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Minerva Reefs

The North and South Minerva reefs are used as anchorages by yachts travelling between New Zealand and Tonga or Fiji and is reportedly an excellent place for scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing. The reef is submerged at high tide and partially dries at low tide. It is a magical place -- there's nothing but reef... and no stuff to buy.

The ownership of Minerva Reefs (2340'S., 17900'E.) has been an unresolved issue between Fiji and Tonga for quite a while. Tonga is one of Fiji's closest friends and they hope to resolve the issue through peaceful dialogue.

The reef is actually a group of two submerged atolls named after the whaling ship Minerva that wrecked there in 1829. These reefs appear to stand on a submarine plateau which is from 300 to 500 fathoms below the surface of the sea, and which extends about 28 miles in a N.N.E. and S.S.W. direction. They are 18 miles apart, and are situated towards the extremes of this plateau, which, except near the reefs, is formed of hard ground with a little broken shells, coral, and volcanic cinders.

Tonga's claim to the Minerva Reefs, situated south of Fiji's archipelago, may complicate Tongan-Fijian maritime boundary negotiations. In 1972, King Taufaahau Tupou IV made a royal proclamation that Minerva belongs to Tonga, the two atolls were named Teleki Tokelau (North) and Teleki Tonga (South). Tonga constructed two structures in each of the reefs where beacons were placed.

Although Fiji acknowledges Tonga's claim to these reefs (as noted on its Chart 81/3), Fiji's economic zone limits enclose the reefs. North and South Minerva Reef are about 18 nautical miles apart and more than 165 nautical miles from the nearest Tongan island.

The Tongan Government has built an artificial island and installed navigation beacons on each. If indeed the reefs themselves are only low-tide elevations, they would not have a territorial sea (LOS Convention, Article 13(2)). Tonga's rights, under the LOS Convention, to construct, operate, and use an artificial island, such as North or South Minerva Reef, within its economic zone, may be complicated by the fact that these reefs, under Fiji's claims, are situated in the Fiji EEZ.

In February 2011 the Fiji and Tonga governments continued talks over the disputed Minerva Reef, which they both claim rights to. Fiji's deputy permanent secretary of foreign affairs, Sila Balawa, statedt the two countries' ambassadors to the United Nations are leading discussions on the issue. Balawa said Fiji received a report in late 2010 that Tonga was constructing two structures on the reef. The ministry of foreign affairs then complained to the Tonga government that the structures were being built on Fiji's territory.

In Fijian history the reef is regarded as the fishing ground of the ancestors of the people of Ono-i-Lau. Tonga's claim is founded on a Royal Declaration by the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV - when he declared the reef as Tongan territory in 1972. In July 2014 Tonga's's Lands Minister Lord Ma'afu revealed a proposal for the island kingdom to give up the disputed Minerva Reef to Fiji in exchange for the Lau Group. But the government of Fiji would lose a major portion of their country for some uninhabited reef.

Two reefs are marked upon Arrowsmith's chart, near together, stated to have been discovered in 1818, by Capt. Nicholson. According to Norie's chart, the ship Minerva was lost here in 1831, on the southern of these reefs; they had been therefore called Minerva Reefs. Their character and position were accurately established by Captain Denham, R.N., in the Herald, August, 1854.

Minerva Reef by Olaf Ruhen is a great book about 17 Tongans who were shipwrecked on South Minerva in 1962. Croz Walsh relates that "a Tongan boat, the Tuaekaepau [was] wrecked there on its way to Gisborne in NZ, and its 17 crew [were] marooned for 102 days, where they were given up for dead and some died. Realized that they were assumed dead and could not expect rescue, and knowing that if they stayed much longer on the reef all would die, they built a crude outrigger canoe, the Malo e lelei, from wood found in the wrecked Japanese fishing boat in which they lived, and Captain Tevita Fifita, his son and another crew member sailed for help. Blown off course close to Kadavu, 570 kilometres to the north, they abandoned the outrigger and swam over the reef. The son was totally exhausted, and his father nearly so. They held on to each other, prayed and then the son drowned."

The Republic of Minerva was conceived by wealthy Nevada real estate mogul Michael Oliver. According to Oliver, by 1971 his organization the Ocean Life Research Foundation claimed to have raised $100 million to create a utopian society on Pacific reefs. The King of Tonga rejected the new countrys legitimacy, and issued a document laying official claim to the reefs.

The northern reef has a passage, a cable wide with a depth of 15 fathoms, on its N.W. side leading into tranquil water within. At 2 cables off the entrance to this passage is a depth of 55 fathoms. The northern reef is circular, about 3.5 miles in diameter, enclosing a space in which the depths vary from 3 fathoms at 3 cables from the edge of the reef to 15 and 17 fathoms in the center of the enclosed space.

The reef is awash at half-tide, and the rise being 6 feet, it is, therefore, about 3 feet dry at low water. It is difficult to approach it from the lagoon side on account of the clusters of coral, which extend 300 to 400 yards from the edge, with deep water and sand between them.

The southern reef resembles the figure 8 in shape, and encloses two separate lagoon. Its greatest length is E.N.E. and W.S.W. 5 miles, with a mean breadth of 2 miles. There is an entrance into the easternmost of the lagoons called Herald Bight, on its N.W. side, and off the entrance is a sheltered anchorage during the S.E. trade. This entrance is a mile wide between the reefs, but several patches of 9 to 12 ft. extend three-quarters across from the northern side. The navigable passage, with a depth of 15 fathoms, lies to the southward of these, and is 2 cables wide. Inside is a circular space of tranquil water, 1.5 mile in diameter.

At the junction of the two atolls, the reef is about three-quarters of a mile broad, and here depths of 10 to 20 fathoms are found off the reef to the north-west about 2 cables, affording protected anchorage in Herald bight during the south-east trade wind.

The western atoll, which has a lagoon almost completely cut off from the sea at low water, has large detached blocks of coral lying on the reef on its south-wesl side. This reef is awash at half-tide, and at the time of the Egeria's visit (1889) might have been landed on at low water. The two atolls are connected at low water by narrow shallow channels amongst coral knolls. Two sunken dangers lie within half a mile from the entrance, each about 3 cables from the southern shore of the lagoon; and a third lies 2 cables S.S.E. from the innermost of these, and 1.5 cable distant from the reef.

The reef of the northern atoll is from 300 to 500 yards broad, bordered on the lagoon side- for nearly a quarter of a mile by knolls of live and dead coral, having channels between them with a bottom of sand. At low water there is difficulty in approaching the reef in a boat on the lagoon side on account of these knolls, but at high water there is sufficient water over them. There is an entrance about one cable in width on the western side of this lagoon.

On the weather or south-east side of the junction of the two atolls, there is a collection of blocks of coral thrown up from the edge of the reef; these are just covered at high water, and will probably eventually emerge above the level of the sen. The weather or eastern side of the northern atoll is broader than the lee, and very slightly the higher.

They both partake of the coral reef, or atoll, character. A sounding of 967 fathoms was found between them, the bottom consisting of shells and microscopic animalculae.

It is evidently the southern reef on which the whale ship Canton, Captain Folger, struck a few days after Captain Denham left, but it is stated that they saw a few black volcanic rocks scattered over it. The whale ship Caroline, Captain Giford, was probably also lost on the southern part in 1865.

Northern Reef observation spot on N.E. side of reef, lat. 2337'19"S., 17849'39" W. Southern Reef observation spot, just within Herald Bight, on South side of entrance, lat. 2356'22" S., long. 1794'57" W.

Minerva Reefs is not to be confused with Minerva Reef (3815'S., 14140'E.), with depths of less than 5.5m, extends about 0.7 mile from the greater part of the NW shore of Portland Bay, from about 1 mile N of Anderson Point to the entrance of the Surrey River. The whole area forms an uneven bottom, over which the sea breaks heavily at times.

Minerva Reefs is not to be confused with Minerva Shoal (2055'S., 15922'E.), with a least charted depth of 14.6m, lies 46 miles E of Bellona Shoal. Shallower depths were observed SW of Minerva Shoal. A small drying reef lies about 20 miles WNW of Minerva Shoal. A reef, 1 mile in diameter, which never covers, lies about 10 miles NW of Minerva Shoal. A below-water rock lies 33 miles ENE, and a 9.1m rocky patch lies 40 miles NE, respectively, of Northwest Bellona Reef. Between the last two shoals, and the charted 200m curve 32 miles W, there is dangerous ground, which has not been surveyed.



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