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Guide to America's National Marine Sanctuaries

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THE EPISODES
 
Voyage to Kure
 
Sharks at Risk
 
The Gray Whale Obstacle Course
 
  fagatele bay




 
Return to the Amazon
 
Sea Ghosts: Belugas
 
Call of the Killer Whale
 

Zooxanthellae

Featured Creature
Zooxanthellae

Zooxanthellae are tiny organisms; in fact, most are unicellular and therefore too small to be seen by the human eye. Yet humans love to see them en masse, as they are the algae that give coral its spectacular color. Zooxanthellae have a symbiotic relationship with hard or stony coral. These microscopic algae live within coral, which gives them protection and a nutrient-rich environment. The algae, in turn, work like an internal vegetable garden for the coral, carrying out photosynthesis and providing nutrients which help reef-building corals create reef structures. Because they have to photosynthesize, zooxanthellae contain pigments to absorb sunlight. It's these pigments that give coral its color. Coral bleaching – the phenomenon of coral losing its color – is believed to have a variety of causes, the leading one being higher water temperatures that impede photosynthesis and thus poison the zooxanthellae. When water temperatures rise, corals must expel their algae. In doing so, the corals turn, or "bleach," white and eventually die, unless the water temperature drops to a level at which the zooxanthellae can once again return and survive.

Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Official Web Site (at fagatelebay.noaa.gov)
Sanctuary Map (at sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

History
Fagatele Bay was designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 1986 by Congress and is co-managed by the American Samoa government through a partnership between NOAA and the local Department of Commerce. The site was nominated for sanctuary status by the American Samoa government after a disastrous event in the late 1970s, in which millions of crown-of-thorn starfish, an animal that consumes coral, destroyed more than 90 percent of the living corals in the reefs surrounding Tutuila, the main island of American Samoa. The sanctuary was created to protect the reef from this and other stress factors and to allow recovery.

What's Underwater
Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a coral reef ecosystem nestled within an eroded volcanic crater. Fagatele Bay provides a home for a wide variety of animals and plants that thrive in the protected waters of the bay. The ecosystem includes many of the species native to the Indo-Pacific biogeographic region. Turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks and giant clams all find refuge in the sanctuary's waters.


VISITOR INFORMATION

Diving and Snorkeling
At one quarter of a square mile, Fagatele Bay is the smallest marine sanctuary, but it offers pristine diving, with 80-degree water and 70-foot visibility. Snorkeling is also excellent.


INSIDE THE SANCTUARY

Research Project
For more than 20 years, the sanctuary has been collecting data and information about coral, fish, invertebrates and marine plants as they relate to coral reef recovery.

Challenges Facing the Sanctuary

  • The reef, which is still recovering from an outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish in the late 1970s, is constantly monitored for the possible reoccurrence of such an event.
  • American Samoa is susceptible to annual tropical cyclones from November to April. In four of the last 15 years, cyclones have caused significant damage to the reef, reducing coral coverage and abundance.
  • Due to recent El Niño patterns and the general trend of rising ocean temperatures, coral bleaching has been observed in the sanctuary nearly every summer in recent years. Coral bleaching occurs when elevated ocean temperatures cause coral to lose their pigmented symbiotic algae and in some cases to die.
  • The sanctuary's remote location makes enforcement of fishing regulations difficult. There is some evidence that fishing regulations, including rules against using explosives, are being violated within sanctuary waters.
  • Soil erosion and agricultural runoff containing fertilizers and pesticides are a constant threat to the sanctuary, especially as the population of American Samoa increases.

Success Stories

  • With the help of a recent NOAA research cruise to American Samoa, two mooring buoys were installed in the sanctuary in 2006 to eliminate the need for boats to drop harmful anchors onto the coral reef. Submerged logs, whose movement damaged corals, were also removed from the reef.
  • Sanctuary staff work with the Coral Reef Advisory Group's Education and Outreach Coordinator to increase public awareness of issues affecting American Samoa's coral reefs.
  • The sanctuary maintains one of the longest coral reef monitoring datasets in the world. It helps to gauge the long-term patterns of change and recovery from events that have disrupted the ecosystem in the past and will cause disruptions in the future.