Fagatele Bay is an isolated national marine sanctuary contained within a small, flooded volcanic crater on the southern coast of Tutuila, American Samoa. The site is uniquely rich in both natural resources and cultural heritage. Fagatele Bay and its fringing coral reef have experienced severe disruptions from cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, and more recently from coral bleaching and diseases (the causes of these are not fully understood). However, recovery has been remarkably swift in comparison to other coral reef ecosystems, and the bay's isolation from most direct human influences has kept it relatively unspoiled. The most significant threats to the reef from human activities include over-fishing, poaching (especially by blast-fishing and spearfishing at night), and land clearing for agricultural development. There are also concerns about the increasing visitors as tourism increases in American Samoa.
By most measures, water quality in Fagatele Bay appears to be relatively good, but observations suggest declining conditions. The frequency of coral bleaching has increased in recent years, owing to higher water temperature. Nutrient levels and sediment loads, while not yet known to be a problem, are likely to increase with land clearing on the steep slopes that surround the small bay. These influences could reduce the resistance of living resources to diseases and bleaching and promote fleshy algal growth on the reef. Habitat quality is fairly good, as indicated by resilient coral populations and high diversity; however, destructive fishing activities, particularly blast fishing, have harmed some areas of the reef. Certain indicators of living resource quality, namely diversity, reef coral recruitment and growth, and the lack of invasive species, suggest good conditions. Other indicators, most notably the lack of large predatory fish, clearly reflect the influence of fishing and selective fishing practices. Of concern to resource managers are the potential negative effects this may have on non-targeted fish species, benthic invertebrates and algae growth. These have been documented elsewhere when food webs have been disrupted and include algal blooms, species extirpations and invasions, and changes in dominance patterns.
The staff at the Fagatele Bay sanctuary and territorial partners already work together on management, research, monitoring, education, and outreach. Coordinating with American Samoa's Coral Reef Advisory Group, action plans are in place to deal with a number of the threats to Samoan reefs, including fishing, climate change, land-based pollution, and population pressure. Fagatele Bay sanctuary staff are working with staff at the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency to improve water quality monitoring in the bay, particularly with respect to bacteria levels and land development. The sanctuary program will work with the U.S. Geological Survey to assess threats posed by a nearby landfill facility. Mooring buoy installations are expected to reduce threats to habitat from anchoring, but enforcement will have to be improved to reduce damage caused by illegal fishing. Continuation of the long-term monitoring program in the bay is considered a top priority for Fagatele Bay sanctuary and will allow management to gauge long-term patterns of change and recovery.
The unique Polynesian culture of the people of American Samoa has tools that can teach environmental stewardship not only to the local population, but also to the world. Sanctuary staff are looking to the relationships of the Samoan culture to the land and sea to help guide the future of resource protection in Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.