Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary comprises a fringing coral reef ecosystem nestled within an eroded volcanic crater on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa. This smallest and most remote sanctuary in the National Marine Sanctuary System is the only true tropical reef in the Program. Fagatele Bay provides a home to a wide variety of animals and plants, that thrive in the protected waters of the bay. The coral reef ecosystem found in the Sanctuary contains many of the species native to this part of the Indo-Pacific biogeographic region. Turtle, whales, sharks and the giant clam all find refuge in this protected area. It was designated in 1986 in response to a proposal from the American Samoa Government to the National Marine Sanctuary Program.
Fagatele Bay contains a pristine coral reef area that is an outstanding example of a Indo-Pacific coral reef ecosystem. Containing hundreds of species of fish, corals and other reef denizens, Fagatele Bay also bears the scars of some recent and severe natural disasters.
Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary is completely contained in the 0.25 square miles of the bay. The land surrounding the bay resides in the hands of the families who have lived near the bay's slopes for thousands of years. Fortunately, there is little development in the watershed and the one reliable stream that empties near the beach runs clear and clean.
Fa'asamoa is often heard in American Samoa; it means the Samoan Way. The culture of Samoa is over 3,000 years old. Fa'asamoa has kept Samoans strongly nationalistic and cautious about changes that might threaten the traditional structure of their way of life. However, fa'asamoa has an inherent flexibility that allows it to withstand and absorb the ways of foreign traders, missionaries, and military forces; it is a dynamic cultural force. Perhaps more than any other Polynesian culture, Samoans try to observe the traditional ways on a daily basis.
One aspect of fa'asamoa is the ancient concept of tapu. Samoans restricted use on areas that became overstressed in order to protect their resources. With the decline in subsistence fishing in the area, many of the new generations of Samoans have lost touch with their coral reefs and the associated diverse riches. With the decline of awareness of tapu, the traditional cultural ethics of resource management were being lost as well.
Coral Reef Cycles of Destruction and Regrowth
The Fagatele Bay coral reef has faced many obstacles to its growth. In the late 1970s, the reef was infested by the crown-of-thorns starfish. This attack on the reef destroyed over 90 percent of the coral in the bay. This near-destruction of the reef emphasized the need to protect it and led to the sanctuary designation in 1986.
Since then, as the coral was slowly being replenished, two hurricanes and several major storms have hit Fagatele Bay, continually battering the new coral. These are natural disasters that have always faced coral reefs, and the coral in the bay will survive this cycle of destruction and continue to rebuild.
Recently, there has been some bleaching of the coral, which occurs when coral expel the algae they depend on, losing their color in the process. Prolonged periods of bleaching without recovery eventually lead to the death of the coral. No one knows for sure what causes this bleaching, but marine biologists have blamed salt level and water temperature changes and pollution. Researchers study the reef in the Fagatele Bay to learn more about this phenomenon that is affecting corals around the globe.
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the National Marine Sanctuary. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the National Marine Sanctuary should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.