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DMWR calls for collaboration to mitigate loss of our coral reefs

Images of Fatumafuti in the 2022 Netflix presentation
Community actions to minimize reef damage is urged
Source: DMWR press release

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Extreme low tides and coral bleaching exacerbated by global climate change, are causing widespread loss of coral, according to the Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources (DMWR), which is calling for collaboration between communities, governments, and conservation organizations to mitigate the impact.

A press release issued by DMWR director Taotasi Archie Soliai reveals that formerly vibrant, colorful corals are now appearing dull or completely white. Decreasing habitat for fish and invertebrate populations is leading to a decline in viable stocks and threatening food security, livelihoods, and economic opportunities.


Human-derived carbon emissions are the underlying cause of climate change stressors, including coral bleaching, ocean acidification and warming, which are devastating reefs worldwide. Recent decades have seen a concerning rise in sea surface temperatures, with over 90% of Earth's energy absorbed by the oceans. Reefs around the world have experienced significant coral bleaching in the past several months as a result of the El Nino Southern Oscillation creating warmer conditions on a global scale.

Presently, American Samoa is entering alert level 2 for bleaching, with alarming conditions particularly evident on the reef flat. Many formerly vibrant, colorful corals are now appearing dull or completely white. High sea surface temperatures and extremely low tides are exacerbating the crisis, leading to coral mortality.

Although a comprehensive damage assessment is pending, it is evident that American Samoa is in the throes of a severe bleaching crisis.

Current bleaching conditions for American Samoa are as follows:

Swains Island is experiencing exceptionally high thermal stress, beginning two months earlier than previous heating events;

Northern Tutuila and Aunu'u sites are slightly warmer than their southern counterparts, with variable comparisons to previous bleaching events;

Southern Tutuila sites show lower heat stress compared to the bleaching events in 2015 and 2017;

Rose Island sites display thermal stress similar to the peak of the 2020 event but below the severity of 2015 and 2017; and,

Manu'a sites are exhibiting the lowest thermal stress levels and require further verification of observations.


Extreme low tides are primarily driven by natural phenomena such as lunar cycles, gravitational forces, and seasonal variations. However, climate change has intensified their frequency and severity.

Rising global temperatures contribute to sea level rise, altering tidal patterns and exacerbating the impacts of low tides on coral reefs.

Furthermore, coastal development, pollution, and overfishing exacerbate the vulnerability of coral ecosystems to environmental stressors.


Extreme low tides can have profound and detrimental effects on coral reefs, including:

1.   Desiccation: Exposed coral reefs during low tides are susceptible to drying out, leading to stress and mortality among coral colonies.

2.   Thermal Stress: Shallow waters heated by the sun during low tides can cause thermal stress, triggering coal bleaching and compromising their ability to recover.

3.   Predation: Low tides expose coral polyps to predators such as crown-of-thorns starfish and predatory fish, increasing predation pressure on vulnerable reef communities.

4.   Physical Damage: Wave action and contact with submerged structures or vessels during low tides can physically damage coral colonies, disrupting their structural integrity and impeding reef recovery.


Climate change is a global phenomenon, but local actions can mitigate its impact. It is imperative for communities to take proactive measures to minimize the damage and harm to coral reefs during extreme low tides and bleaching. Some actionable steps include:

1.   Become Aware and Engaged: Every individual must understand the significance of coral reefs and stay informed about their status. Residents can call or visit the various Coral Reef Advisory Group Agencies such as DMWR, AS-EPA, ASCC, NPS, and NMSAS to learn more and to ask questions.

2.   Establish Village Marine Protected Areas (VMPAs): Communities are urged to establish and enforce Village Marine Protected Areas, offering sanctuary to critical coral reef habitats and vulnerable species. VMPAs safeguard marine life and contribute to ecosystem resilience, vital for long-term reef health. Sustainable Coastal Development: Implement sustainable coastal development practices and regulations to minimize habitat destruction, pollution, and sedimentation that can degrade coral reef ecosystems.

3.   Responsible Tourism: Encourage responsible tourism practices, such as reef-friendly snorkeling and diving, to minimize physical damage and disturbance to coral reefs.

4.   Responsible fishing and gleaning methods: When fishing, hunting, or gathering during extreme low tides, please avoid walking on corals. Utilize the hard substrate areas for access. In the longer term, develop sustainable fisheries practices to maintain coral reef functions.

The village community plays a key role in managing coral reefs and mitigating the impacts of global climate change with the technical support of local territorial and federal agencies. By taking concerted action and fostering collaboration between communities, governments, and conservation organizations, we can mitigate the impacts of extreme low tides on coral reefs and ensure their survival for future generations.