Island and Ocean Ecosystems
Ms Lisa Tokanga Fe’ofa’aki Fanua of Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA) from Tonga was the winner of the first Pacific Invasive Species Battler of the Year Award announced in December last year, making her the very first Battler of the Year.

Recognised for her work in battling invasive species in Tonga, Ms Fanua and her team of volunteers have helped make a positive impact on the ground in the Vava’u island group of Tonga. 

The Tongan Whistler, an endemic bird species of the Vava’u islands in Tonga, is now more visible in the local communities in Vava’u, and the rare plant Casearia beuelowii, endemic to Mt Talau on Vava’u island, has young seedlings growing from the last remaining 18 stems.

“I’m thankful for this award and for my team, and the support and advice I have received from my colleagues over the years,” said Ms Fanua.

“What we have accomplished together is our legacy for the people of Tonga, it’s this love of nature that has driven me to work and help protect my island home through managing invasive species.”

“For anyone wondering about a career in the environment or invasive species management, use your skills, knowledge and experience wisely to conserve island biodiversity. Anyone can make a difference and protect our environment, we just need to go out and do it.”

Ms Fanua began working for Vava’u Environmental Protection Association in 2013, after learning about the association and their work in protecting and restoring the environment in the Vava’u island group. IMG 3208

2017 Battler of the Year, Ms Lisa Tokanga Fe’ofa’aki Fanua

“Congratulations to Ms Fanua for this award that recognises and acknowledges the hard work she has done, and the outcomes that this has led to,” said Mr David Moverley, Invasive Species Adviser of Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

“The “Battler of the Year” award is given to Pacific invasive species field-based (non-management) practitioners who have worked at the grass roots level and achieved an outstanding outcome for biodiversity from the use of minimal resources. This Pacific case-study shows what is achievable by local communities around the Pacific with limited resources and will be replicated at further sites in Tonga and in Niue, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu in the upcoming GEF 6 funded project 'Strengthening national and regional capacities to reduce the impact of Invasive Alien Species on globally significant biodiversity in the Pacific'.” 

"Ms Fanua’s commitment and dedication is a prime example of what can be achieved when you put your mind to something. She is well deserving of this award.”

For the past four years, Ms Fanua has been responsible for managing rats on Mt. Talau, along with her team of volunteers through an invasive species pilot project on restoring the habitat of Mt. Talau, under the guidance and support of the Tonga Department of Environment and SPREP. This has resulted in 11 pairs of the endemic Tongan whistler and their many chicks thriving on Mt. Talau. Local communities are also reporting Tongan whistler around their homes – many of these local people having never seen or heard this special bird before. 

The work has been challenging though, and in particular Ms Fanua said she struggled in the beginning with the sheer amount of work she and her small team were tasked with. Not only were they responsible for managing invasive species  on Mt Talau, but they also had to frequently travel by boat to the outer islands of Fangasito and Luahiapo where rats had been eradicated under the same programme. Setting up bait stations for rats and continuously having to check and rebait the boxes were already physically tasking, but after some of their bait stations were stolen and needed to be replaced, she was particularly disheartened and questioned whether she was making any impact. 

After seeing the positive changes however, she says it has all been worth it. “To see the Hengehenga (Tongan whistler) in Vava’u and the increase in biodiversity on Fangasito and Luahiapo, has been the most rewarding part of my job.”

Her words of advice for fellow Battlers wondering what it takes to become the next Pacific Invasive Species Battler of the Year, “Continue working hard, and showcase to the people of the Pacific, the importance of invasive species management and research in order to protect not only Tonga, but all of our islands.” 

Ms Fanua has also published data about the Tonga whistler on the GBIF database, titled ‘Birds of Mount Talau National Park, Vava’u Tonga’. Ms Fanua is one of the participants attending a workshop in Samoa from  16 – 20 April, on publishing data as part of the ‘National and Regional Alien and Invasive Species Data and Information Mobilization and Capacity Building in the Pacific’ Project, a partnership between SPREP and Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), as part of the Biodiversity Information for Development (BID) programme. This project is funded by the European Union.