Department of EDNRE

Sectors Under Economic Development, Natural Resources & Environment (EDNRE)
Mika Perez, Director of Economic Development, Natural Resources & Environment
Fisheries is Tokelau’s largest resource and therefore must be managed appropriately for sustained food security for present and future generations. While in-shore coastal marine management plans have been in place for all three villages for some years now, there is still a lot to be done in the management plan for Tokelau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  Substantial revenue has been generated from Tokelau’s EEZ under the US Tuna Treaty and from licensing of foreign vessels to fish in the EEZ over the last few years. Tokelau envisages that the making of revised fisheries regulations will provide a strong platform for a more effective management of Tokelau’s EEZ. This is a requirement under Tokelau’s obligations to the Tuna Commission.

Current challenges in this sector include the lack of support and coordination due to lack of resources and capacity in this area. Concerns have also been raised in regard to traditional skills and fishing methods being lost and little time is allocated outside of village activities to families to explore marine resources as a means of generating income.  However, livelihood-related activities such as aggressive fishing practices and natural threats such as the multiplication of alomea (giant starfish known as “crown of thorns”) threaten the sustainability of fish resources for future generations and are destroying the coral reef and the over-all ecosystem.

The lack of regular and efficient transport to expedite delivery of fish to external markets and with limited means to manage its EEZ, especially in regard to illegal commercial fishing, are  the main challenges which limits potential earnings in this sector.  The two factors which most inhibits the exportation of fish products to overseas markets are the irregular and inefficient transport means and the quality control requirements for overseas markets. 
Tokelau is very vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise owing partly to its small land  mass surrounded by ocean, and its location in a region prone to natural disasters.  The impacts of climate change which are expected in Tokelau can be summarised as follows:
a) Climate change is expected to affect the physical and biological Characteristics of the coastal areas, modifying the ecosystem structure and functioning.  This will affect near-shore marine and coastal areas, many etlands and mangroves and other trees by changes in sea level and storm surges.
b) Climate variability and intensification of cyclones and storm surges pose a significant threat to the sustainable development of Tokelau.
c) The longer spells of hot weather and increasing periods of no rain experienced as a result of the variability of the weather has impacted on the supply of water and has consequences on the water storage systems.
d) The hotter temperatures, causing coral bleaching, have also affected the quantity and quality of fish supply from the in-shore coastal areas. Species diversity loss has also been problem.
e) The potential economic impact of climate change on Tokelau is very high.

Environment sustainability is critical for a fragile ecosystem such as Tokelau. In 2003, Tokelau endorsed Bio-security Rules to acknowledge and address the challenges in regard to the environment. The villages have continued to support this issue by declaring protected areas covering both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
A National Waste Management Strategic Plan was endorsed in 2007 and the Government of Tokelau and Samoa signed a Waste Management MOU which looks at reducing waste in Tokelau. Villages have their respective waste programmes that interface with the national initiative. Village programmes include:  waste champions in each village for day to day management; the Community Resource Centres (CRCs) are at varying stages of being operational; awareness raising programmes; solid waste rubbish dumping sites in place; recycling arrangements in place; and the ongoing  village cleaning days. The dumping of waste is still an issue both on land and at sea primarily due to lack of land space and leaching. Concerns continue to be raised in the village in regard to the presence of shipwrecks and their effect on surrounding sea-life. Waste management is so important that it is dealt with specifically in the next section.

Coastal protection by way of seawalls is at varying degrees of completion on each of the three atolls with work to date being focused at the most vulnerable areas of the villages. There needs to be more information provided in regard to the guidelines for using natural resources wisely and how to take care of our fragile environment. The call for a coordinated and collaborative approach towards the use of land and marine resources is urgent as Tokelau endeavours to deal with the impacts of climate change. Laws to prohibit the practice of sand mining and coral mining for construction are needed to conserve these fast diminishing and vital resources.   By-laws to guard against sea-pollution practices and regular maintenance of outboard motors have also been recommended by villages.  Tokelau is also reviewing and redeveloping its Climate Change Policy in keeping with its stance on promoting practices which minimise the emission of greenhouse gases, and establishing an adaption programme to enhance its resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Waste management is a serious environmental problem for Tokelau which was highlighted in the Tokelau Environmental Management Strategy (TEMS, 1995).  The areas covered by the TEMS include the pollution of the freshwater lens, pollution of the coastal water, solid waste accumulation and hazardous waste and chemicals as well as oil spillage in Tokelauan waters.  The Tokelau Environmental Legislation Review, 1993, highlights the lack of and need for legislation in environmental matters and in particular the need to regulate the importation of non-biodegradable products and packaging.  

A national waste management strategic plan was endorsed in 2007 and each village developed its own waste management plan as a consequence.  A MOU with Samoa was signed to supplement the national plan, whereby recyclable and solid waste was able to be transported to Samoa.  In each village, waste champions were identified for day to day management of waste and the Community Resource Centres (CRCs) are at varying stages of being operational.  The initial awareness raising programme has encouraged most families to sort their rubbish into recyclable and solid waste before collection.

Dumping of waste on land or at sea continues to be an issue, primarily due to the shortage of land area for a rubbish dump.  The shipwreck on Fakaofo continues to leak waste into the lagoon and contaminates the food supply close to this site.   Study findings in 2003 suggested that significant waste and pollution from village(s) are added to the lagoon waters which is often exacerbated with the low rate of water exchanges between the open ocean and lagoon. Consequently, solid waste and sewage remain in the lagoon for longer periods due to low outflow flushing.

A rapid assessment of marine species was also included in the study. It linked the cause of decline for particular fish species, which are not only prone to over-harvesting but also coral bleaching. As a direct result, coral degradation by waste contamination damages the health of coral ecosystem and reefs and presents a grave concern for the survival of the atolls.  Anecdotal evidence from interviews in 2003 showcase concerns of communities on the decline of fish such as atule, maeava (rabbit fish), tonu (red coral trout), uluakata (giant travelly) and atu (skipjack). 

The efforts of individuals and groups such as waste champions for the villages would be strengthened with the development and implementation of policies and regulations.  Issues such as waste management at the source of imports, such as non-biodegradable items, cleaning up historical solid waste and procedures for eliminating old plant and equipment which lay rusting in the villages could be addressed by such policies.  Another very important aspect is raising the level of awareness amongst all villagers about the impact of waste on the health of individuals and the environment.  There is a need for different sectors to work together with all villages to take responsible actions to minimise the importation of waste into Tokelau as well as managing the removal of waste in a safe manner.
The Tokelau Emergency Plan (TEP) is in place whereby each village has their own individualised plan though these are specific to cyclones only.  Tokelau’s size, fragility and remoteness mean that disaster risk reduction is a critical area that needs urgent attention. Tokelau’s vulnerability to natural disasters may increase in the future due to the effects of climate change.  This is already evident with increased coastal erosion, storm surges and inundation as the sea level rises.  The intensity and frequency of cyclones could also increase in which case disaster reduction measures are of a more urgent concern.

Villages have carried out work for coastal protection by way of seawall construction and maintenance.  These are at varying degrees of completion with current work in the villages being focused on the most vulnerable locations.  However, to mitigate the effects of water inundation and flooding during times of cyclones, the seawall projects do need to be completed and maintained.  Resilience to the adverse effects of climate change can be addressed through comprehensive costal management and adaptation programmes for all villages and other activities and policies such as energy efficient building design and the use of renewable energy to meet our power demands. 

 A review of the current TEP will need to be completed to ensure that it covers a wider range of disasters other than cyclones.  Other issues which also need to be integrated into the TEP are better linkages with meteorological services so that warning times for approaching bad weather conditions are improved; and a plan for evacuation of villagers the circumstances require.