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Colossal community-led Island cleanup event

Colossal community-led island cleanup event

Ha'apai Islands provide Blue Print for other Communities around the World.

OceansWatch members on the Ha'apai group of islands in Tonga contributed to the success of an enormous cleanup event in October organized by the New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines.

Over 3000 people turned out from a total population of around 4500, with young and old joining forces to pick up rubbish from every corner of Foa and Lifuka Islands. More than 120 truckloads of plastic, steel, tin, aluminum and glass were delivered to the Tongan Navy base in Pangai on the main island of Lifuka and are now in shipping containers on the wharf awaiting removal by Reef Shipping in mid-December.

Emily Penn, who is volunteering her time and skills to Sustainable Coastlines, is also a member of OceansWatch. She spent four months based in Ha'apai working with the islanders in preparation for the event and developed a completely new education programme on rubbish for implementation in schools. She explained, "Firstly, we aim to develop an understanding among the community about the negative effects improper disposal of rubbish has on local health and environment. Secondly, we are exposing the problem in Ha'apai in order to establish a long term waste management solution."

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Like many Pacific Islands, the Ha'apais are unsuitable for landfill because of their low lying topography. Rubbish provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which transmit vector born diseases such as dengue fever and Elephantitis that affect many areas of the Pacific. In the Ha'apai Islands 97% of rubbish is burned in close proximity to people's homes, with the plastic content releasing dioxins which are known to cause severe health problems.

The unique environment of the area - a breeding ground for humpback whales which was once nominated as a UN World Heritage Site - has been threatened through the concentration of plastic entering the ocean.

The ultimate goal of the clean up was to get the Tongan Government to implement a waste management strategy for the area. Dr Viliami Tangi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health on the evening of the clean up, confirmed that, "A waste management strategy for the Ha'apai Islands is now on the agenda."

The strategy behind the event as well as the day itself could become a formula for other small island states in the Pacific Ocean.

OceansWatch hopes to help implement this formula in the future either at a small-scale village level or a larger-scale island group level.

Emily will be sailing to New Zealand in early December with fellow OceansWatch members Jane Pares and Glenn Edney on their Wharram catamaran, Cat Knapp.

If you would like to get more involved with OceansWatch projects throughout the world please join us here


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