Working With a Local NGO to Tackle Plastic Pollution on Tonga

Imagine a magical island nation where you can swim alone with humpback whales. A place where you can always be assured that the whales will return the same time each year to give birth and nurse their babies. 

Even after being lucky enough to witness this place with my own eyes, year after year for over a decade, I still find it hard to believe such a heavenly/magical place like this exists right here on earth. 

As a boat captain, I have been able to work on incredible vessels that have taken me to amazing places. But it was the exotic and pristine beauty of Tonga that made me return over and over again. Tonga also made me passionate to protect its unique beauty. 

Educating the youth of Tonga

Educating the youth of Tonga

In 2012, I brought the boat, S.V. Moana, to Tonga for the first time and it was then that I started a collaborative partnership with the Vavau Environmental Protection Association (VEPA). We started by retrofitting our beloved vessel to become a floating classroom focusing on Green Island Development. As they have limited resources, I volunteered my time and experience to take Tonga youth out on the boat for a day to show them the beauty of the sea around their island. Following my first sail with a group of students, I was shocked to learn that it was many of the students’ first time ever putting on a mask and looking under the water. Imagine that, living in an island paradise and not even knowing what fish or coral look like!

Returning 6 years later, we had since helped introduce hundreds of students to the magic of numerous  islands throughout the South Pacific Region and I knew they shared our passion to protect it. 

Tonga Beach Clean Up

Tonga Beach Clean Up

I connected with Karen Stone, the Executive Director of VEPA, about returning and developed a plan. 

We designed a volunteer package for people to come join us in the islands, raised funds, brought the VEPA team out to the remote
communities and created education programs on the issues surrounding plastic in our oceans. We organized beach clean-ups and data collection then initiated a micro-economy on valuing waste plastics.

The microeconomy system is called Precious Plastic. It is a “Do It Yourself” second life products design with the waste plastic. We sponsored the first machine in the form of a grinder to reduce the physical footprint of the consolidated plastic and prepare it for processing. Precious Plastic evolved into removing the trash from the outer island communities and bringing it to mainland once a week. This is a HUGE step forward as absolutely nothing existed as far as waste management for these villages prior. 

Join us for a quick peak into how one island nation tackles this issue and what success can look like from a forgotten nation. The first episode of a new web series from Plastic Oceans, Saving Moana, is now available on YouTube and Facebook. Please enjoy it here: