Teaming up for sustainable ornamental aquaculture in Tonga
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 15:55

In April 2009, SPC, Walt Smith International (WSI) and Tonga’s Fisheries Division combined efforts and resources to develop a coral and live rock farm aimed at supplying the international aquarium market. This project, mostly funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), also has significant in-kind contribution by all three stakeholders.





Tonga’s marine aquarium fishery has been developing over the past 20 years. It supports jobs in rural, low-income coastal areas, and has operated on mutual management and compliance effort since its inception and is now establishing a fisheries management plan. As a result, a specific aquarium fishery management plan has been drafted in consultation and cooperation with other stakeholders, including government departments, tour operators, aquarium industry personnel and fishing communities.


However, the Tongan government, under pressure from some environmental groups has decided (as a precautionary approach) to put a ban on live rock harvesting (previously 50 mt a year) in August 2008, and to bring coral quotas down from 300 pieces to 150 pieces per exporter per week. This has led to the closure of two private companies (out of five) and the dismissal of many employees of other companies. The closure has also induced the live rock trade to switch locations (e.g. to Vanuatu and Indonesia).



Initial trials

 During the SPC marine aquarium trade conference in December 2008 (see previous issue of this newsletter), Tonga’s Fisheries Division approached SPC to develop a project proposal that could assist motivated Tongan companies to venture into the aquaculture of corals and rocks. As part of the ACIAR- funded aquaculture mini-project scheme, SPC agreed and approached WSI to be the project partner, given their extensive experience in farming both of these commodities in Fiji.


The first step of this project was to make the best use of the existing flow-through aquaculture facilities at the Sopu Mariculture Centre. During the initial visit to Tonga, Walt Smith lent his entire crew to help the staff of the Fisheries Division and SPC to rehabilitate the facility and make it ready for the new coral farm. Once the tanks were ready, appropriate brood stock was collected under the supervision of Chris Turnier, WSI biologist and coral expert. He rightly pointed out that only what the aquarium industry wants should be collected and grown, otherwise it will be a wasted effort.  The newly acquired corals were carefully placed in several holding tanks at the Fisheries Division, awaiting the fragmentation process where one piece of coral is turned into 50 or more cuttings.


Both WSI and Fisheries Division staff were trained in fragmenting and planting coral colonies. Once cuttings are made from a mother colony it takes only about four to six months to grow them to the ideal market size ready for export.  At the end of this initial trip to Tonga, the team (staff from WSI, SPC and the Ministry of Fisheries, accompanied by Scott MacTier, an aquaculture volunteer from AusAID) was able to plant over 3,000 new coral fragments and over two tonnes of man-made live rock. The team intends to return to Tonga soon for the second installment of this project, which will include planting coral on racks placed in the ocean in preparation for community-based projects. The goal is to have over 40,000 pieces of coral planted and 25,000 tonnes of live rock in the water during the first few months of the project. 


 What is the future for this activity in Tonga?  


Tonga’s Fisheries Division has been very supportive of this project because it has the potential to bridge the gap between the marine ornamental industry in Tonga and the national government, with a better understanding of just how renewable the resource is.


Currently, the industry is under a lot of pressure from groups that do not think that coral and rock harvest can actually be sustainable. Culturing corals and rocks is one way to engage communities and government to create awareness regarding coral reef issues and the use of a renewable and sustainable resource. In Tonga, there are very few natural resources that can be exported and if the resource is proven sustainable it will make a valuable contribution to the Tongan economy. 


The Fisheries Division thinks that this project will benefit the environment and help to negate suspected excessive depletion of the resource by the aquarium trade. It is an exciting time and the marine ornamental industry should embrace this chance to be involved. Unfortunately, until the ban is lifted, the industry is suffering from a lack of export dollars to invest in such a project. The industry hopes that the knowledge gained from this exercise will enable the Ministry to re-establish the original quota in order for the trade to survive long enough to put this technology to use for the benefit of the communities, the Tongan economy as well as our industry. 


For more information on this project, contact: 


Poasi Fale Ngaluafe
Senior Fisheries OfficerMinistry of Agriculture and Food, Forests and Fisheries (Tonga) This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Walt Smith
General ManagerWalt Smith International (Fiji and Tonga)
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Antoine Teitelbaum
Aquaculture Officer SPC
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