Public comments continue to fall on the side of ‘no re-designation’ of marine monuments

fili@samoanews.com

One of the three local archaeologists, who conducted a an intensive survey of Rose Atoll, has shared with the US Interior Department the importance of the atoll, known as Muliava in Samoan, and the need to keep its designation as a marine monument, for “American Samoa’s future generation”.

Rose Atoll is included in the five national marine monuments in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean that the Interior Department is currently reviewing after been designated by previous US presidents. The USDOI review follows two separate executive orders by President Donald Trump, and the review includes land monuments across the country.

The comment period for the public, to submit — for the first time — comments on the land and marine monuments, opened May 12th and as of yesterday morning more than 33,000 comments have been posted on federal portal www.regulations.gov and the majority of the comments continue to oppose re-designation of all monuments.

Among the comments opposing re-designation of Rose Atoll, came from Tish Peau, who says that she was fortunate to be one of three local Archaeologist — the other two are David Herdrich and Erika Radewagen — who conducted an Intensive Pedestrian Archaeological Survey on Rose Island, at Rose Atoll, which was designated as a Wildlife Refuge in 1973 and then a Marine Monument in 2009.

Peau recalled that during the 7-day trip, “we slept and woke up to the sound of birds singing, fish swimming and turtles laying eggs some 10-feet away from our sleeping tents. One night, I slept on the beach, with no worries about mosquitoes; it was just the sky lights and me. What a sight to remember!”

She explained that the atoll’s vegetation consists of the remnants of its Pisonia grandis forest, some coconut trees, and scattered Tournefortia and Boerhavia.

“However, the most amazing sight is what surrounds the entire island. Rose Atoll remains one of the most pristine atolls in the world, and we would like to keep it that way,” Peau said. “The marine environment around Rose Atoll supports a dynamic reef ecosystem, it’s home to a diverse assemblage of marine species, many of which are threatened or endangered.”

She notes that one of the most striking features of Rose Atoll is the pink hue of fringing reef caused by the dominance of coralline algae, which is the primary reef-building species. And there are approximately 113 species present at Rose Atoll and are found to be quite different from those of the other Samoan Islands.

Additionally, the waters within and surrounding the Rose Atoll Monument are frequented by numerous large predators such as dolphin fish, barracudas, tuna, billfish, groupers, snappers, white tip, gray tip and black tip reef sharks, and jacks.

Furthermore, other species of fish that have faced depletion elsewhere is abundant at Rose Atoll, including giant clams, large parrotfishes, stingrays, Maori wrasse. “I know this first hand because I swam with these fishes and at one point counted 24 giant clams on one of the Acropora corals,” she points out.

“For these reasons and many more, our designated National Monuments must remain protected for my children and their children,” she said. “Knowing that American Samoa's waters and land are protected and continue to be protected ensures stability and sustainability for all of American Samoa's future generations.”

Another commenter, Denise Turgeon of Lewiston, Maine says Rose Atoll is home to the delicate, rose-colored coral for which the atoll was named. “The surrounding waters also supports an abundance of rare and endangered marine animals and seabirds, including the largest number of nesting turtles in American Samoa, giant clams, parrotfishes, sharks, whales and 17 species of birds,” said Turgeon, who provided to USDOI a six page letter outlining her reasons for opposing re-designation of all 27 land and marine monuments.

Another marine monument being reviewed is the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument (PRIMM), which Turgeon said is “one of the world’s largest marine conservation areas and considered one of the last refuges for a host of fish and marine mammals including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, pearl oysters, giant clams, sharks, parrotfishes and large grouper.”

Another commenter, whose name was not included in the online federal portal, informs USDOI that Rose Atoll contains critical nesting sites for sea turtles and nesting seabirds. When sea turtles are nesting, they return to the same island that they hatched from, and will only lay eggs on that island. Additionally, the atoll contains 97% of American Samoa’s seabird population.

“Therefore, while this island has remained untouched by humans, its protection is imperative because of the impacts of storms and sea level rise on this community,” the commenter says.

For the PRIMM, the commenter says this is “one of the last havens for threatened marine wildlife in the world, including sea turtles, whales, sharks, and coral reefs.  It contains the most widespread representation of many species of coral, seabirds, and shorebirds compared to anywhere else on the planet.

“Due to its protection, it has become a refuge to coral reefs. Reef systems have been able to grow into an expansive system and contain a larger biomass of reef fish relative to unprotected reef systems near populated areas,” according to the commenter.

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A COMMENT — CLOSES IN JULY 2017

Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.

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