Special Management Areas FAQ

What are Special Management Areas?

Special management areas (SMAs) are designed to allow for community management of near-shore resources as a long-term strategy to achieve environmental sustainability and economic stability. SMAs include two distinct areas:

(1) a no-take area that serves as a “fish habitat reserve” where fishing, dumping and resource removal is prohibited so that marine resources can replenish.

(2) A buffer area in which only the SMA community is allowed to fish.

SMAs size and location depend on community priorities but generally include a diversity of habitats to accommodate a wider range of marine species.

How are Special Management Areas established and governed? 

Vava’u Ocean Initiative (VOI) partners work directly with a community to explain the concept, benefits, and governance of SMAs. Once a community agrees to an SMA, an application is filed with the Ministry of Fisheries. The project partners conduct 1) marine resource surveys; 2) socio-economic surveys and 3) community consultations. VOI partners share findings with the community and work with the community to design SMAs and a management plan. The surrounding communities are consulted before the final boundaries are determined. The community monitor the SMA through catch data and trends and is responsible for management, enforcement and monitoring of the SMA.

How many Special Management Areas are there?

Ten communities have already established SMAs through Tonga’s SMA program, including Taunga, Koloa, ‘Utungake, Ofu,’Ovaka, ‘Utulei, Hunga, Lape, Falevai and Talihau. The VOI will be supporting the development of 4 new SMAs through Ministry of Fisheries – Holeva, Noapapu, Kapa and Makave. The Vava’u Ocean Initiative will support the development of SMAs in four additional communities including Holeva, Noapapu, Kapa and Makave.

What are the benefits of Special Management Areas?

Special Management Areas (SMAs) include no-take zones that enable marine ecosystems to recover from fishing and other pressures. Surrounding waters also become healthier and more plentiful due to the spillover effect.

How do SMAs relate to Tonga’s national marine spatial planning and Oceans 7?

The Government of Tonga is developing a national marine spatial plan (MSP) through Oceans 7 with support from the IUCN. The VOI will support this national effort through MSP community consultations in Vava’u and data collection in Vava’u and the Ha’apai island groups.