Getting on Tonga Time: 100 Island Challenge Maps Tongan reefs

By Nicole Pederson

Tonga is a Polynesian archipelago in the South Pacific. In May and June 2017, Clint Edwards and Nicole Pederson from 100 Island Challenge team participated in an expedition to visit the Ha’apai and Vava’u island groups in the Kingdom of Tonga. They assisted with baseline surveys of these coral reefs. In total, 27 mosaics were collected in the Ha’apai and Vava’u island groups of Tonga in collaboration with the Waitt Institute and local partner, VEPA (Vava’u Environmental Protection Association). This expedition was a part of the Vava’u Ocean Initiative, which supports the development of Special Management Areas and Marine Protected Areas. In addition to collecting photomosaics, members of the Waitt Institute, Vava’u Environmental Protections Association (VEPA), the Department of the Environment, and the Ministry of Fisheries conducted surveys of the fish, invertebrate, and benthic communities.

While above the water looks like tropical paradise, below the water shows varied signs of recovery and degradation, depending on the island group. The reefs in the Hapa’i island group appeared to be healthy with moderately high coral cover and a large diversity of species. Reefs in the Vava’u island group showed signs of degradation with low cover of live coral. However, these reefs showed the potential for recovery with an abundance of calcifying benthic organisms including crustose coralline algae (CCA), along with an abundance of juvenile fishes.


Team Members:

Karen Stone, PI, Vava’u Environmental Protection Agency ( Tonga)

Kathryn Mengerink, Waitt Institute (USA)

Andy Estep, Waitt Institute (USA)

Penikoni, Department of Environment (MEIDECC, Tonga)

Sioa, Ministry of Fisheries (Tonga)

Tavita, Ministry of Fisheries (Tonga)

Heather Kramp, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (USA)

Lauren Parker, University of California, Santa Barbara (USA)

Clinton Edwards, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (USA)

Nicole Pedersen, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (USA)



Waitt Institute

VEPA (Vava’u Environmental Protection Association)

Government of Tonga

Department of Environment (MEIDECC)

Ministry of Fisheries


Branching Hydnophora sp. colony (photo: Clint Edwards)



Close up of Acropora sp. (Photo: Clint Edwards)



Damsel fish hiding in Acropora coral branches (Photo: Nicole Pederson)



Tube worms infesting Montipora sp. (Photo: Nicole Pederson)



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