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Biodiversity in Vava'u, Tonga under the microscope

Much more will be known about the plants and animals of the Vava'u archipelago in Tonga by the end of February, after the most ambitious study ever undertaken in the island group.

"A team of experienced biologists, which includes several Tongan specialists, will participate in this major expedition to conduct rapid biodiversity and ecological assessments (BIORAP) of both land and marine sites throughout the archipelago," said Ms. Lupe Matoto of the Department of Environment.

The expedition will be a unique collaboration between the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Waitt Foundation.

The main objective is to identify sites within the archipelago that have high conservation value and could be added to Tonga's protected area network. The survey will also make a major contribution to the conservation of Tonga's ecosystems, endemic and native species, as well as land and seascapes.

The project has been formulated to contribute to Tonga's protected area system, and provide a practical demonstration of its commitment to the Convention for Biological Diversity's Island Biodiversity Programme of Work.

"What this study will do is provide the Government of Tonga, resource owners and communities with the information needed so they can establish ways to protect and manage their biodiversity and ecosystems," said Mr. Bruce Jefferies, SPREP's Terrestrial and Ecosystems Management Officer.

"The resource owners and communities will be the key groups to make decisions and carry out actions to protect the biodiversity of Tonga, and having up-to-date, readily accessible and scientific information will help their decision making."

The Waitt Foundation is making available its flagship research vessel, a 164-foot expedition ship that was originally built in Australia as a hydrographic survey vessel, but has since been refitted as a craft with capabilities to perform marine focused scientific surveys.

"We're really pleased to have such strong support and interest from all partners involved in this venture and we are looking forward to the outcomes."

The BIORAP will take place in Tonga from 13 to 28 February 2014.

About the partners:

The Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources (MLECCNR) is the Government of Tonga's principal natural resource planning and management agency. The Ministry's programmes and objectives are managed and implemented to support the Government's National Priorities. The Ministry's mandate is to ensure the protection and proper management of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development for Tonga's present and future generations, through coordinated environmental management and protection, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

SPREP is a regional, intergovernmental organisation comprising 25 members, consisting of 21 Pacific Island Countries and Territories and five developed countries with direct interests in the Pacific region. SPREP aims to promote cooperation in the Pacific islands region and to provide assistance in order to protect and improve the Pacific environment and to ensure sustainable development for present and future generations.

The Waitt Foundation is based in San Diego, USA, and supports a variety of national and international programmes with a primary focus on ocean conservation. By raising global awareness through scientific research, education, media, social and policy change, their goal is to reverse the current decline of ocean life while inspiring humanity to make informed choices that contribute to a healthy marine ecosystem.

ENDS

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