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Too many tourists in Tonga

The Tongan volcano is still erupting but people are already venturing out to the new island to explode … er, that is, explore.

Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai, taken in late March 2009

Redoubt did the tried-and-true American trick of shoving news of volcanoes in other parts of the world off the news pages, but shockingly, these international volcanoes continued to erupt. Remember that volcano in Tonga? Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’aapi? Still erupting, weeks after the volcano was first spotted. The volcano is still disrupting air traffic in and out of Tonga, which is now even affecting the economy of the islands. Now, the problem is that tourists are creeping ever closer to the emerging volcanic island. The thing about visiting nascent volcanic islands, beyond the fact that it is an erupting volcano is that the islands are inherently unstable, so looks like a stable platform could collapse easily, especially if it is constructed of piles of loosely consolidated volcanic tephra/debris.

In Tonga, the new island being constructed has grown quickly. When the eruption began on March 17, the vents were underwater, but now all vents are “on land” constructed by the eruptions (see the image above). This might look like a great place to explore, but again, it is an erupting volcano. There are reports that groups have “climbed up to the fragile rim of its volcanic crater, where there is a steaming sulphuric orange lake,” which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too bright of a thing to do. Additional groups, including a cameraman from the Discovery Channel, have landed on the island as well. Ten points for the good shot, but minus several million for clear thinking. As with almost anything new, people want to make some money off of it, but playing on an actively erupting volcano is just inviting danger, even for volcanologists.


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