Togiola commits to hosting Coral Reef meeting
American Samoa will host in August the meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force which will be Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s last commitment to the federally created panel, charged with the preservation and protection of the nation’s coral reefs ecosystem.
Togiola — whose term as governor officially ends before 12 noon on Jan, 3, 2013 — hosting his last task force meeting was revealed during last month’s 27th meeting of the group in Washington D.C. where the governor spoke on issues dealing with National Disaster Response, Climate Change and expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS), according to a copy of the governor’s speech released last Friday by his office. (See separate story on FBNMS in yesterday, Monday’s edition.)
Togiola said he has committed to host the 28th meeting of the USCRTF from Aug. 20-23 in the territory. “My final meeting will function as a launching point to continue the efforts that we have, so far, paved together,” he said.
Also during the meeting, the new Governor Tauese Sunia Ocean Center will be opened. “A visitor center developed with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, which will be the only one south of the equator that is slated as a training/learning and ocean discovery center for the Pacific,” he said.
The Center is the old convention center currently being renovated.
NATIONAL RESPONSE PLAN
Togiola reminded the gathering that he has been fighting to remove the “debris deposited on our reefs” by the September 2009 tsunami.
“Despite my persistence in appealing FEMA’s denial of Direct Federal Assistance for the removal of debris from our reefs, I have been consistently denied due to the loose interpretation of the Emergency Support Functions by FEMA,” he points out.
As a federal task force with the mandate of reducing threats to coral reefs, Togiola says he has asked the panel to address these defects by increasing the National Response Plan’s functionality since 2009.
He said the task force needs to address this issue to ensure that the public health and economic values of coral reefs are properly acknowledged and attended to after natural disasters.
He said an amendment to the federal Stafford Act or other less drastic means of relief to allow FEMA to fund coral reef restoration is essential to ensure the public health of the people and economy of American Samoa and other similar jurisdictions.
“...we must focus efforts in resolving issues surrounding the dysfunctional National Response Plan (NRP) that has on multiple accounts concluded that debris removal from coral reefs is not a public health issue and is ineligible for FEMA’s disaster response,” he said and proposed “Disaster Relief” as the theme for the 28th task force meeting “with dedicated workshops to produce tangible outcomes to better prepare us when similar disasters occur in our jurisdictions.”
“Climate Change continues to be a major threat in our jurisdictions. As decision makers, preparing for and mitigating climate change is the greatest global challenge we face today,” he said, adding that immediate actions need to be taken to prepare for the impact of climate change.
“With limited resources and arable land, islanders are left with little option, but to adapt to the changing world,” Togiola said and revealed that managers and scientists in American Samoa are developing a coral bleaching response plan, in order to be able to react to bleaching events.
“We are also supporting innovative scientific research through the Climate Foundation on different methods of coral cooling, to potentially prevent, or decrease, bleaching,” he said. “In order to decrease vulnerabilities to our people, we have created pilot programs and developed Village Resilience Plans.”
These plans are created by community members, with technical assistance from various local agencies to raise awareness, build capacity, and prepare for impending changes that will affect our islands, he said and also proposed the theme of Climate Change Resilience for the 28th USCRTF Meeting in American Samoa.
“We will be hosting a variety of workshops, focusing on different methods to build resilience and mitigate impact by utilizing various stakeholders, collaborations, and partners,” he said. “I hope that when we meet in American Samoa, we will be able to start creating the long term solutions to the ongoing problems we all face. There is no better time than now to emphasize the need to collaborate and to work together to maximize our limited resources.”
“As we come to an end of a government administration, we must prepare ourselves for changes and new challenges. We must continue highlighting coral reef conservation work throughout the US territory and the world,” he said and promised that the August meeting in Pago Pago will be “memorable, productive, and successful”.
Click on attachment to dowload complete text of the governor’s address.