The warning came after the Ministry received reports that sandalwood plants had been harvested and stolen in Ha’apai.
Kaniva News reports that Sione Foliaki from the Ministry’s office in Tongatapu said he is aware of the reports.
He said it was announced on local radios reminding the public that harvesting and exporting of the “protected” plant is illegal.
According to the Ministry it “could be classified as a threatened species in the sense that it is very vulnerable to theft – so much so that the Tonga Timber Company is no longer planting sandalwood.”
“This (sic) species needs special protection if it is to develop as a sustainable export industry,” the Ministry said.
Sandalwood is a type of plant which yields fragrant timber and oil.
Known in Tongan as ahi, the plant is significant because it is used to make body oil. The oil is used by the nobility and the royals.
In 2014 the Australian’s Tropical Forestry Services (TFS), which has plantations in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, secured a deal with an undisclosed pharmaceutical company, to sell sandalwood oil for $4,500 (US$3,268) per kilogram for up to 20 years.
Photo: TCDT/Nuku'alofa Times. Caption: Students showing their newly planted sandalwood trees.