Marine Debris
American Samoa

marine debris littering the sea floor in american samoa
Following the 2009 tsunami, the sanctuary supported a major cleanup effort to remove tsunami-generated debris. Credit: NOAA

Why is it a concern?

The amount of debris in both the ocean and at the land-sea interface are of growing concern worldwide. Marine debris poses a threat to marine life and biological diversity American Samoa. The top 10 kinds of trash found in American Samoa found during coastal clean ups are plastic bottles, soda cans, cigarette butts, plastic bags,  food wrappers, glass beverages, Styrofoam cups/plates, caps /lids, detergent containers, and shoes/flip flops. The debris is primarily from local, land-based, rather than ocean-based sources.

Trash has long been an eyesore on the shoreline and in coastal waters of American Samoa, although increasing cleanup efforts have improved the situation from past decades.  Plastic trash is particularly insidious in that it persists and accumulates.  Other sanctuaries, notably Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument lying in the center of the North Pacific Gyre, accumulate large amounts of fishing nets and debris, which snag on reefs and can entangle marine mammals and turtles and can be eaten by birds.  This is not a major issue in American Samoa, where most debris seems to primarily originate from the island itself and fishing nets are a minor component.  The primary concern is wildlife ingesting floating plastics. Unlike elsewhere in the territory, sanctuary management units have little to no debris underwater.  Some adjacent shorelines see trash accumulation, especially in Fagalua cove.  Because of the low incidence in sanctuary waters, marine debris is not as big of a concern as other pollution issues within the sanctuary. It can be very effective as an outreach tool, however, and current citizen-science programs combine beach cleanups with data collection on debris, increasing public engagement while gaining data on debris in sanctuary units. Following the 2009 tsunami, the sanctuary supported a major cleanup effort to remove tsunami-generated debris. Currently, there is a volunteer cleanup and data collection program for sanctuary units, in conjunction with the Ocean Conservancy coastal cleanup program.

Overview of Research

The American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary is actively seeking research partners to conduct work connected to Marine Debris as a sentinel issue.

Project Name PI and contacts Links

Marine Debris Removal Program

American Samoa Government, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources

Ocean Conservancy Ocean Trash Cleanup and Data Collection

National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Tanimalie Letuli, Volunteer Coordinator.


Science Needs and Questions

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 are the primary types of marine debris found in sanctuary units?
  • What are the likely sources of this debris and can onshore actions curb the input of debris?

Education and Outreach Material

NOAA Marine Debris Program Education Materials:

Ocean Conservancy:


Gittings, S.R., M. Tartt, and K. Broughton. 2013. National Marine Sanctuary System Condition Report 2013. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD. 33 pp.

NMSP (National Marine Sanctuary Program). 2007. Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report 2007. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Silver Spring, MD. 39 pp.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). 2008. Marine Debris Emergency Response Planning in the North-Central Gulf of Mexico Interim Draft Report. 44pp.

U.S. Dept. of Commerce and U. S. Navy. 1999. Turning to the Sea: America's Ocean Future. 56 pp.