by admin

Crucial to their work is their trusty Highfield RIB.

Dr Patrick Smallhorn-West is working with the Tongan Ministry of Fisheries to delve deep into the unique biome of Tonga’s volcanic islands, aiming to gather sufficient data to secure UNESCO World Heritage listing for the islands and protect them for future generations. These volcanic islands shocked the world in 2022 with the eruption of Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai, the largest volcanic eruption on Earth in a century. Crucial to his work is his trusty Highfield RIB.

Working with an experienced team comprising crew, divers, government staff, and scientists, Patrick aims to provide the data and information needed for the Tongan government and people to have their unique landscapes and ecosystems globally recognised. From July 2023 until mid-2025, they will be exploring the eight volcanic islands aboard their 10.1-metre (33-foot) vessel SV Salote, supported by their Highfield Classic 310 which is their versatile tender for ship-to-shore transport, diving and data collection.

Developing a case for UNESCO World Heritage listing is a complex process that can take many years, according to Patrick. “Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland was formed by volcanic eruptions between 1963 and 1967 and only received World Heritage status in 2008. But Surtsey was fortunate in that it was offered national protection from its ‘birth’ because of its value as a pristine natural laboratory, with its colonisation of new land by plant and animal life.

“The Tongan volcanic arc has not received such recognition and it is only through its extreme remoteness that this landscape has not yet been overly impacted by human disturbances, although this is quickly changing due to increasing development and industrialisation.”

Crucial to their daily activities is the ship’s Highfield RIB. “We couldn’t get anywhere without it – no diving, no data, no reporting,” states Patrick. “It’s our local transport – to and from islands, to and from dive sites, everything and anything to do with the project goes through this tender, so, it’s important we have one that is robust to everyday use, with enough space to store fuel, safety equipment, up to three people and of course all of our dive gear! “I personally love the fuel/anchor locker, as well as the floating floor that keeps us dry. The Hypalon is also a huge gamechanger in the tropics, where the sun destroys glue faster than you can fix it.”

Follow their project via @tongavolcanoproject and @sv_salote on Instagram.


related articles