The Minerva Reefs (Tongan: Ongo Teleki), briefly de facto independent in 1972 as the Republic of Minerva, are a group of two submerged atolls located in the Pacific Ocean south of Fiji and Tonga. The reefs were named after the whaleship Minerva, wrecked on what became known as South Minerva after setting out from Sydney in 1829. Many other ships would follow, for example the Strathcona, which was sailing north soon after completion in Auckland in 1914. In both cases most of the crew saved themselves in whaleboats or rafts and reached the Lau Islands in Fiji. Of some other ships, however, no survivors are known.
Both North and South Minerva Reefs are used as anchorages by yachts traveling between New Zealand and Tonga or Fiji. While waiting for favourable weather for the approximately 800-mile (1,300km) passage to New Zealand, excellent scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing and clamming can be enjoyed. North Minerva (Tongan: Teleki Tokelau) offers the more protected anchorage, with a single, easily negotiated, west-facing pass that offers access to the large, calm lagoon with extensive sandy areas. South Minerva (Tongan: Teleki Tonga) is in shape similar to an infinity symbol, with its eastern lobe partially open to the ocean on the northern side. Due to the lower reef and large entrance, the anchorage at South Minerva can be rough at high tide if a swell is running. The lagoon also contains numerous coral heads that must be avoided. While presenting an attractive area to wait out harsh weather occurring farther south, the Minerva reefs are not a good place to be when the weather is bad locally. This does not occur often, but it is important to maintain awareness of the situation and put to sea if necessary.
Scuba diving the outside wall drop-offs at the Minerva Reefs is spectacular due to the superb water clarity and extensive coral, fish and other marine life. There are few suspended particles and the visibility is normally in excess of 100 feet (30m) since there is no dry land at high tide. Of particular note are the numerous fan coral formations near the pass at North Minerva and the shark bowl area located by the narrow dinghy pass on the western lobe of South Minerva. The inside of the lagoon at South Minerva is also home to numerous giant clams. Divers at Minerva must be entirely self-sufficient, with their own compressor, and should also be aware that the nearest assistance is a multiple-day boat ride away in Tonga. Due to the vertical drop off and water clarity, divers must watch their depth carefully.
It is not known when the reefs were first discovered but had been marked on charts as “Nicholson’s Shoal” since the late 1820s. Capt H. M. Denham of the HMS Herald surveyed the reefs in 1854 and renamed them after the Australian whaler Minerva which collided with South Minerva Reef on 9 September 1829.
The Republic of Minerva was a micronation consisting of the Minerva Reefs. It was one of the few modern attempts at creating a sovereign micronation on the reclaimed land of an artificial island in 1972. The architect was Las Vegas real estate millionaire and political activist Michael Oliver, who went on to other similar attempts in the following decade. Lithuanian-born Oliver formed a syndicate, the Ocean Life Research Foundation, which allegedly had some $100,000,000 for the project and had offices in New York and London. They anticipated a libertarian society with “no taxation, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism.” In addition to tourism and fishing, the economy of the new nation would include light industry and other commerce. According to Glen Raphael, “The chief reason that the Minerva project failed was that the libertarians who were involved did not want to fight for their territory.” According to Reason, Minerva has been “more or less reclaimed by the sea”.
In 1971, barges loaded with sand arrived from Australia, bringing the reef level above the water and allowing construction of a small tower and flag. The Republic of Minerva issued a declaration of independence on 19 January 1972, in letters to neighboring countries and even created their own currency. In February 1972, Morris C. Davis was elected as Provisional President of the Republic of Minerva.
The declaration of independence, however, was greeted with great suspicion by other countries in the area. A conference of the neighboring states (Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, and territory of Cook Islands) met on 24 February 1972 at which Tonga made a claim over the Minerva Reefs and the rest of the states recognized its claim.
On 15 June 1972, the following proclamation was published in a Tongan government gazette:
A Tongan expedition was sent to enforce the claim the following day. It reached North Minerva on 18 June 1972. The Flag of the Tonga was raised on 19 June 1972 on North Minerva and on South Minerva on 21 June 1972.
Tongas claim was recognized by the South Pacific Forum in September 1972. Meanwhile, Provisional President Davis was fired by founder Michael Oliver and the project collapsed in confusion. Nevertheless, Minerva was referred to in O. T. Nelson’s post-apocalyptic children’s novel The Girl Who Owned a City, published in 1975, as an example of an invented utopia that the book’s protagonists could try to emulate.
In 1982, a group of Americans led again by Morris C. Bud Davis tried to occupy the reefs, but were forced off by Tongan troops after three weeks. In recent years several groups have allegedly sought to re-establish Minerva. No known claimant group since 1982 has made any attempt to take possession of the Minerva Reefs.
In 2005, Fiji made it clear that they did not recognize any maritime water claims by Tonga to the Minerva Reefs under the UNCLOS agreements. In November 2005, Fiji lodged a complaint with the International Seabed Authority concerning Tonga’s maritime waters claims surrounding Minerva. Tonga lodged a counter claim, and the Principality of Minerva micronation claimed to have lodged a counter claim. In 2010 the Fijian Navy destroyed navigation lights at the entrance to the lagoon. In late May 2011, they again destroyed navigational equipment installed by Tongans. In early June 2011, two Royal Tongan Navy ships were sent to the reef to replace the equipment, and to reassert Tonga’s claim to the territory. Fijian Navy ships in the vicinity reportedly withdrew as the Tongans approached.
In an effort to settle the dispute, the government of Tonga revealed a proposal in early July 2014 to give the Minerva Reefs to Fiji in exchange for the Lau Group of islands. In a statement to the Tonga Daily News, Lands Minister Lord Maafu Tukuiaulahi announced that he would make the proposal to Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. Some Tongans have Lauan ancestors and many Lauans have Tongan ancestors; Tonga’s Lands Minister is named after Enele Ma’afu, the Tongan Prince who originally claimed parts of Lau for Tonga.
Area: North Reef diameter about 5.6 kilometres (3.5mi), South Reef diameter of about 4.8 kilometres (3.0mi). Terrain: two (atolls) on dormant volcanic seamounts.
Both Minerva Reefs are about 435 kilometres (270mi) southwest of the Tongatapu Group. The atolls are on a common submarine platform from 549 to 1,097 metres (1,801 to 3,599ft) below the surface of the sea. North Minerva is circular in shape and has a diameter of about 5.6 kilometres (3.5mi). There is a small sand bar around the atoll, awash at high tide, with a small entrance into the flat lagoon with a somewhat deep harbor. South Minerva is parted into The East Reef and the West Reef, both circular with a diameter of about 4.8 kilometres (3.0mi). Around both reefs are two small sandy cays, vegetated by low scrub and some trees[dubious discuss]. Several iron towers and platforms are reported to have stood on the atolls, along with an unused light tower on South Minerva, erected by the Americans during World War II.. Geologically, Minervan Reef is of a limestone base formed from uplifted coral formations elevated by now-dormant volcanic activity.
The climate is basically subtropical with a distinct warm period (DecemberApril), during which the temperatures rise above 32C (90F), and a cooler period (MayNovember), with temperatures rarely rising above 27C (80F). The temperature increases from 23C to 27C (74F to 80F), and the annual rainfall is from 170 to 297 centimeters (67-117 in.) as one moves from Cardea in the south to the more northerly islands closer to the Equator. The mean daily humidity is 80percent.
The Tuaikaepau (‘Slow But Sure’), a Tongan vessel on its way to New Zealand, became famous when it struck the reefs on 7 July 1962. This 15-metre (49ft) wooden vessel was built in 1902 at the same yard as the Strathcona. The crew and passengers survived by living in the remains of a Japanese freighter. There they remained for three months in miserable circumstances and several of them died. Finally Captain Tvita Fifita decided to get help. Without tools, he built a small boat from the wood left over from his ship. With this raft, named Malolelei (‘Good Day’), he and a few of the stronger crew members sailed to Fiji in one week.
Coordinates: 2338S 17854W / 23.633S 178.900W / -23.633; -178.900
Minerva Reefs – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia