Ads by Google Ads by Google

Bill to designate territory’s coral reefs as critical infrastructure passes in second reading

Taotasi Archie Soliai
Paves the way for federal assistance to protect & restore our coral reefs

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The importance of coral reefs in protecting our islands from strong waves and surges, which would otherwise erode coastal land areas, and its role as a safe haven for various marine ecosystems consisting of various species of plants, fish and other sea creatures including the sought after palolo worm which only appears twice a year, was highlighted in a hearing of the Senate Marine Wildlife Resources Committee yesterday.

The hearing was to shed light on the purpose of an administration bill created to “designate American Samoa’s coral reefs as critical infrastructure and a biological and structural necessity for the protection of our coasts and ecosystems.”

According to director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) Taotasi Archie Soliai who testified, the aim of the proposed legislation is to amend Title 24 of the American Samoa Code Annotated by adding a Chapter 24 entitled Coral Reef as Critical Infrastructure.

The purpose of this new chapter is “to declare coral reefs as critical infrastructure for the protection of the coasts of American Samoa and its inherent relationship in the conservation of beaches and other elements of nature.”

He pointed out that the bill does not call for additional bans in the current legal methods of catching fish and other marine resources found in the reef, to be used for consumption or commercial purposes.

He clarified that the official declaration laid out in the amendment of the bill, will qualify American Samoa to apply for federal funds to protect and restore our coral reefs in the event that they are adversely affected by manmade or natural disasters.

Taotasi revealed that currently, American Samoa does not have this designation and so is not eligible to apply for federal assistance even though the Territory has experienced substantial damage to its coral reefs from past hurricanes and the 2009 tsunami.

He stated that Hawaii’s coral reefs currently has this official designation in place, last year the US Virgin Islands governor signed an executive order for this purpose and Puerto Rico had their designation in place in 2020.

The DMWR director reported that the last economic valuation of American Samoa’s coral reefs was done in 2004 and the estimated figure was $10 million.

He said that his staff was working on updating this valuation.

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean commented on the many species of fish and marine delicacies including palolo from the reef that the older people of his village used to enjoy before the land reclamation for the creation of the park at Pago Pago.

“Now, you can’t find anything there, because without coral, there will be no fish or any other sea creature or plants found in the reef,” Tuaolo lamented. “If only I had known then what I know now, I would have protested that land reclamation.”

He expressed his support for the proposed legislation because it ensures that future generations in villages where there are coral reefs still in existence, will enjoy what Pago Pago residents have lost.

Tuaolo also commented that he has noticed a change in tide patterns where extreme low tides exposes coral reefs to the hot ray of the sun and asked the DMWR director if this has an adverse effect on the coral.

Taotasi stated that climate change is causing these tidal irregularities and research in other parts of the world such as in the Caribbean islands has shown that it has caused irreparable damage to some of the coral.

However, he said that a survey by his staff has shown that coral found at Onesosopo had been affected by disease, but fortunately, the coral affected regenerated over time.

He pointed out that some of the disease affecting coral is caused by toxic material dumped in inland streams which end up in the sea and causes coral bleaching.

Senator Muagututi’a M. Tauoa stated that people of his village used to enjoy a lot of the bounty offered by the reef, but nowadays, that is not the case because there is hardly any coral.

He asked if coral restoration was possible to which Taotasi replied that his village was one of the villages that his staff have surveyed and that they are currently working on implementing a restoration project.

The hearing concluded with senators unanimously supporting the bill and it was passed in the second reading during the regular session that followed.