An Ocean Way of Life
Stories from the Blue: Paula Stevenson McDonald

A woman rows a boat
Photo: David Ruck/NOAA

For centuries, the people of Samoa have lived with a very close connection to the ocean. Through outrigger canoes paddling, fautasi (traditional longboats), and now coastal rowing, Paula Stevenson McDonald is working alongside National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa to keep this relationship alive for future generations. This is her Story from the Blue.

I was born and raised in American Samoa. Here, the ocean is a critical part of our culture, our home, and our way of life.

For five years now, I have been the owner of South Pacific Watersports and president of our outrigger canoe club, Le Vasa. As a member of this community, it is important to me that we promote our role as stewards of our ocean and everything in it, especially with our youth. One way we’ve managed to do this is via our summer camp program.

Through our summer camp program, we are helping to educate our youth about health and fitness, on-the-water safety, and conservation. We work closely with National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, to bring the kids to the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center, the sanctuary’s visitor center. The kids get to talk directly with sanctuary staff and learn more about the sanctuary. We also go out on field trips into the sanctuary so the kids can learn hands-on about why it’s so important to take care of it.

The ocean is a critical part of our culture, our home, and our way of life."

There are many reasons to be concerned about our ocean – marine debris, sea level rise, and coral bleaching. My concern is that our people are not doing enough to take care of our ocean. To accomplish this, we need to get the word out. It will take everyone’s help. I’m doing my best with help from the sanctuary.

In American Samoa, we have the canoe, we have our fautasis, and I hope that through these activities, we can reconnect our people to the ocean in a more impactful way. We continue to reach out to the community and our youth to spread the word that we must do more. I just hope when they do come out here on the canoe, on the fautasi, to experience our ocean, they feel the connection with the ocean; that they think about our ancestors, about our culture, and our way of life, and then take action.