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By Lewis Wolman

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (August 10, 2000 - Samoa News/PINA Nius Online)---The coral reefs of the United States and its territories have suffered great damage in recent decades and President Bill Clinton wants to protect them from further harm.

Almost 100 like-minded people gathered at the Convention Center here to discuss and advance the cause.

It was the fifth meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, a group of federal agency representatives and governors who have been tasked by the President to create and implement a National Action Plan that will save the reefs and survive the ebb and flow of partisan politics in Washington, D.C.

The Task Force is only a few years old, and American Samoa has been an active member from the start. Governor Tauese Sunia is the only governor to have attended all five meetings (including earlier ones in Maui, the Virgin Islands, Florida and Washington, D.C.).

While the Territory's involvement is helping protect the coral reefs throughout America's tropical seas, American Samoa has already reaped great benefits for our own reefs.

Tauese feels that it was through his participation on the Task Force that almost $18 million in federal funds were made available to remove the abandoned longliners in Pago Pago Harbor and repair/restore the damaged reef there.

Tauese's involvement on the Task Force was also the driving engine that led him to ban the export of all "live rock" from American Samoa, and to embrace the idea that the Territory's population growth threatens the future quality of life of American Samoans and other local residents.

American Samoa and the other areas are turning to one of the most specific Task Force goals: setting aside 20 percent of our coral reefs in Marine Protected Areas where the taking of fish or coral is prohibited.

At least some scientists believe this is crucial to preserve healthy levels of biodiversity, habitat, and fish stocks.

Excluding Rose Atoll, about four percent of American Samoa's reefs are now protected by the National Park of American Samoa and (to a much smaller extent) Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Non-commercial fishing is allowed in both areas.

Governor Tauese and Commerce Deputy Director Lelei Peau said the government is working with villages to identify areas that will be protected in the future. The Governor told the Task Force and observers that without village support, it will not be possible to protect the coral reefs of the territory.

Tauese's comments on the need to involve villagers, respect cultural traditions and educate the youth were echoed by his colleagues from the other island governments.

Some of those areas are doing better than us, and some are not so far along. For example, Guam has already established protection for almost 25 percent of its reefs, but there is no protected area in the reefs of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan).

One of the Task Force co-chairs, Dr. James Baker (a high-ranking federal official who is in charge of NOAA--the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), said there is a need for many partnerships if the reefs are to be protected. He specifically stated that the Task Force will focus on the relationship between island people and their reefs.

Several environmental advocates attending the meeting expressed their view that the Task Force's goals were too modest, and that all of the remaining coral reefs should be protected right away. The Cousteau Society representative was the most outspoken on this matter.

The full day of discussions addressed a wide range of issues.

The Task Force members and observers included many high-ranking government officials as well as influential representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The men and women traveled to American Samoa from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, Washington, D.C., Hawai‘i, Guam, Saipan and many other points.

Repeatedly, the delegates sincerely thanked the local hosts and lavished praise on the hospitality shown them.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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