Construction Of Multi-Million Popua National Park In Tonga Conservation Area Has No Master Plan

Critics: ‘hot air’ in parliament can’t save Tonga's environment

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 11, 2017) – The construction of a multi-million project, the Popua National Park in a swampy area at the Nuku’alofa waterfront continues to be an irritating issue in the Tongan Parliament, and also in the public arena. Despite the rhetoric in Parliament, it all boiled down to “hot-air” when the environmental report of MEIDECC was passed 19-0.

The Popua Park issue became an issue again in Parliament on Thursday, 3 August when the 2015-16 Annual Report of the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communication (MEIDECC) was tabled into the House.

Lord Vaea, the No. 1 Nobles’ Representative for Tongatapu praised the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for MEIDECC, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni for highlighting in his report the illegalities of the project and and the irreversible damage it is causing to Tongatapu and its environment.

But apart from this, he also asked the Deputy PM why, if he was sitting right next to the PM in the House, doesn’t he tell him to stop the project? 

At that point of time it was realised that the Prime Minister Hon. 'Akilisi Pohiva had left the House.

No plan

Lord Vaea reminded the House that there is no Master Plan for the project. The response to that was that work will proceed and the plan would come later.

With regards to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project, that was also to follow later, meanwhile the project is rolling along.

A canal has been dug, running pass an old public rubbish dump where all sorts of rubbish were dumped there, including asbestos, chemicals, batteries and all sorts of poisonous materials. All these rubbish were buried, and there is a little mound with an air vent on its side to allow poisonous gas to come out, to counter the possibility of gases erupting from the mound.

Environmentalists are already claiming that poisonous gas and chemicals are already seeping into the water canals that have been dug and are seeping into Fanga’uta Lagoon.

Further highlighting the problem of working on a National Park without a plan is that while the Fanga’uta Lagoon is getting more polluted, a causeway has been built between Patangata to Siesia, stopping the flow of water from the Fanga’uta Lagoon to the Nuku’alofa Harbour.

Conservation area

The People’s Representative for the Niuas, Fe’ao Vakata, said “it is the most illogical” piece of engineering that has been carried out under this project. The water way was a conservation area where the fish, particularly the mullet get into the Fanga’uta Lagoon to breed.

The damage that the project is doing to Tonga’s environment and its precious underground water supply remains to be a great concern.

The Minister for MEIDECC, Siaosi Sovaleni told the House that the causeway was only temporary and it will be removed, and with regards to the concern over the fact that an EIA has not been carried out. He said that they had started working on a report early this year, and the report wouldbe presented to the House when he presented to the House his 2017 Annual Report.

Lord Vaea, again reminded the House the illegality and the damage to Tonga, its environment and its heritage and that the Cabinet was not able to stop it. He expressed an opinion that he believed that only the House could do something about it.

But when the Chairman of the Whole House Committee called for votes, the 2015-2016 Annual Report of MEIDECC was carried 19-0. All members who were present including the PM voted for it.

It was a clear indication that members of parliament who had expressed any opposition to the project, it was just all "hot-air”.


The Popua project has been spearheaded by the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, and from the onset he made it clear that there is no master plan for the project. The project initially was for a recreational area and playgrounds, and then later an 18-holes golf course for the 2019 Pacific Games that Tonga was going to host.

The area was marked as an important conservation area in an four year study to preserve the Fanga'uta Lagoon. Other controversial issues in the Popua Project are that it is a swampy area which will cost millions to develop - requiring enormous quarrying for fill and thereafter consuming large amounts of water from precious resources. Parliament in 2015 promised to protect the ancient landscape there as a heritage site. The Sia Heulupe, Pigeon - snaring mounds and associate dprehistoric walkways  could be developed to a major tourist attraction. Heulupe was a recreational sport of early Tongan dynasties. Sias, are small  pigeon-snaring mounds which were build many hundreds of years ago on the migratory routes of pigeons. The engineering has stood the test of time until they met the Popua projects bulldozers this year.

According to oral history, it was in this area of Popua that the Sky God Tangaloa flew down from heaven, and spotted the lady, Va'epopua, walking along on the reef. He landed, they met and later Va'epopua gave birth to Tonga’s first king, ‘Aho’eitu.

While the push to preserve Popua as a Heritage Site and the concern over the polluting of the Fanga’uta Lagoon and the whole of the Tongatapu coastal areas remains a great concern, it is now clear that even our elected members of parliament can’t do anything about it - other than talking about it.  

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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