Explore the Deep Sea
Kingdom of Tonga
The expeditions' research is focused in waters belonging to the Kingdom of Tonga, the only monarchy in the South Pacific.
- The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago (island group) of about 170 islands located just below the Tropic of Capricorn in the Pacific, west of the International Dateline (at longitude 173-177° W), around 2000 km east of Australia. The time in Tonga is 13 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
- Only about 96 of Tonga's islands are inhabited. The capital city, Nuku'alofa, is located on the main island of Tongatapu, where more than two thirds of Tonga's population of about 100,000 live.
- The Tongan islands range from atolls with white sandy beaches to steep-sided volcanic islands. A new island was created in 1995 when an eruption of the Metis Shoal, a submarine volcano, threw volcanic rock above sea level.
- Tonga's total land area is currently about 748 square km (289 square miles), around four times the area covered by Washington D.C. But its total territory is about a thousand times this size, because it includes a vast area of the Pacific Ocean.
- Polynesian people are thought to have migrated to Tonga in around 1100 B.C., around 1000 to 1500 years before they first reached Hawaii.
- From around the 13th century, Tonga's huge, double-hulled war canoes (Kalia) ranged to other island groups, where Tongan influence still exists to varying degrees.
- The first known western visitors to Tonga were Dutch: Willem Schouten and Jacob Lemaire (1616), followed by compatriot Abel Tasman (1643), the first European sea captain to discover New Zealand. Tonga was given the nickname "the Friendly Islands" by British explorer Captain James Cook, who visited the Tongan archipeligo three times in the 1770s. Missionaries first arrived in the late 18th century.
- The infamous mutiny on the British ship Bounty occurred between two of the Tongan island groups (Ha'apai and Nomuka), in 1789. The mutineers fled to Pitcairn Island, after setting the captain, William Bligh, and loyal crewmembers adrift in an open boat.
- Tonga became a single nation in the 19thcentury, under King George Toupu I. Even today, King George's historic land tenure system forbids the sale of land to a foreigner.