The Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which comprised a single coral reef on 1/4 square mile, has been expanded significantly, to 13,523 square miles. The sanctuary, which is now larger than the state of Maryland, has also been renamed the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. According to Discovery News, the sanctuary now comprises waters in and around Fogama’a/ Fagalua (Larsen Bay), Swains Island and Muliva (known as the Rose Atoll), and waters around Aunu’u Island and Ta’u Island.
“The Sanctuary contains a unique and vast array of tropical marine organisms, including corals and a diverse tropical reef ecosystem with endangered and threatened species, such as the hawksbill and green sea turtles, and marine mammals like the Pacific bottlenose dolphin,” NOAA wrote in the Federal Register.
The Rose Atoll was designated by President George W. Bush as a marine national monument in 2009, and is the world’s smallest atoll. American Samoa’s largest populations of giant clams can also be found on Rose Atoll. Ta’u Island is home to some of the oldest and largest corals in the world. Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary was devastated by the crown-of-thorns starfish in the 1970s, with more than 90 percent of the living corals in the bay destroyed. On the advice of the government of American Samoa, the United States established the sanctuary in 1986.
In related news, effective November 11, American Samoa has banned the capture and possession of all species of sharks as well as three species of coral reef fishes within three nautical miles from its shorelines in an effort to protect these species from overfishing. The three coral reef species include the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), the bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), and the giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus), all large reef species that easily exceed several hundred pounds.
The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Photo courtesy NOAA