2007-2020 NMSAS Summary of Ecosystem Services
National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

The various ecosystem service evaluations presented in this report are summarized below. Each ecosystem service is listed, followed by:

  1. A set of rating symbols that display key information. The first symbol includes a color and term to indicate status. The next symbol indicates trend. A shaded scale adjacent to both symbols indicates confidence (see key for example and definitions).

  2. The status description, which is a statement that best characterizes resource status and corresponds to the assigned color rating and definition as described in Appendix A. The status description statements are customized for all possible ratings for each question.

  3. The rationale, which is a short statement or list of criteria used to justify the rating.


key for the ratings for issues


Cultural (Non-Material Benefit)

Non-Consumptive Recreation — Recreational activities that do not result in intentional removal of or harm to natural or cultural resources


Status Description: The capacity to provide the ecosystem service is compromised, and existing management would require enhancement to enable acceptable performance.

Rationale: Though it is clear that both physical conditions and infrastructure limit access for non-consumptive recreation activities in the sanctuary, the levels of existing activities are not well understood or quantified. The improving trend reflects sanctuary and partner outreach and education activities that highlight recreational opportunities in the sanctuary. These have created interest among residents and tourists in using the sanctuary.


Consumptive Recreation — Recreational activities that result in the removal of or harm to natural or cultural resources


Status Description: The capacity to provide the ecosystem service is compromised, but performance is acceptable.

Rationale: The status of good/fair was based primarily on the fact that recreational opportunities have not been significantly reduced by changes in resource availability or access restrictions. The expansion of NMSAS restricted fishing access at two sites, but likely had minimal impact on recreational fishing. People were still able to access resources, and NMSAS worked to increase awareness of responsible recreational fishing practices. Consumptive recreation in the sanctuary likely decreased after the expansion in 2012, then increased after subsequent outreach to enhance recreational fishing. There are insufficient data to determine the extent of these changes; therefore, the ratings for this service were based primarily upon expert opinion.


Science — The capacity to acquire and contribute information and knowledge


Status Description: Demand for the service is not fully met, but performance is acceptable and may not warrant enhanced management.

Rationale: Science activity increased at NMSAS throughout the reporting period, and this service was rated as good/fair. During this time, research activities, publications, science capacity, and partnerships increased. Experts noted that there are still limitations due to the lack of access to large research vessels and science staff capacity, and the program will need more support in the future, given the substantial expansion of the sanctuary in 2012. The incorporation of traditional knowledge and more student programs were highlighted as areas for future improvement.


Education — The capacity to acquire and provide educational programs


Status Description: The capacity to provide the ecosystem service has remained unaffected or has been restored.

Rationale: Education programs have strengthened the NMSAS mission to restore and protect marine ecosystems. NMSAS has a very robust education program that includes: pre-K through higher education programs for teachers and students that reach an average of over 3500 students and 100 teachers yearly; immersive summer programs that have reached over 850 participants; a wide range of community outreach events; and a well-regarded visitor center that serves both the local community and tourists—approximately 58,000 individuals have toured the center to date. The number of programs expanded during the reporting period with new offerings added each year.


Heritage and Sense of Place — Recognition of history, heritage legacy, cultural practices, aesthetic attraction, spiritual significance, and location identity

Status and Trend Rating: Specific ratings were not assigned for the heritage and sense of place ecosystem services, because measuring these services in the manner used to rate other services was determined to be culturally inappropriate for American Samoa. The physical condition of heritage resources and sites (distinct from heritage services or ecosystem benefits) was rated in the State section.

Status Description: Not Applicable

Rationale: Cultural traditions and values, inherent to the ecosystem services of heritage and sense of place, currently thrive in American Samoa where one people, one language, and one common set of cultural practices continue to be perpetuated. The chiefs who were engaged in the workshop process stated that cultural values are too important and too complex to be captured in a rating scheme. This is an indication of the significance of these benefits. Therefore, there are no status or trend assessments for heritage and sense of place. Furthermore, heritage and sense of place are so similar in American Samoa that they can only be understood as a single, interrelated topic (and will thus be presented together). ONMS places a high value on partnerships with sanctuary communities and maintains great respect for Fa’a Samoa. Fa’a Samoa, the traditional Samoan way of life, provides the cultural context for all sanctuary activities and functions.

Though not rated, the cultural aspects of heritage and sense of place have been a large part of the work that NMSAS has completed to date and since the sanctuary expanded. Workshop participants acknowledged the priority that NMSAS places on cultural traditions and values, and felt that these should continue to be included as a core emphasis for NMSAS programs and activities. The chiefs also recommended that NMSAS capture the importance of cultural information discussed during the workshop in a narrative format rather than in a rating scheme. Respecting the sensitive nature of cultural heritage information and accommodating a narrative format is an option supported by the condition report process and ONMS.


Provisioning (Material Benefits)

Commercial Harvest — The capacity to support commercial market demands for seafood products


Status Description: Not Applicable

Rationale: The number of commercial fishing vessels declined throughout the study period. Additionally, there is limited information specific to NMSAS, and regulations vary across sites within the sanctuary. Ecosystem changes linked to climate change may have impaired the ability of the ecosystem to provide commercial harvest.


Subsistence Harvest — The capacity to support non-commercial harvesting of food and utilitarian products


Status Description: The capacity to provide the ecosystem service is compromised, but performance is acceptable.

Rationale: Although evidence was limited to rate this service, experts agreed that the status of subsistence harvest was good/fair for the study period. In a 2014 survey, roughly one-third of respondents reported fishing at least two to three times per month. Additionally, several respondents indicated that they gathered other marine resources (such as shells, octopus, lobster, sea cucumber, and other non-fish species). The most common reasons people fished included feeding themselves and family, giving to extended family and friends, giving to pastors and village leaders, and for special occasions and cultural services. Frequency of fishing decreased among residents, likely because of the increased convenience of storing and purchasing food. The worsening trend was attributed to surveys that showed respondents believe fishing is worse now than when they were younger.


Regulating (Buffers to Change)

Coastal Protection — Natural features that control water movement and/or wind energy, thus protecting habitat, property, heritage resources and coastlines


Status Description: The status of coastal protection services is mixed.

Rationale: Although coastal protection was rated as fair in most sanctuary units, Muliāva was considered to be good/fair and Aunu’u was fair/poor. The overall fair rating was driven by sea level rise damage to shorelines, declining coral cover due to coral bleaching, and because vessel groundings and storms have damaged natural coastal protection defenses, such as corals and mangroves, in localized areas. The worsening trend is the result of the combined effects of sea level rise, subsidence, and increased coral bleaching. Experts noted that the rate of subsidence in American Samoa is about 8–16 mm yr-1, making the island’s relative sea level rise rate about five times the global average. In addition to deepening reefs, this causes coastal and inland flooding, which threatens reef growth and coastal habitats, crops, and infrastructure.