National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa is one of the most fascinating destinations in the South Pacific. This unique place, known as formerly as the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, offers a spectacular combination of marine biodiversity, aquatic ecosystems, and the region’s culture intertwined with nature.

Discover the history of the place through the following journey, its conservation, and the wonders that make this sanctuary a special place within the protected areas of American Samoa.

History of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

A protected area that seeks to preserve the biodiversity and marine ecosystems of the region. Located in the heart of the South Pacific, this sanctuary is crucial not only for the conservation of marine species but also plays a vital role in the culture and life of local communities. Throughout this article, we will explore the most notable aspects of this sanctuary, from its history to its conservation efforts.

National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa was created with the goal of protecting and conserving the region’s rich marine resources. The first conservation initiatives began in the 1970s, driven by the need to protect coral reefs and marine species from overfishing and other threats.

Over the years, the sanctuary has evolved to face new challenges, implementing new restriction policies and monitoring programs to ensure the preservation of the site’s marine ecosystems. It is a territory of vital importance for the country, just like the Rose Atoll and the American Samoa National Park.

These measures have allowed the recovery of various species and the improvement of the health of coral reefs.

Features of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

The sanctuary extends across several islands and marine areas of American Samoa. It includes coral reefs, lagoons, and coastal zones, covering a total area of thousands of square kilometers. The geographical diversity of the region provides an ideal habitat for a wide variety of marine species.

The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa encompasses six distinct protected areas, including Fagatele Bay and Fagalua/Fogamaa (east of Fagatele) on Tutuila Island, as well as areas in Aunuʻu, Taʻū, Swains Island, and Rose Atoll, following significant expansions in 2012. This sanctuary stands out as the only true tropical reef within the national program and also for its remote location.

The Fagatele Bay section of the sanctuary is entirely within the 0.25 square miles (0.65 km2) that make up the bay, which originated from an eroded volcanic crater. The lands around the bay are owned by families who have inhabited the surrounding slopes for millennia. Fortunately, the watershed has experienced limited development, and the only stream that flows near the beach runs clear and clean.

The coral reef ecosystem bordering Fagatele Bay is vibrant and diverse, hosting a wide range of brightly colored tropical fish such as parrotfish, damselfish, and butterflyfish, along with other marine creatures like lobsters, crabs, sharks, and octopuses. From June to September, southern humpback whales migrate north from Antarctica to mate and court in Samoan waters. During this time, visitors can hear the courtship songs of males, whale songs likely used to attract their mates.

Additionally, the sanctuary offers recreational opportunities such as diving, snorkeling, and fishing, allowing visitors to explore and enjoy this rich marine environment. It is common to spot various species of dolphins and endangered sea turtles, such as the hawksbill and green turtle, swimming in the bay’s waters, contributing to the importance and beauty of this protected area of Oceania.

Fauna, flora, and marine species in the American Samoa Sanctuary

Coral Reefs of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

It hosts a wide variety of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows. Each of these ecosystems plays a crucial role in the health of the surrounding ocean environment.

Within the sanctuary, you can find iconic species such as sea turtles, sharks, and a multitude of colorful fish. Additionally, the coastal and terrestrial areas adjacent to the sanctuary are home to seabirds and other terrestrial species.

There are incredibly large corals, but the protected aquatic area also hosts many other species such as groupers (Cephalopholis or Epinephelus), parrotfish like Bolbometopon muricatum, Leptoscarus vaigiensis, Sparisoma viride, Scarus iseri, and Sparisoma cretense, as well as damselfish like Chromis chromis and butterflyfish like Chaetodon lineolatus and Chaetodon lunula.

During the months of June to September, southern humpback whales (Megaptera) migrate to these waters to reproduce, sometimes accompanied by dolphins like Delphinus capensis, Tursiops truncatus, Stenella longirostris, and Lagenorhynchus obliquidens. Among the endangered species that can be seen in the sanctuary are the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), along with starfish like Acanthaster planci and Linckia laevigata.

This extraordinary marine environment not only provides a vital habitat for these iconic species but also offers visitors the opportunity to witness and appreciate the unique beauty and biodiversity of the ocean.

Big Momma, the largest coral in the world

Big Momma, the largest coral in the world

In the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, located in the Valley of the Giants, is Big Momma, also known as Big Mama or Fale Bommie. This colossal coral, scientifically identified as Porites lobata, is the largest recorded on Earth, with a height of 21 feet (6.4 m) and an impressive circumference of 134 feet (41 m). Over 500 years old, Big Momma stands as a symbol of the longevity and might of the region’s coral reefs.

Conservation and management

The sanctuary’s conservation policies are designed to protect natural resources and promote sustainability. Adaptive management strategies are implemented to respond to emerging threats and ensure ecosystem health.

The sanctuary’s management is a collaboration between various organizations, including government agencies, NGOs, and local communities. This collaboration ensures a comprehensive and participatory approach to conservation.

It faces several challenges, such as climate change, pollution, and illegal fishing. Addressing these issues requires continuous efforts and international collaboration. To ensure a sustainable future, the sanctuary is developing new projects and plans, including coral restoration initiatives, monitoring programs, and climate change adaptation strategies. These efforts aim to strengthen ecosystem resilience and promote long-term conservation.

Scientific research

The sanctuary is a hub for scientific research, where innovative projects are conducted to study marine biodiversity and the impacts of climate change. These projects provide crucial data for the conservation and management of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary collaborates with universities and research institutes worldwide. These collaborations have resulted in important discoveries and have helped train the next generation of marine scientists.

Culture and local community

The sanctuary has a close relationship with local communities, who actively participate in the conservation and management of the area. Traditional fishing practices and resource use are integrated into conservation efforts.

The traditional practices of local communities, such as sustainable fishing and cultural rituals, play a vital role in the preservation of the sanctuary. These practices are respected and promoted within the sanctuary’s management policies.

What to Do?

The sanctuary offers a variety of recreational activities, including diving, snorkeling, and boat tours, allowing visitors to explore the marine richness. Educational excursions are also organized to learn more about the ecosystems and conservation.

How to Get to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

The sanctuary area is clearly delineated to protect critical ecosystems. A detailed map shows the different zones of the sanctuary, including strict protection areas and sustainable use zones.

Where to Stay to Visit the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

Where to Stay to Visit the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

Pago Pago

Pago Pago is the capital of American Samoa and is only a few kilometers from the National Marine Sanctuary. It offers a variety of accommodation options, from mid-range hotels to more economical guesthouses. This location is ideal for visitors who want to be close to urban services and amenities while exploring the sanctuary.


Tafuna, located about 10-15 minutes by car from Pago Pago, has several accommodation options, including hotels and vacation apartments. Its proximity to the international airport and variety of restaurants and shops make it convenient for tourists planning to visit the sanctuary.

Aunu’u Island

Aunu’u Island is a small island near Tutuila that offers a tranquil and picturesque setting. With limited accommodations such as bungalows and guesthouses, it is perfect for those seeking a more rustic and nature-close experience. The island is a short boat ride from the main island, providing easy access to the sanctuary.


Utulei, located near Pago Pago, is known for its beachfront resorts and hotels. It is an excellent place for those seeking comfort and sea views while being conveniently close to the National Marine Sanctuary. The local beach and available water activities are also a great attraction for visitors.


Fagatogo is another locality near Pago Pago that offers suitable accommodation options for tourists. With its historical and cultural atmosphere, it provides an enriching experience for visitors who want to explore both the sanctuary and the local culture of American Samoa.

See Also

  • Science and Research at the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa:
  • National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa Community Profile:
  • National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa 2007-2020 Condition Report:
  • Long-term monitoring of Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Tutuila Island (American Samoa) 1985 to 2001.
  • American Samoa Maritime Heritage Inventory ((pdf).
  • Coral reef ecosystem monitoring report for American Samoa: 2002-2006: