Aua Coral Transect project celebrates 100th anniversary

World’s longest running coral survey
blue@samoanews.com

This week, everyone is invited to join the celebration of 100 years of local coral reef surveys in American Samoa.

The festivities culminate this Friday, May 26th with a Marine Science Student Mini-Symposium has set to be held at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center from 8:30 a.m. - 12noon with special guests Dr. Chuck Kirkland and Dr. Alison Green.

Marine science students from the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) and various high school students from around the territory will also make presentations.

Everyone is invited and bookings are recommended for groups, as spots are limited and everyone will be accepted on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

Tomorrow at 5 p.m. at the Aua CCCAS Church Hall, Dr. Birkeland will deliver a presentation about the Aua coral transect and coral reef ecosystem in American Samoa.

BACKGROUND

In 1917, Alfred Mayor from the Carnegie Institute conducted important studies of corals in American Samoa. According to information from the Coral Reef Advisory Group (CRAG), Mayor established the oldest periodically resurveyed coral-reef transect in the world, which is now marked by US Coast and Geodetic Survey permanent markers at each end of the transect.

(A coral transect is “a fixed line placed in the reef, along which a surveyor swims while counting and recording numbers of the different coral species. The transect can be repeated over the years by using the same start point and end point to record changes over time. The start and end points can be found again using detailed visual descriptions or, more recently, by using technology such as GPS devices.”)

“Mayor described the Aua Transect as running from a large pua tree on the beach to a large coral block on the outer edge of the reef along a compass bearing of 39.5” west.” He provided a map and photographs of the transect in his 1924 report and scientists were able to repeat surveys along the same transect eight more times - in 1973, 1980, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2007.

CRAG points out that scientists around the world know the territory’s coral reefs and they are special for several reasons. “One reason is the 100-year-old coral survey transect at Aua village.

This month, the American Samoa Governor’s Coral Reef Advisory Group, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the University of Hawaii’s Sea Grant are working with visiting scientists, Dr. Charles Birkeland and Dr. Alison Green, who have previously surveyed the transect and documented the state of the coral community on the 100th anniversary of Mayor’s first survey.

Over the years, according to CRAG, surveys of the Aua coral transect have indicted that reefs can recover quickly on solid surfaces such as large mound corals, after suffering damages from events such as storms, shipwrecks, crown-of-thorns starfish (alamea), or pollution.

“But if an area of branching coral is killed, such as the coral reef in Aua, it becomes rubble and may not recover for decades. Unfortunately, the only evidence of change along the transect between 1995 and 2002 was a small increase in the sizes of coral colonies.”

IMPORTANCE

People need to understand why a healthy coral reef ecosystem is important:

  • Source of food (fish and shellfish) for people;
  • Protect against coastal erosion and storm waves;
  • Provide food and shelter for various reef fishes;
  • A good sign of ocean water quality: Healthy reefs = Healthy water;
  • Economic value (for example, fishing and tourism); and
  • Medicinal benefits (some anticancer drugs come from reefs).

Community members are urged to pitch in and help keep the coral reefs strong by:

  • Fishing responsibly (only catch enough fish for you and your family and follow the fisheries regulations. Overfishing can lead to algae outbreaks that compete with corals for space and sunlight);
  • Pick up your waste (Trash on the reef can damage coral and kill fish, birds, and turtles. Always use the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle);
  • Only let rain down the drain (Don’t dump wastewater, paint, oil, or chemicals into streams or storm drains. All of this pollution can wash out on to the reef, poisoning corals and other sea animals); and
  • Plant a rain garden (This helps the reef by catching stormwater runoff before it has a chance to carry sediment, animal waste, chemicals, and trash into the ocean).

“Worldwide, coral reefs are home to over 4,000 different species of fish, 700 species of coral, and thousands of other plants and animals.”

More information on Friday’s event can be obtained by contacting Alice Lawrence, DMWR’s Coral Reef Monitoring Fish Ecologist at 633-4456.

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