This is the second part of our interview with NOAA’s Hideyo Hattori about American Samoa. In this episode, we focus on Hideyo’s work with conserving the bountiful corals that surround the islands of this remote archipelago.
HOST: This is the NOAA Ocean Podcast. I’m Troy Kitch. This is the second part of our virtual journey to the South Pacific. We’re talking with Hideyo Hattori, site liaison for the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation and Coastal Zone Management programs in American Samoa. In the first part of conversation in episode 21 of the podcast, we talked about the many ways that American Samoa is a really special place, unlike anywhere else in the U.S. In this episode, we’re going to focus on Hideyo’s work with conserving the bountiful corals that surround the islands of this remote archipelago.
NOAA invests in many projects in American Samoa to help conserve and protect corals. One project is aimed at reducing an overpopulation of crown-of-thorns starfish that eat the stony corals that form the reef’s limestone foundation. Another ongoing effort is working to reduce the sources of land-based pollution that can harm the corals. NOAA also works with American Samoans to manage fisheries. And many projects focus on addressing the impacts of climate change, things like sea level rise. But Hideyo said that it’s important to know that the reefs around American Samoa are relatively healthy compared to other regions that have corals around the U.S.
HIDEYO HATTORI: We have fairly resilient coral reefs in American Samoa. For example, on the airport pools in Tutuila and coral reef flat in Ofu, there have been numerous studies where they are trying to better understand why coral reefs in these reef flats are resilient. These corals, they bleach on an annual basis, but they also recover on an annual basis, so this provides an interesting platform for research to try and better understand what makes these corals resilient.
HOST: But that’s not to say the corals around American Samoa aren’t facing many challenges, and many of those challenges are closely tied to the humans who live near the reefs. He said this is why conserving corals and managing the island’s coastal zone go hand-in-hand.
HIDEYO HATTORI: I think coral reef conservation and coastal resource management are all intertwined, especially on an island community. Everything from the very top of our mountains to three miles out is considered the coastal zone, so in coral reef conservation, that includes the nearshore or reef environment, and in coral reef conservation we consider land uses: the way that human activities impact coral reefs.
HOST: Hideyo said that one of the major stressors on American Samoa — and for corals anywhere near shorelines — are sources of pollution that come from the land and then flow to the sea.
HIDEYO HATTORI: Land-based sources of pollution like sediments, contaminants from farming like pesticides, herbicides, nutrients, fertilizers, even oils from our car, all of that ends up in our streams in our environment and eventually into the ocean and our coastal environment.
HOST: And finding ways to lessen these pollution sources is a big way to help the corals. He gave an example of a project he is working to reduce runoff in the Faga’alu watershed on the island.
HIDEYO HATTORI: Faga’alu was designated as a priority watershed for coral reef conservation because of the smaller scale of the watershed, where we thought we could really make a change. The coral reef also has biological significance. It’s home to threatened or endangered species like sea turtles. The reef is also a resource for the community. The community practices artisanal or sustenance fishing on the reef, and also the community was highly involved in coral reef conservation. We worked with the community to identify primary threats to the reef. They also created a vision for their reefs, as far as where they see their reefs in the future, and developed steps for how we could get there together.
HOST: One of the major threats that they found affecting the reefs was sediment pollution, and the main source of all this sediment was from a quarry in the watershed.
HIDEYO HATTORI: On rainy days, it was pretty common to see this plume of sediments on the reef. A brown, mucky cloud of water.
HOST: So to fix this, Hideyo said they worked with the quarry to install erosion and sediment control measures to reduce the amount of sediment spilling out into the environment.
HIDEYO HATTORI: Currently we’re in the phase of monitoring coral reef health. Now that we’ve decreased the amount of sediments entering the environment, we want to be able to document (hopefully) an increase of coral reef health and coral cover over the next three to five years.
HOST: And, he said, healthier coral reefs around the island isn’t just necessary for its own sake. Aside from the dependence people on the island have on maintaining a healthy fishery on the reefs for food, the reefs also play an important role when it comes to sea level rise and protecting the shore from coastal storms.
HIDEYO HATTORI: If coral reefs weren’t there, we’d see devastating shoreline erosion. All of the population essentially live on this ring of flat land that surrounds the shoreline of American Samoa. Only about 30 percent of American Samoa land is habitable because of the fact that the volcanic topography creates steep slopes where the mountains are impenetrable and very difficult to develop, and this creates an increased population density and increased human induced stresses on coastal ecosystems.
HOST: So corals are much more than just pretty to look at. While they are providing food, habitat, and shelter for countless marine animals, they’re also providing many critical services for humans. At the end of our talk, I asked Hideyo what he felt was the toughest part of his job. He said it can sometimes be hard because it seems like every day there’s a headline about the decline of our world’s coral reefs, or about how corals are dying at an alarming rate.
HIDEYO HATTORI: But I would say the positive is that, through the hard work of countless scientists, managers, community members, and educators, we’re winning battles. And American Samoa still has some of the highest coral cover in the United States, so we have some of the healthiest coral reefs in the United States. There’s also new promise in the restoration of coral reefs. We’re now working across the United States coral reef jurisdictions to share successes, challenges, and techniques for planting coral along reefs that need our help. So it’s not all negative, and as long as there is a coral reef, we should find purpose in knowing that our work is ever so important, because coral reefs and the communities that rely on them need us more than ever.
HOST: That was Hideyo Hattori, site liaison for the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and Coastal Zone Management Program in American Samoa. We hope you enjoyed our two-part special with Hideyo.
This is the NOAA Ocean podcast. Head to our website at oceanservice.noaa.gov for show notes for this episode. And subscribe to our podcast in your podcast player of choice — and please leave us a review on iTunes. It really helps us out to reach more listeners.
The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa is one of 14 federally designated underwater areas protected by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Of all the areas in the National Marine Sanctuary System, the American Samoa sanctuary is the most remote, is the only true tropical reef, and is thought to support the greatest diversity of marine life.