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ASCC hosts forum on Fagatele Bay plan

On Tuesday, February 21, the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) sponsored a public forum on the proposed draft management plan for Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS). FBNMD is co-managed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (OMNS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the American Samoa Department of Commerce (ASDOC).

Part of the plan initiated by OMNS and ASDOC proposes that five new sites in the Territory be adopted as National Marine Sanctuaries in addition to the existing sanctuary of Fagatele Bay.  Some regulations would apply to all proposed new sites, while other regulations would be site-specific, so FBNMS has held several public forums in American Samoa to seek input on how these proposed regulations can be adjusted to cause a minimum of disruption to the public while still enabling OMNS and ASDOC to fulfill their  goals for each site.

 For the ASCC forum, presenters Kevin Grant, FBNMS Deputy Superintendent, and Apulu Veronika Mata’utia Mortensen, FBNMS Outreach and Education Coordinator and Cultural Liaison, gave a bilingual presentation, with Mortensen translating Grant’s main points into Samoan. Students, faculty, and staff filled the ASCC lecture hall to learn more about the draft management plan and its potential impact.

Grant and Mortenson opened with a review of the current sanctuary Fagatele, followed by the five proposed new sanctuary units: Fagama’a and Fagalua (Larsen’s Bay), Muliava (Rose Atoll), Ta’u, Swains Island, and two zones around Aunu’u, (one designated as a multi-use zone and the other a restricted research zone) and their associated fishing regulations. 

They next outlined the activities associated with selected management strategies, beginning with the “Cultural Heritage and Community Engagement” action plan that aims to promote stewardship through the active engagement of sanctuary communities while incorporating Samoan culture and protecting cultural and maritime heritage resources. This action plan includes a funded internship available for ASCC students to visit Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan.

 Grant and Mortenson next discussed the “Marine Conservation Science” plan, highlighting its opportunities for student involvement in research.  Following an overview of the “Ocean Literacy” plan, which includes FBNMS and ASDOC’s goals for marine-related education and outreach, they discussed current and past partnerships between ASCC and FBNMS.

When Grant and Mortensen opened the floor for questions, the first, from an ASCC administrator, was, “If the proposed expansion sites are designated as sanctuaries, can they be de-designated?”

Grant answered in the affirmative, explaining that all national marine sanctuaries must undergo a management plan review every 5-7 years, which provides an avenue for sanctuaries to be de-designated. However, Grant shared that thus far no community he knows of has ever wanted to de-designate their sanctuary, because of the benefits associated with them.

Another audience member asked how fishermen without educational degrees would benefit from any new job opportunities associated with the proposed sanctuaries, since these jobs would presumably involve research.

Grant explained the potential benefits to local fishermen of “spillover”, which refers to fish populations increasing within no-take zones to the point where their populations migrate out of the sanctuary and can be caught in non-regulated zones.

After several more questions, the assembly concluded with attendees being encouraged to submit in writing any further questions or comments on the draft management plan.

 Current ASCC and FBNMS collaboration, funded through research-related grants, include a climate monitoring activity, as well as Hawaii Pacific Islands Campus Compact Service Learning internship opportunities for students to design and implement projects.

 For example, FBNMS will collaborate with the ASCC Marine Science program to take regular measurements of salinity, water level, and temperature on the reef flat at Fagatele and Fagoma’a.

FBNMS has provided the equipment, and ASCC students will monitor each site once a month and provide the data to FBNMS. When requested, the FBNMS staff has given guest presentations for ASCC classes MSC160: Natural Marine Resources, and MSC150: Introduction to Oceanography, as well as tours of Fagatele to ASCC students.

 “We also hope to provide tours for additional sanctuary sites, thus allowing simple science-related projects such as comparing multiple sanctuary units,” said Grant. “FBNMS has mentored a number of ASCC interns in the past, and would like to focus on students from areas near sanctuary units.”

 When asked about the benefits of pursuing a career in Marine Science, Grant emphasized the wealth of resources the Territory possesses.

“American Samoa is surrounded by a beautiful marine environment,” he reflected.  “Having local capacity to address marine resource issues would provide locals with the qualifications needed to secure jobs that would ensure the wise use of these special resources.”