Late, Tonga 

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Late, Tonga 

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A biodiverse volcanic gem

Late (pronounced la-tay), located in the Southwest Pacific, is a tropical volcanic island belonging to the Vava’u island group in the Kingdom of Tonga. The island does not match the traditional image of sandy white beaches and palm trees, but beyond the rather foreboding, jagged coastline one finds rich ecological diversity. It boasts one of the most intact native broad-leafed island forests in the world, which supports large populations of many of Tonga’s birds and reptiles. Late and Vava’u are home to the the Tongan Whistler, which is found nowhere else in the world.

Six kilometers (about 3.7 miles) wide and rising to 565 meters in elevation, the volcanic island of Late is a rugged place and not surprisingly is uninhabited. It is one of 171 islands that make up the Kingdom of Tonga – a constitutional monarchy that never relinquished its sovereignty to any foreign power. Tonga has its own language, unique culture, and a strong ethnic identity. Polynesian mythology describes the collection of islands as being raised from the sea by the demigod Māui.

Small islands are incredibly vulnerable to invasive species, and Late is no exception. Rats that were mistakenly introduced by humans have destroyed vital parts of the island’s biodiversity, which in turn has had a negative impact on the surrounding marine life. Communities living on nearby islands are affected by diminished ocean resources.

A Voice from the Field

“Removing rats from Late is a huge step for Tonga and the Pacific. The project will not only provide security for a significant proportion of Tonga’s remaining biodiversity but will improve the productivity of nearshore reefs which are an important resource for Vava’u communities.”

— Richard Griffiths, Head of Operations for South and West Pacific, Island Conservation.

The Project

Working with local representatives, IOCC partners will conduct extensive baseline research on Late prior to implementing an eradication of the rodents causing widespread damage. Once rat removal has been confirmed, scientists and field workers will monitor the benefits of the intervention, which are expected to be defined by recovering seabird populations, terrestrial animals and plants, as well as the improved health of the surrounding reefs and marine life. With invasive species removed, Late offers a unique and essential opportunity to not only safeguard the species that have persevered there, such as the Tongan Whistler and the Friendly Ground Dove, but also to translocate native species to the islands to aid in their recovery. For example, establishing the Tongan Megapode on Late will increase the species range and further secure it from extinction.

Project Partners & Funders

Global Environment Facility, Government of Tonga, Island Conservation, Tonga Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), New Zealand Department of Conservation, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Wanderlust Fund, and other anonymous donors.

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