examined statistically but information from the Delphi survey was not subjected to statistical analysis, as it was mainly qualitative and conceptual. The biophysical survey of coastal habitats fol~owed a scientific design where high and low impacted areas were examined. The data from the biophysical survey were analysed, using a two factor ANOV As and Cochran's test. Community coastal resource perceptions from the Delphi survey were then compared with the results of the biophysical survey.

The responses to the community environmental perceptions questionnaire were influenced by socio-economic factors, such as education level, gender, area where respondents live, age and household income level. Further, the survey showed that community environmental perceptions are influenced by access to media, overseas experiences, and government policies. The study found strong consistency in community perceptions and the biophysical variables surveyed highlighting an urgent need for a policy framework that focuses on community issues and participation for sustainable resource and environmental management.

The results obtained from the state of the environment reporting, the analysis of the existing environmental management regime, the face to face interview, the Delphi survey and the biophysical survey were used to develop a new policy framework for sustainable resource and environmental management for Tonga.

This framework promotes the need for an integrated approach by recommending: • development of appropriate environmental legislation and policies; • prioritising sustainable development policies; • community participation in relevant decision and policy making; • policies to be based on community socio-economic and bio-physical issues; • coordination and consultative policy making and implementation processes; and, • strengthening relevant national institutions.

The proposed policy framework addressed six sustainable management themes: • A Sustainable Development Planning Process • Legislative Framework for Sustainable Development Policy • Framework for Waste Minimization, Recycling and Disposal Management • Framework for Sustainable Management of Coastal Resources • Sustainable Management of Land Resources • Precautionary Planning for Climate Change, Sea Level Rise and related Extreme Weather Conditions.

Barriers to the implementations of this new policy framework are discussed. These include political apathy to shift from 'traditional management' to the 'new' process suggested in this study. Political apathy in Tonga is most likely caused by a lack of appreciation of the relationships/linkages between social, economic, and ecological objectives for sustainable development. Decision makers may become cautious of shifting from their 'comfort zones' to a process/area that would require them to work more closely with the people and as a result lose control over their 'traditional' areas of responsibility. Other causes could be seen to be the general lack of scientific and technical expertise in the various areas of social, economic and ecological development in Tonga. This is all compounded by the common community perceptions that community members are 'not responsible' for environmental and natural resource degradation. However, without a new approach to environmental management, the state of the environment in Tonga is likely to continue to decline, with significant impacts on community health and development.