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American Samoa achieves 'good' rating on coral reef report card

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Coral reefs in American Samoa are in “good” condition, but coral reefs around the Tutuila islands are the “most impacted by human activities,” according to the territory’s coral reef 2018 status report released last week by the US National Oceania and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Besides American Samoa, NOAA also released separate coral reef status reports covering coral reef ecosystems in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

The common finding in the NOAA report for all five US Pacific jurisdictions is that coral reefs in remote, uninhabited areas of the American Pacific are generally in good condition, while reefs in the regions that are closer to human populations show more signs of impacts.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program director Jennifer Koss said the status reports help answer the question, “How is the ecosystem doing?".

"The goal of these status reports is to provide a broad-level assessment of the reefs and engage communities and decision-makers in conversations about what the threats are to their corals,” said Koss in a separate NOAA news release accompanying the reports, which notes that more remote areas have few water quality issues and are less affected by fishing and nearshore development.

However, these reefs are still vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as warmer and more acidic water.

“Overall, American Samoa reefs are in ‘good’ condition,” according to the report which explains that the score is 80%-89%. It further explains that, “Conditions in these locations are lightly impacted or have lightly declined….Human connections are high.”

According to the report summary, “Tutuila is most impacted by human-activities, whereas the uninhabited islands and atolls are least impacted.”

“American Samoa's coral reefs would benefit the most from reduced fishing pressure and less temperature stress,” it says, adding that American Samoa was divided into six sub-regions to evaluate the condition of four categories — corals & algae, fish, climate, and human connections.

Among the findings in the report are that “benthic cover and coral populations are doing well.”

In contrast, fish are moderately to very impacted. Sharks and other predators are considered depleted throughout the world, and American Samoa is no exception.

Additionally, climate is also a factor negatively affecting coral reefs. Temperature stress and ocean acidification are global problems seen locally in American Samoa.

“Despite these issues, communities are engaged and informed about management actions to protect reefs,” the report says, noting that of the 70 villages in American Samoa:

• 20% have resource management plans in place;

• 7% of coral reef area is under no-take designation; and

• 25% of coral reef area is designated under management.

“The coral reefs on American Samoa's remote islands experience fewer impacts from human activities and development, but overall the territory is struggling against threats, such as pollution, overfishing, and global climate change,” said NOAA.

The report provides scores for each of the islands. For example, Tutuila — the most populated with nearly 56,000 residents — was divided into northern and southern regions based on natural geography and data resolution.

“North and South Tutuila’s reefs are moderately impacted and are the only reefs in American Samoa that received a poor score — for fish,” according to the report, which notes that parts of the island are protected by the National Park and National Marine Sanctuary.

For Swains Island, which “has been recently abandoned, leaving it currently uninhabited,” it is almost completely protected by the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, according to NOAA.

“Swains Island’s coral reefs are doing well and scored the highest out of the six regions.”

The Rose Atoll, one of the smallest atolls in the world, is almost completely protected as a Marine National Monument and the land and lagoon area are protected as a National Wildlife Refuge. “Rose Atoll's coral reefs are doing well,” the report says.

For the Manu’a island group, the report notes that part of Ta’u island, with a population of about 800, is preserved by the National Park of American Samoa and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. “Taʻu’s reefs are lightly impacted, but scored worse than Rose Atoll and Swains Island.”

Ofu and Olosega islands are grouped together, with a combined population of approximately 350. Part of the islands are preserved as the National Park. “Corals & algae are lightly impacted and these islands scored the highest for corals & algae in American Samoa,” said NOAA.

Other important issues cited in the territory’s report, deals with coral bleaching. High temperature stress, bleaching, and mortality hit American Samoa reefs hard in 2015.

“Severe bleaching and mortality occurred on shallow inshore and lagoonal reefs along southern Tutuila. These shallow habitats have limited water circulation, which worsens the effects of high temperature stress. Higher survival occurred on forereef habitats in deeper waters throughout American Samoa,”  according to the report, which is found online at <>

According to NOAA, the status of U.S. coral reefs in the Pacific are “Good” in American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Islands; and “Fair” in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Hawaii.


The reports for the US Pacific jurisdictions were developed through an integrated and focused monitoring effort with federal, state, and territorial partners across the country. They use data collected between 2012 and 2017 in four categories: coral and algae abundance; coral reef-dependent fish populations; connections between coral reefs and climate; and human connections to coral reefs. The categories are combined for a final overall score that ranges from “Very Good” to “Critical.”