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We Need the Ocean

By Peter Taliva'a

May 2017

peter in the background talking to two guest in the forground
Peter talks to his guests about the history of Aunu'u and the beauty of our little island. Peter says, "I am proud to be able to share Aunu'u with my guests. Many of my guests come from afar, and I am always glad that they leave the island with an appreciation for its beauty. As a tour operator, my goal is always to give my guests the best taste of ‘True Samoan Hospitality.’" Photo: Nerelle Que

As a Samoan, the ocean means so many things to me. The ocean is my escape. It's where I can go to clear my mind and refocus on things. The ocean is also my provider. From it, I can ensure my family and my community are taken care of. Most importantly, the ocean is my responsibility. As a Samoan chief and a leader in my community, it is my responsibility to ensure that I do my part to protect it. I grew up in and around the ocean, I was always taught to respect it and all it has to offer, and this is something I want to share with those around me.

american samoa shoreline
A gorgeous shoreline runs adjacent to the sanctuary, which encompasses about 6 percent of American Samoa’s Exclusive Economic Zone and may be the site of the greatest biodiversity in the sanctuary system. Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA

When I was blessed to join the team of National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, I realized that I now had an even bigger platform from which I could continue doing my part. With that platform also came the opportunity to do more with my community. I now had access to more programs, tools, and resources that could be used to enhance what I was already doing.

Peter and his assistants prepare a traditional Samoan umu
Peter and his assistants prepare a traditional Samoan umu (above ground oven). The umu is used to cook various types of Samoan delicacies including taro, ulu (breadfruit), palusami (coconut milk wrapped in ti leaves), faiai pilikaki (mackerel baked in coconut milk), and, in Peter’s words, the "infamous" Aunu'u faausi (taro in a sweet coconut milk/sugar syrup). Peter explains, "I also offer my guests fresh, cold niu, or coconuts. The umu is always prepared early in the morning to ensure that it is cooked properly for whatever event we are holding." Photo: Nerelle Que

As a Samoan chief, one of my missions is to work closely with the youth of American Samoa. I want to instill in them the importance the ocean has to our island, to our people, and to the world. My goal is to spark an interest in our youth and to inspire them to take action in the ongoing efforts to protect and conserve our ocean and its resources. Whether it's getting together with a youth group to conduct a beach clean-up, or carrying out village outreach programs, every bit helps.

diver swims near a coral reef
A diver explores the thriving coral reefs off Swains Island in the sanctuary. Photo: Wendy Cover/NOAA

Living and working in a protected area has taught me so much about our ocean and the work that is constantly being done to protect it. My knowledge of the ocean is constantly growing. One thing I feel we need to understand more, is that the ocean doesn't need us, we need the ocean. Whether it's here on a local level, or out there on the federal and international levels, we must do all that we can to make sure our ocean is in a better state. I want to make sure that I go home at the end of the day knowing that I've made the hours I put in at the office, or the sweat that goes into maintaining our research vessel, or even the interactions I have with my colleagues and visitors, worth it.

My love for the ocean will never stop. The ocean can do that. It can connect with you in so many ways, and that's why I do what I do.

Peter Taliva'a captains the research vessel for National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa