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Saving Our Oceans – One Protected Area at a Time

The ocean covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface; yet scarcely 1% of that area is  fully protected from harmful human activities such as oil drilling or fishing. Governments, as well as many marine conservation organizations throughout the world, including Marine Conservation Institute, are working to increase that percentage in the coming years through the designation of new marine protected areas (MPAs), and expansion and strengthening of existing MPAs.

Good News!

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a huge expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa, America’s only true tropical reef sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to many species of federally-protected migratory seabirds and shorebirds, threatened green sea turtles, and endangered hawksbill turtles. Additionally, it provides sanctuary for the giant clam, which is severely depleted throughout the Pacific. 

National marine sanctuaries are special areas of the marine environment set aside for protection and conservation. The sanctuary’s management plan required revision due to emerging management issues and updates in science research techniques and technology. The new plan increased the sanctuary from a tiny volcanic bay, barely 160 acres in size, to 13,581 square miles. The Samoan sanctuary is now America’s largest national marine sanctuary. 
One of the emerging management issues was the designation of Rose Atoll Marine National Monument by President George W. Bush in 2009. In the proclamation, President Bush granted the Department of the Interior primary jurisdiction over the land, while the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA, was given primary jurisdiction over the marine areas in regards to fishing from the mean low water line out to 50 nautical miles.  President Bush called upon the Department of Commerce to initiate a process to add the marine areas of the monument to the Fagatele Bay NMS in accordance with the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.  Therefore, after many years of planning, review, and public consultation, NOAA just recently announced the final management plan for expanded Fagatele Bay NMS, which has been renamed the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa to reflect its expanded boundaries.

What’s Changing?

Name Change.   The sanctuary was changed from Fagatele Bay NMS to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

Expansion.  The new management plan for the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa adds five units to the Sanctuary:  Fagalua/Fogama’a, Aunu’u Islands, Swains Island, Rose Atoll, and Ta’u Island.  These areas were chosen for their quality and diversity of the biological resources and the scientific and cultural value of these areas.  This increases the size of the sanctuary from 0.25 square miles to 13,581 square miles. See a map here.
Regulation Changes.  Generally, the regulations were revised to prohibit activities including discharging materials; harming cultural resources; and taking any marine mammals, sea turtles, or seabirds. All in all, the regulations will result in a stronger sanctuary management plan that protects the area’s living biological resources from most human-caused threats. Find out more here.

What role did Marine Conservation Institute play?

Marine Conservation Institute played an instrumental role in identifying, nominating, and advocating for the establishment of Rose Atoll Marine National Monument based on its ecological significance. Read more about our role here.  Also, Marine Conservation Institute provided comments to the Fagatele Bay NMS draft management plan asking for additional protection and expansion of the sanctuary boundaries. We’re delighted that the vast majority of our recommendations have been adopted into law through the new management plans for the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Read our public comments here.

What’s Next?

The expansion of the Samoan national marine sanctuary is a big win for U.S. leadership on marine protected areas. In one swoop, large areas of the Pacific and sensitive coral habitats and their wildlife have been brought under stronger, more unified management and protection. But disappointingly, due to a moratorium on new sanctuaries (National Marine Sanctuaries Act 2000 Amendments, Section 304) NOAA is unlikely to announce new sanctuaries anytime soon. For the time being, expanding sanctuary boundaries and toughening up the management plans is as much as we’re expecting. Find out more about the National Marine Sanctuaries Act in Marine Conservation Institute’s “The Makings of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act – A Legislative History and Analysis booklet.

Marine Conservation Institute was very happy to see the expansion of the sanctuary and is committed to identifying, advocating, and securing the protection for additional marine areas for us and future generations. We would love your help along the way, so keep in touch!