August 2006 brought two new things to the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific. One was a raft of lightweight, frothy volcanic rock - pumice - floating on the ocean surface. The other was a new island emerging out of the water. NASA's Aqua satellite captured the aftermath of the eruption on 10 August 2006. For comparison, the bottom image shows the same area but taken almost one year earlier, on 15 September 2005. 

The emerging volcanic island is partially hidden by its own plume. Volcanic plumes often appear drab gray or beige compared to clouds, and plumes from the emerging island move away from it in different directions, one to the southeast, and some to the north. The bright white spot directly over the island may be cloud cover, or it could be steam resulting from volcanic emissions.

The raft of pumice appears to the northeast of the emerging island, and it actually connects, via a thin thread, to neighboring Late Island. The blue-green color of the water around the raft and the new island is probably fine sediment that is making the deep blue water more reflective. The pumice raft gained international attention when a news report described the experience of a yacht crew that inadvertently encountered the pumice raft. The "sea of stone" clogged the yacht's engine-cooling system, forcing the vessel to turn back.

Pumice rafts are not an everyday occurrence, but they have been observed before. Biologists theorize that pumice rafts may be one of the ways that plants and animals spread from island to island in marine environments. Photo courtesy of NASA.
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The first humans arrived in Tonga around 1000 B.C. The islands’ politics were probably highly centralized under the Tu’i Tonga, or Tongan king, by A.D. 950, and by 1200, the Tu’i Tonga had expanded his influence throughout Polynesia and into Melanesia and Micronesia. The Tongan Empire began to decline in the 1300s, descending into civil wars, a military defeat to Samoa, and internal political strife that saw successive leaders assassinated. By the mid-1500s, some Tu’i Tongans were ethnic Samoan and day-to-day administration of Tonga was transferred to a new position occupied by ethnic Tongans.

Dutch sailors explored the islands in the 1600s and British Captain James COOK visited Tonga three times in the 1770s, naming them the Friendly Islands for the positive reception he thought he received, even though the Tongans he encountered were plotting ways to kill him. In 1799, Tonga fell into a new round of civil wars over succession. Wesleyan missionaries arrived in 1822, quickly converting the population. In the 1830s, a low-ranking chief from Ha’apai began to consolidate control over the islands and won the support of the missionaries by declaring that he would dedicate Tonga to God. The chief soon made alliances with leaders on most of the other islands and was crowned King George TUPOU I in 1845, establishing the only still-extant Polynesian monarchy. Tupou I declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and his successor, King George TUPOU II, agreed to enter a protectorate agreement with the UK in 1900 after rival Tongan chiefs tried to overthrow him. As a protectorate, Tonga never completely lost its indigenous governance, but it did become more isolated and the social hierarchy became more stratified between a group of nobles and a large class of commoners. Today, about one third of parliamentary seats are reserved for nobles.

Queen Salote TUPOU III negotiated the end of the protectorate in 1965, which was achieved under King TUPOU, who in 1970 withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations. A prodemocracy movement gained steam in the early 2000s, led by future Prime Minister ‘Akilisi POHIVA, and in 2006, riots broke out in Nuku’alofa to protest the lack of progress on prodemocracy legislation. To appease the activists, in 2008, King George TUPOU V announced he was relinquishing most of his powers leading up to parliamentary elections in 2010; he died in 2012 and was succeeded by his brother ‘Aho’eitu TUPOU VI. Tropical Cyclone Gita, the strongest-ever recorded storm to impact Tonga, hit the islands in February 2018 causing extensive damage.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Oceania, archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Geographic coordinates

20 00 S, 175 00 W


total: 747 sq km

land: 717 sq km

water: 30 sq km

country comparison to the world: 189

Area - comparative

four times the size of Washington, DC

<p>four times the size of Washington, DC</p>

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


419 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation


tropical; modified by trade winds; warm season (December to May), cool season (May to December)


mostly flat islands with limestone bedrock formed from uplifted coral formation; others have limestone overlying volcanic rock


highest point: Kao Volcano on Kao Island 1,046 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

arable land, fish

Land use

agricultural land: 43.1% (2018 est.)

arable land: 22.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 15.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 5.6% (2018 est.)

forest: 12.5% (2018 est.)

other: 44.4% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

over two-thirds of the population lives on the island of Tongatapu; only 45 of the nation's 171 islands are occupied

Natural hazards

cyclones (October to April); earthquakes and volcanic activity on Fonuafo'ou

volcanism: moderate volcanic activity; Fonualei (180 m) has shown frequent activity in recent years, while Niuafo'ou (260 m), which last erupted in 1985, has forced evacuations; other historically active volcanoes include Late and Tofua

Geography - note

the western islands (making up the Tongan Volcanic Arch) are all of volcanic origin; the eastern islands are nonvolcanic and are composed of coral limestone and sand

People and Society


noun: Tongan(s)

adjective: Tongan

Ethnic groups

Tongan 97%, part-Tongan 0.8%, other 2.2%, unspecified <0.1% (2016 est.)


Tongan and English 76.8%, Tongan, English, and other language 10.6%, Tongan only (official) 8.7%, English only (official) 0.7%, other 1.7%, none 2.2% (2016 est.)

note: data represent persons aged 5 and older who can read and write a simple sentence in Tongan, English, or another language


Protestant 64.1% (includes Free Wesleyan Church 35%, Free Church of Tonga 11.9%, Church of Tonga 6.8%, Assembly of God 2.3%, Seventh Day Adventist 2.2%, Tokaikolo Christian Church 1.6%, other 4.3%), Church of Jesus Christ 18.6%, Roman Catholic 14.2%, other 2.4%, none 0.5%, unspecified 0.1% (2016 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 32% (male 17,250/female 16,698)

15-24 years: 19.66% (male 10,679/female 10,175)

25-54 years: 35.35% (male 18,701/female 18,802)

55-64 years: 6.17% (male 3,345/female 3,202)

65 years and over: 6.83% (male 3,249/female 3,994) (2020 est.)

This is the population pyramid for Tonga. A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends. <br/><br/>For additional information, please see the entry for Population pyramid on the Definitions and Notes page.

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 68.6

youth dependency ratio: 58.6

elderly dependency ratio: 10

potential support ratio: 10 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 24.1 years

male: 23.6 years

female: 24.5 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 169

Birth rate

20.6 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 71

Death rate

4.95 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 197

Net migration rate

-17.96 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 228

Population distribution

over two-thirds of the population lives on the island of Tongatapu; only 45 of the nation's 171 islands are occupied


urban population: 23.1% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.99% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

23,000 NUKU'ALOFA (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.99 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female

total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

24.9 years (2012 est.)

note: median age at first birth among women 25-49

Maternal mortality ratio

52 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 94

Infant mortality rate

total: 12.73 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 13.77 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 11.65 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 114

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 77.29 years

male: 75.63 years

female: 78.99 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 87

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 100% of population

rural: 100% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 0% of population

total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

0.54 physicians/1,000 population (2013)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 96.6% of population

rural: 93.6% of population

total: 94.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 3.4% of population

rural: 6.4% of population

total: 5.5% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria


definition: can read and write Tongan and/or English

total population: 99.4%

male: 99.4%

female: 99.5% (2018)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 16 years

male: 15 years

female: 17 years (2020)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24

total: 8.9%

male: 5.7%

female: 13.1% (2018)


Environment - current issues

deforestation from land being cleared for agriculture and settlement; soil exhaustion; water pollution due to salinization, sewage, and toxic chemicals from farming activities; coral reefs and marine populations threatened

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping-London Convention, Marine Dumping-London Protocol, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 10.08 micrograms per cubic meter (2016 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.13 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 0.12 megatons (2020 est.)


tropical; modified by trade winds; warm season (December to May), cool season (May to December)

Land use

agricultural land: 43.1% (2018 est.)

arable land: 22.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 15.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 5.6% (2018 est.)

forest: 12.5% (2018 est.)

other: 44.4% (2018 est.)


urban population: 23.1% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.99% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Revenue from coal

coal revenues: 0% of GDP (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 176

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 17,238 tons (2012 est.)

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: Kingdom of Tonga

conventional short form: Tonga

local long form: Pule'anga Fakatu'i 'o Tonga

local short form: Tonga

former: Friendly Islands

etymology: "tonga" means "south" in the Tongan language and refers to the country's geographic position in relation to central Polynesia

Government type

constitutional monarchy


name: Nuku'alofa

geographic coordinates: 21 08 S, 175 12 W

time difference: UTC+13 (18 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

daylight saving time: +1hr, begins first Sunday in November; ends second Sunday in January

etymology: composed of the words "nuku," meaning "residence or abode," and "alofa," meaning "love," to signify "abode of love"

Administrative divisions

5 island divisions; 'Eua, Ha'apai, Ongo Niua, Tongatapu, Vava'u


4 June 1970 (from UK protectorate status)

National holiday

Official Birthday of King TUPOU VI, 4 July (1959); note - actual birthday of the monarch is 12 July 1959, 4 July (2015) is the day the king was crowned; Constitution Day (National Day), 4 November (1875)


history: adopted 4 November 1875, revised 1988, 2016

amendments: proposed by the Legislative Assembly; passage requires approval by the Assembly in each of three readings, the unanimous approval of the Privy Council (a high-level advisory body to the monarch), the Cabinet, and assent to by the monarch; revised 1988; amended many times, last in 2013

Legal system

English common law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt


citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: the father must be a citizen of Tonga; if a child is born out of wedlock, the mother must be a citizen of Tonga

dual citizenship recognized: yes

residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years


21 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: King TUPOU VI (since 18 March 2012); Heir Apparent Crown Prince Siaosi Manumataogo 'Alaivahamama'o 'Ahoeitu Konstantin Tuku'aho, son of the king (born 17 September 1985); note - on 18 March 2012, King George TUPOU V died and his brother, Crown Prince TUPOUTO'A Lavaka, assumed the throne as TUPOU VI

head of government: Prime Minister-Designate Siaosi SOVALENI (since 15 November 2021)

cabinet: Cabinet nominated by the prime minister and appointed by the monarch

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; prime minister and deputy prime minister indirectly elected by the Legislative Assembly and appointed by the monarch; election last held on 15 November 2021 (next to be held in in November 2025)

election results: Siaosi SOVALENI elected prime minister-designate by the Legislative Assembly; Siaosi SOVALENI 16 votes, Aisake EKE 10

note: a Privy Council advises the monarch

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Legislative Assembly or Fale Alea (up to 30 seats; - 26 for the 2021-25 term); 17 people's representatives directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote, and 9 indirectly elected by hereditary leaders; members serve 4-year terms)

elections: last held on 18 November 2021 (next to be held in November 2025)

election results: percent of vote - NA; seats by party (elected members) - Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands 3, Tonga People's Party 1, independent 13; composition (elected members) - men 17, women 0, percent of women 0%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Court of Appeal (consists of the court president and a number of judges determined by the monarch); note - appeals beyond the Court of Appeal are brought before the King in Privy Council, the monarch's advisory organ that has both judicial and legislative powers

judge selection and term of office: judge appointments and tenures made by the King in Privy Council and subject to consent of the Legislative Assembly

subordinate courts: Supreme Court; Magistrates' Courts; Land Courts

Political parties and leaders

Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands
People's Democratic Party or PDP [Tesina FUKO]
Sustainable Nation-Building Party [Sione FONUA]
Tonga Democratic Labor Party
Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement or THRDM
Tonga People's Party or PAK (Paati ʻa e Kakai ʻo Tonga) [Pohiva TU'I'ONETOA] (split from Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands)

International organization participation


Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Viliami Va’inga TONE (since 20 April 2021)

chancery: 250 East 51st Street, New York, NY 10022

telephone: [1] (917) 369-1025

FAX: [1] (917) 369-1024

email address and website:

consulate(s) general: San Francisco

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: the US does not have an embassy in Tonga; the US Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to Tonga

Flag description

red with a bold red cross on a white rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner; the cross reflects the deep-rooted Christianity in Tonga, red represents the blood of Christ and his sacrifice, and white signifies purity

National symbol(s)

red cross on white field, arms equal length; national colors: red, white

National anthem

name: "Ko e fasi `o e tu"i `o e `Otu Tonga" (Song of the King of the Tonga Islands)

lyrics/music: Uelingatoni Ngu TUPOUMALOHI/Karl Gustavus SCHMITT

note: in use since 1875; more commonly known as "Fasi Fakafonua" (National Song)


Economic overview

Tonga has a small, open island economy and is the last constitutional monarchy among the Pacific Island countries. It has a narrow export base in agricultural goods. Squash, vanilla beans, and yams are the main crops. Agricultural exports, including fish, make up two-thirds of total exports. Tourism is the second-largest source of hard currency earnings following remittances. Tonga had 53,800 visitors in 2015. The country must import a high proportion of its food, mainly from New Zealand.

The country remains dependent on external aid and remittances from overseas Tongans to offset its trade deficit. The government is emphasizing the development of the private sector, encouraging investment, and is committing increased funds for health care and education. Tonga's English-speaking and educated workforce offers a viable labor market, and the tropical climate provides fertile soil. Renewable energy and deep-sea mining also offer opportunities for investment.

Tonga has a reasonably sound basic infrastructure and well developed social services. But the government faces high unemployment among the young, moderate inflation, pressures for democratic reform, and rising civil service expenditures.

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$670 million note: data are in 2017 dollars (2019 est.)

$660 million note: data are in 2017 dollars (2018 est.)

$660 million (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 210

Real GDP growth rate

2.5% (2017 est.)

4.2% (2016 est.)

3.5% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 114

Real GDP per capita

$6,400 note: data are in 2017 dollars (2019 est.)

$6,400 note: data are in 2017 dollars (2018 est.)

$6,472 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 158

GDP (official exchange rate)

$455 million (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 19.9% (2017 est.)

industry: 20.3% (2017 est.)

services: 59.8% (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 99.4% (2017 est.)

government consumption: 21.9% (2017 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 24.1% (2017 est.)

investment in inventories: 0% (2017 est.)

exports of goods and services: 22.8% (2017 est.)

imports of goods and services: -68.5% (2017 est.)

Agricultural products

coconuts, gourds, cassava, sweet potatoes, vegetables, yams, taro, roots/tubers nes, plantains, lemons/limes


tourism, construction, fishing

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 2,006% (2006 est.)

industry: 27.5% (2006 est.)

services: 2,006% (2006 est.)


revenues: 181.2 million (2017 est.)

expenditures: 181.2 million (2017 est.)

Public debt

48% of GDP (FY2017 est.)

51.8% of GDP (FY2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 109

Fiscal year

1 July - 30 June

Current account balance

-$53 million (2017 est.)

-$30 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 81


$90 million note: data are in current year dollars (2020 est.)

$110 million note: data are in current year dollars (2019 est.)

$100 million note: data are in current year dollars (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 210

Exports - partners

United States 38%, South Korea 18%, Australia 14%, New Zealand 14%, Japan 6%,  (2019)

Exports - commodities

squash, fish, various fruits and nuts, antiques, coral and shells (2019)


$300 million note: data are in current year dollars (2020 est.)

$330 million note: data are in current year dollars (2019 est.)

$320 million note: data are in current year dollars (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 211

Imports - partners

Fiji 29%, New Zealand 23%, China 14%, United States 8%, Australia 6%, Japan 6% (2019)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, poultry meats, audio equipment, mutton, goat meat, broadcasting equipment (2019)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$198.5 million (31 December 2017 est.)

$176.5 million (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 176

Debt - external

$189.9 million (31 December 2017 est.)

$198.2 million (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 190

Exchange rates

pa'anga (TOP) per US dollar -

2.27015 (2020 est.)

2.29095 (2019 est.)

2.22717 (2018 est.)

2.106 (2014 est.)

1.847 (2013 est.)


Electricity access

electrification - total population: 98.9% (2018)

electrification - urban areas: 98.9% (2018)

electrification - rural areas: 98.9% (2018)


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 6,637 (2019)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 6.35 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 200

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 62,104 (2019)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 59.43 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: high speed Internet provided by 3 MNOs, has subsequently allowed for better health care services, faster connections for education and growing e-commerce services; in 2018 new 4G LTE network; fixed-line teledensity has dropped given mobile subscriptions; mobile technology dominates given the island's geography; satellite technology is widespread and is important especially in areas away from the city; the launch in 2019 of the Kacific-1 broadband satellite has made broadband more widely available for around 89 remote communities (2020)

domestic: fixed-line 6 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular teledensity 59 telephones per 100; fully automatic switched network (2019)

international: country code - 676; landing point for the Tonga Cable and the TDCE connecting to Fiji and 3 separate Tonga islands; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2020)

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

1 state-owned TV station and 3 privately owned TV stations; satellite and cable TV services are available; 1 state-owned and 5 privately owned radio stations; Radio Australia broadcasts available via satellite (2019)

Internet users

total: 43,800 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 41.25% (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 3,703 (2019)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 3.54 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 187


National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 1

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1

2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 (2019)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 5

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1

914 to 1,523 m: 3

under 914 m: 1 (2013)


total: 680 km (2011)

paved: 184 km (2011)

unpaved: 496 km (2011)

country comparison to the world: 189

Merchant marine

total: 32

by type: container ship 4, general cargo 13, oil tanker 1, other 14 (2021)

country comparison to the world: 132

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Nuku'alofa, Neiafu, Pangai

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Tonga Defense Services (His Majesty's Armed Forces): Joint Force headquarters, Territorial Forces, Land Force, Tonga Navy, Training Wing, Air Wing, and Support Unit (2021)

Military and security service personnel strengths

the Tonga Defense Services have approximately 500 personnel (2021)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the Tonga military's inventory includes mostly light weapons and equipment from European (primarily the UK) countries and the US, as well as naval patrol vessels from Australia; Australia is the only supplier of military systems since 2010 (2020)

Military service age and obligation

Volunteers, 18-25; no conscription (2019)

Military - note

Tonga participated in World War I as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, but the Tonga Defense Force (TDF) was not established until 1939 at the beginning of World War II; in 1943, New Zealand helped train about 2,000 Tongan troops who saw action in the Solomon Islands; the TDF was disbanded at the end of the war, but was reactivated in 1946 as the Tonga Defense Services (TDS); in 2013, the name of the TDS was changed to His Majesty’s Armed Forces of Tonga (HMAF); Tongan troops deployed to Iraq from 2004-2008 and Afghanistan to support UK forces from 2010-2014

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

maritime boundary dispute with Fiji