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"Tower Rock", the large tupua, or rock formation, at Fatamafuti, represents a giant frozen in stone. (Photo: NOAA)

On Tutuila Island in American Samoa, a rock formation in Fagasa Bay is the source of a legend handed down over generations. Sina and Li'ava'a's rock are said to commemorate the location where a girl was mistakenly left behind by her father. The girl, Sina, eventually married a Samoan chief, Togamana.

Upon her marriage, Sina's father, Li'ava'a, said dolphins would be her dowry and would visit her every year. To this day, dolphins appear each year in Fagasa Bay.

The story of Fagasa Bay's Sina and Li'ava's rocks is among 20 coastal legend sites included in a 2007 inventory of American Samoa's maritime heritage. Study author Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said there are many narratives based in history that reflect cultural significance for particular natural features within the coastal and marine environment.

Although national marine sanctuaries are best known for protecting natural resources, Van Tilburg said some marine management decisions, including coastal and marine spatial planning, can be informed by a better understanding of history, culture and traditions, and the connection some communities have to special places. Resource managers should consider and respect the contribution and significance of indigenous cultural knowledge, he added.

"In American Samoa, natural features that are closely associated with cultural heritage, legends and history all tell a story," Van Tilburg said. "The sites are important because they hold the memory of those legends."

From a biological standpoint, Van Tilburg said awareness of the Sina dolphin story, for example, contributes useful information to scientists studying trends in animal behavior.

"The contribution that historical and cultural knowledge can make to understanding marine species population data and animal behavior has been demonstrated a number of times," he said.

Elsewhere, cultural awareness and engagement is ingrained in the management of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington. The sanctuary is encompassed by the traditional harvest areas of the Hoh, Makah and Quileute tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation. As sovereign nations, the tribes have treaty fishing rights and co-management responsibilities with the state of Washington for fishery resources and fishing activities within the sanctuary.

Before public review of the Olympic Coast sanctuary's management plan began, sanctuary managers met with tribal representatives to work out a process and forum for how they wanted to participate. George Galasso, assistant superintendent of the sanctuary, said the discussions resulted in the formation of the Olympic Coast Intergovernmental Policy Council, composed of representatives from the three tribes, the Quinault Indian Nation, the state of Washington and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

The council has focused on identifying research priorities, including development of a five-year Ocean Ecosystem Monitoring and Research Initiative, and preparing for the transition to ecosystem-based management.

"We had to understand where they were coming from and make the extra effort to get the council set up prior to being in a position where we could successfully go through a management review process," Galasso said.

Through many years of successful partnerships, the National Marine Sanctuary System has learned the importance of cultural legacy in marine resource management decisions. While human activities such as shipping, fishing and energy dominate marine spatial planning discussions, the sanctuaries recognize the importance of considering cultural values and heritage in this process.

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