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Report on growing specter of climate change warns of threats to StarKist and regional economy

Samoa News staff

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A report on Climate Change in the Western Pacific recently released by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council drills down on the effects of climate change on American Samoa and warns that the loss of StarKist and the tuna industry due to the implications of climate change would be devastating not only to American Samoa but also to other Pacific communities it supports — particularly Samoa, Niue, Tokelau and Tonga. 

In the report, the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant, says American Samoa’s sea level rise of 2.6­4.6 feet by 2100 would severely impact coastal infrastructure.

As reported earlier by Samoa News, infrastructure in American Samoa is extremely vulnerable to sea level and was worsened by the rapid sinking of the islands, triggered by the 2009 Samoa earthquake and predicted to last for decades. This subsidence is estimated to lead to roughly twice as much sea level rise by 2060 as what was already predicted from climate change alone.

"As sea level continues to rise, the future of businesses like the StarKist Samoa cannery, located at sea level in Pago Pago Harbor, are in question," stated the report. 

“Loss of this industry due to the implications of climate change would be devastating to American Samoa and the communities it supports.”

Tuna exports from American Samoa are valued at approximately $353 million per year, with canned tuna from StarKist American Samoa comprising 99.5% of the total, the report details.

Recently, members of the American Samoa Resilience Commission met with the U.S. Government Accountability Office to discuss climate change in the islands.

Director of Marine and Wildlife Resources and Commission co-­chair (and former Council Chair) Taotasi Archie Soliai shared the Commission’s mission: “American Samoa recognizes the urgency of climate impacts with grave concerns and the need to respond quickly and strategically 
to ensure the protection, adaptive capacity, resilience, and well­being of the islands and residents of American Samoa.”

Lt. Governor Talauega E. V. Ale in his capacity as Acting Governor said the quarterly meetings of the Commission allow and ensure immediate accessibility for government leaders to address issues.

“As a small island in the middle of the ocean, we feel the effects of climate change every day. We see it in the rising tides, and we feel it in the increased heat in the day. We are mindful of the constant change, and have refocused our efforts through this commission.”

On of the main points made during the discussions was the lack of a fair playing field when island territories compete against states for federal funding.

And the report points out, on Nov. 15, 2021 President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that provides $550 billion over fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

According to the report, as of February 2023, this translates into $49.7 million allocated for American Samoa including:

•           $4.6M toward rebuilding roads & bridges ($24 million expected over five years)

•           $31million to provide clean and safe water and improve water infrastructure

•           $1.5 million to improve public transportation options ($8 million expected) 

•           $395,000 towards clean public transit and school buses 

•           $5.6 million for clean energy, energy efficiency and power 

•           $1.3 million to replace and modernize airport infrastructure 

•           $1.7 million to bolster resilience against climate change and extreme weather events 

•           $3 million to repair and improve ports and waterways

•           $873,000 to construct ferry boats and terminal facilities 

•           $2.1 million for Aunu‘u wharf reconstruction

The report said much of the work focusing on climate-resilient fisheries in the Western Pacific is the result of efforts led by the WPRFMC, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Pacific Islands Regional Office, with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"Collaborative efforts have led to development of the key objectives of the strategy, including creation of a robust management strategy for a changing climate, understanding how and why things are changing, tracking changes and providing early warnings."

NOAA hosts annual collaborative climate workshops to address the vulnerability of the islands in the Western Pacific Region. The goal of these workshops is to prioritize research needs and indicate how managers may respond to changing climate conditions to support the Pacific islands.

The next workshop is scheduled to take place in the autumn of 2023.

Click on attachment to download pdf of full report