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American Samoa and Rose Atoll

Wendy Cover/NOAA

National Marine Sanctuary
of American Samoa and Rose Atoll
Marine National Monument

Located in the waters between Hawaii and New Zealand in the heart of Polynesia’s oldest culture, National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) of American Samoa is the system’s largest sanctuary, and its most remote, with the world’s oldest and largest Porites coral heads. Rose Atoll Marine National Monument was incorporated as part of the NMS of American Samoa during its expansion in 2012.

This is a place of intertwined natural and cultural significance. Extensive reefs produce 150 species of coral that are the backbone of the local economy. It’s home to 1400 different invertebrates and more than a dozen species of marine mammals, among them humpback whales who visit every winter. The Sanctuary also preserves rare maritime heritage resources representing 3000 years of American Samoan history and tradition, from prehistoric villages to historic shipwrecks to military fortifications.

The Sanctuary is a center for important research and monitoring. Its most comprehensive project, spanning decades, has tracked the recovery of a coral reef. The team has amassed information on coral, fishes, invertebrates and marine plants – one of the few studies of its type in the world. It also conducts an annual survey on dozens of its humpback visitors, collecting photos and skin. Their research has greatly expanded knowledge about the species.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) co-manages the Sanctuary with the American Samoa Government and works closely with adjacent tribal communities, an invaluable partnership bringing traditional ecological knowledge to inform decision-making. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and stakeholders have produced on a variety of learning, debris clean-up and community engagement programs. One such effort promoted American Samoan culture and the marine habitat to the many visitors who arrive via cruise ships, with the goal of educating them about sustainable tourism. And for all those who can only dream of visiting American Samoa, the Foundation assisted NOAA and XL Catlin to create first-ever Google Maps of the sanctuary reefs.

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Genevieve (Gene) Brighouse

NMS of American Samoa

“One of the best discoveries at our site was ‘Big Momma’ or Fale Bommie, a Porites coral over 500 years old. It lies at a depth of 50 feet, stands 21 feet tall and 42 feet wide and has a circumference of 135 feet. The Valley of the Giants and Big Momma have become attractions for researchers and the developing dive tourism industry in American Samoa.”

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