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DMWR holds workshop to focus on “Reef Resiliency”

UTULEI, American Samoa — We all rely on our coral reefs in some way, whether it’s for fishing or the shoreline stabilization it provides by preventing erosion. But what do you do if you notice your reef is sick?  That important question, and many others, were addressed over a two day period during the “AmericanSamoa Reef Resiliency Workshop”held from 8:00am to 12:00pm Monday and Tuesday, June 18-19, at the Lee Auditorium. 

Ufagafa Ray Tulafono, Director of DMWR, gave the opening remarks, commending those in attendance for their work towards increasing our reef’s resiliency, to help our reefs cope with a changing climate in these challenging times. Fatima Sauafea-Le’au, NOAA PIRO followed by giving participants the biological definition of resiliency, which is the ability to recover from a stressful event, such as coral bleaching.

Whitney Peterson, CRAG climate change specialist, followed Fatima, giving an overview of what climate is and how our climate is currently changing— specifically how burning of fossil fuels is increasing the greenhouse effect causing more solar radiation (heat) to be trapped within the Earth thereby increasing the average global temperature, and contributing to global warming. 

Kelley Anderson Tagarino, ASCC Marine Science Coordinator, gave an overview of coral reef biology, explaining that corals are very small animals that live in large colonies and usually have a single celled algae in their tissue, called zooxanthellae, which provides up to 95% of the coral’s energy requirement via photosynthesis.

Mrs. Anderson Tagarino explained that zooxanthellae can be affected by their environment, and if they are too stressed, such as by too-warm water, the zooxanthellae will be expelled, causing coral bleaching, which can kill corals if severe enough.

Since coral reefs provide so many benefits— such as protecting the shore from erosion, production of food, a habitat for fish, contributing to recreation and tourism, the formation of sand, and sources of medicine— we must strive to reduce stress on our reefs.

Locally we can reduce the threats and stress to the reefs to help protect and preserve them, which includes reducing sedimentation and trash from land activities, preventing overfishing, and not walking on the coral.

Dr. Doug Fenner, coral ecologist for DMWR, wrapped up the morning session by discussing coral bleaching. He explained that if water temperatures are “two degrees above average, the corals will bleach, but if the water temperature is more than 4 degrees above average, corals will start to die.”  Dr. Fenner explained that while American Samoa reefs are quite resilient, we have experienced “mass bleaching events in 1994, 2002 and 2003,” which emphasizes the need for managers to reduce other stressors on our reefs, he said. 

After these presentations, the participants broke out into groups to discuss two topics: indications of climate change which participants have observed, and when/where have participants have seen mass coral bleaching.  Each group presented their results.

Some of the climate change indicators noticed included: dead coconut trees now covered by ocean as an indicator of sea level rise, change in seasonal trade winds and rain patterns, and decreases in fish populations and changes in migratory patterns.

After the first activity session, Mr. Bert Fuiava of the NPSA presented on other threats to coral reefs, such as nutrient pollution, sedimentation, and overfishing.  Mr. Fuiava explained that while nutrients are necessary for the life of plants, too much nutrients can lead to algae “blooms” or explosion of algae growth, such as the red tides experienced in Pago harbor a few years ago.  

After Mr. Fuiava’s presentation the participants again broke into groups for another activity, to discuss other threats to coral reefs, and how these threats reduce coral’s resilience.  Each group came up with ideas, and presented them to the other groups regarding threats to reefs, such as walking on the reef, destructive fishing practices, harmful runoff, lack of enforcement, overfishing, antiquated sewage treatment, and pollution.


Day two of the Reef Resiliency workshop began with Dr. Wendy Cover, Research Coordinator for FBNMS, who spoke about the importance of biological resiliency and what it means for reefs.  Dr. Cover explained the importance of herbivorous fish to maintaining healthy reefs by grazing down the algae to prevent algae overgrowing coral.  To ensure there are enough of these herbivorous fish, we must manage our fisheries judiciously, and strongly enforce existing regulations to prevent overfishing. 

Following Dr. Cover,  Paul Anderson from SPREP discussed a regional perspective on reef and fisheries management.  He emphasized the need for community based enforcement in island nations due to the lack of funding and/or political will for government-led enforcement methods.

After Paul Anderson’s talk, Mrs. Alice Lawrence of DMWR presented the Assessment and Rapid Reef Response Plan (ARRR Plan), which is a territorial framework for responding to a bleaching or other harmful event that may occur on our reefs.  She explained that if someone notices coral bleaching, or some other unusual occurrence on the reef, there is a coral hotline hosted by DMWR Enforcement at 733-5306 which can be called, and a biologist will come out to assess the reef if needed. 

After these talks, the participants again broke into groups to discuss how their agencies could assist with the ARRR plan, and made many useful contributions, such as highlighting the need for increased enforcement, greater education and awareness campaigns, and fostering a better sense of stewardship among landowners. 

Participants felt the workshop was not only a great educational experience, but allowed the various agencies to network and get to know one another, which will lead to better collaboration among agencies who are working towards improved reef resilience.

If you see anything unusual on your reef, please call the Coral Hotline at 733-5306.  If you have any questions regarding reef resilience or the ARRR plan, please contact Kelley Anderson Tagarino at

Source: DMWR media release