Nature takes its toll on small Tongan island
Tonga's Monuafe Island has disappeared over the last few years due to erosion and cyclones - factors also affecting tourist islands.
Tonga might be made up of over 170 islands, but parts of it could soon be a distant memory.
A small island in Nuku'alofa Bay has almost disappeared completely over the last couple of years.
Sophie Leggett reports.
25 years ago Monuafe Island was about the size of half a rugby field, but erosion has taken its toll. Once a destination for picnics and resting fishermen, the island - about 30 minutes from the mainland in Tongatapu's Nuku'-alofa Bay - is now a barely visible sand bank. According to a 1990 survey the island contained more than 30 tree species, but not anymore. Finau Fonua, a reporter for Matangi Tonga, says he's been visiting the island since he was a child.
FINAU FONUA: This island, Monuafe, has always been there, around that area. And um, last Saturday, when we went out fishing, and we just noticed that it, um, disappeared. It was...it just wasn't there. In the past we noticed that it was, it was eroding, it was like, slowly eroding, slowly, um...all the plants on it were slowly dying. And now, when we went out there it was just...it was just gone.
There have been a couple of theories put forward as to why the island is disappearing so quickly - such as illegal sand mining and rising sea levels - but they have been largely dismissed by experts. Taaniela Kula, the deputy secretary of Tonga's Lands, Surveys and Natural Resources, says there is likely a more natural reason for the erosion.
TAANIELA KULA: Monuafe is at the edge of the opening passage, so the dynamics of the waves in this area is very strong and also it changes over time. Over eight cyclones occurred in Tongatapu, within Tongatapu, in the last 11 years, from 2002 to 2013. So these climatic hazards has contributed much to the disappearance of the island. But evidently this area has a lot of currents and forces acting on it, so that had to contribute to the disappearance, or the submergence, of Monuafe Island.
But Monuafe is not the only island causing concern. Some of the larger islands are also encountering some of the same problems.
TAANIELA KULA: Coastal erosion takes place throughout the islands on the same reef flats, or the same reef system. Some of those islands have resorts in it, like Fafa Island, and Atata Island, where the Sunset Resort is located. They are all experiencing the coastal changes, and ah, some of those investors or the resort owners attempt to mitigate the soil erosion themselves, and some has improved, but just because they are working on it, they um, ah, try to put some defence system on it, but evidence of erosion is apparant, and it's really hard to counter any erosion.
Taaniela Kula says although the resorts have reported a natural loss of sand, there hasn't been any effect on tourist numbers in the area.
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