The broad cultural heritage of American Samoa has developed over the past 3,000 years, emphasizing human connections to the sea, and is reflected in Samoan traditions and lifestyles (fa’a-Samoa). This legacy features a variety of cultural resources, both tangible and intangible, that reflect the cultural identity of the people. Maritime heritage — the cultural, archeological, and historical resources specifically associated with coastal and marine areas and ocean activities and traditions – is one part of that legacy.
There are a wide variety of prehistoric and historic heritage resources in American Samoa. These include historic shipwrecks, sunken naval aircraft, coastal World War II fortifications, coastal archaeological sites, and specific coastal locations and features associated with legend and folklore. Yet, of the 39 reported losses of vessels and the 43 naval aircraft in American Samoa, only one (USS Chehalis) has been identified and assessed. A complete inventory of 132 historic coastal fortifications has been completed (81 of these are shoreline pillboxes). In some instances, ancient coastal habitation sites and prehistoric shoreline features such as whet stones, petroglyphs, and foaga grinding holes/bait cups have been the subject of archeological investigation and excavation, but these surveys have never included submerged lands.
Like natural resources, maritime heritage resources may be affected by climatic change. In 2011 ONMS completed a projection of potential impacts for American Samoa: Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary Climate Change Site Scenario. Recommendations from this report highlight the vulnerability of specific heritage resources. Historic pillboxes, due to their location, are particularly subject to erosion and degradation from sea level rise, increased storm surge and extreme weather events. And coastal archaeological sites in particular must be considered as critically threatened resources. Not only do these sites possess archaeological value, they also often reveal physical evidence of previous ocean stands and climatic regimes.
- Conduct ongoing inventory and data compilation of heritage resource sites in the nearshore/coastal environment (coastal World War II fortifications, coastal archaeological sites, and specific coastal locations and features associated with legend and folklore);
- Conduct or facilitate in-water nearshore non-invasive surveys at selected identified coastal archaeological site locations;
- Conduct or facilitate heritage resource assessments prioritizing sites and resource types vulnerable to short term climatic change as identified in the 2011 ONMS report;
- Coordinate data collection, assessments, and pending recommendations with the appropriate Samoan cultural organizations, Territorial and federal partners.
The best available science is used by Sanctuary scientists and managers working to address priority resource conservation and management issues. As priorities change and new issues emerge, each Sanctuary develops new science needs and questions and works with partners to address them.
- What short term climate change projected factors represent the greatest threat to heritage resources in American Samoa’s coastal and nearshore waters?
- What medium and long term climate change projected factors represent the greatest threat to heritage resources in American Samoa’s offshore deep waters?
- What types of mitigation are pragmatic or possible for protecting maritime heritage resources in American Samoa?
- How soon should these mitigation/prevention measures be implemented?
Education and Outreach Material
Addison, D., C.W. Filimoehala, S.J. Quintus, and T. Sapienza. 2010. Damage to Archaeological Sites on Tutuila Island (American Samoa) Following the 29 September 2009 Tsunami. Rapa Nui Journal 24:34-44.
Kennedy, Joseph. 2005. Results of an archaeological survey and archival research of WWII coastal defenses on Tutuila Island, American Samoa. Haleiwa: Archaeological Consultants of the Pacific.
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 2007. American Samoa Maritime Heritage Inventory. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ONMS, Silver Spring, MD.
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 2011. Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary Climate Change Site Scenario.U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ONMS, Silver Spring, MD.
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 2012. NOAA NMSAS Final Management Plan of AS & FEIS, July. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ONMS, Silver Spring, MD.
Phillips, Helen. 2015. The capacity to adapt top climate change at heritage sites—the development of a conceptual framework. Environmental Science and Policy 47 (2015): 118-125.