For more than 40 years, national marine sanctuaries have protected special places in America’s oceans and Great Lakes waters, from the Hawaiian Islands to the Florida Keys, from Lake Huron to American Samoa. One of the nation’s strongest pieces of ocean-conservation legislation, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, seeks to preserve the extraordinary beauty, biodiversity, historical connections and economic productivity of our most precious underwater treasures. Lucky for you, most of these places are accessible to recreational divers. Unique ecosystems fill these waters, harboring a spectacular array of plants, animals and historical artifacts. This month, we explore the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. These sanctuaries belong to everyone, so dive in.
Cover image credit: Greg McFall/NOAA)
National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa
Nestled in the cradle of Polynesia’s oldest culture is a true tropical-ocean treasure: National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. The only U.S. national marine sanctuary located in the Southern Hemisphere, this marine-protected area supports an incredible array of marine life, waiting to dazzle the curious diver.
Dive in and experience lush, diverse reefs — over 150 species of coral constitute the backbone of marine life here. These reefs support more than 1,400 species of invertebrates alone. Swim among schools of damselfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, grouper and snapper. Spot a hawksbill or green sea turtle as it swims by. Listen closely and you might just hear a humpback whale song.
National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa comprises six protected areas, covering 13,581 square miles of nearshore coral reef and offshore open-ocean waters across the Samoan archipelago. On American Samoa’s main island, Tutuila, you can dive at the Fagatele and Fagalua/Fogama’a areas to see these hotspots for coral cover and reef biodiversity. Take a boat 45 minutes southeast from Tutuila to visit Aunu’u, a small volcanic island with a unique and rich fish population. At Aunu’u, spot dogtooth tuna, giant trevally and rainbow runner.
Further out, Ta’u Island hosts the Valley of the Giants, a reef that includes massive Porites coral heads that are among the oldest and largest known in the world. One coral head, known as Big Momma, is more than 500 years old and 21 feet (6.4 m) high. At the western side of Ta’u, swim along the reef to see a large population of giant clams.
American Samoa is remote, and the sanctuary recommends that you bring your own gear, rent air tanks on island and charter a vessel out to the dive spots. You can help keep the sanctuary reefs healthy by streamlining your gear, removing marine debris when doing so won’t damage the reef, and always following good ocean etiquette.
Experience the wonders of National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa and other national marine sanctuaries via our photos, and see more here.
By guest writer Elizabeth Weinberg, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries