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Marine Protected Areas of American Samoa

Date of Submission: 12/04/2017
Criteria: (vii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
United States Department of the Interior
State, Province or Region:
American Samoa
Ref.: 6239

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The site includes the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, which protect coral reef and pelagic habitat around islands of the Samoan Archipelago in the South Central Pacific.  The sites are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and co-managed with the American Samoan Government. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The intact condition and variety of habitats protected would make this property a unique and valuable addition to the World Heritage List.  The areas included are home to a wide diversity and abundance of marine wildlife, including ancient corals, endangered species, and are key areas for nesting seabirds and sea turtles.  American Samoa is also considered the birthplace of Polynesian culture, and the Samoan way of life, Fa'a-Samoa, is incorporated into management of these areas.  This description focuses on natural heritage values, but the site also has important cultural heritage values that may be included in a future nomination.

Criterion (vii): The site contains superlative examples of pristine tropical coral reefs with high biodiversity.  The Valley of the Giants (Ta’u) contains some of the largest and oldest Porites corals in the world. Distinct crustose coralline algae growth gives the fringing reefs of Rose Atoll a striking pink hue unique to American Samoa.

Criterion (ix): The area includes corals that are unusually resistant to high temperatures and that have shown resilience to coral bleaching.  These areas represent significant on-going biological processes in the evolution of coral reef ecosystems. In the Muliāva area, an active volcanic seamount is growing a cone in its crater named Nafanua. The caldera is constantly transforming, causing the rise and collapse of distinct ecological communities within the crater. Nafanua is expected to breach the sea surface within decades, creating a new island in the Samoan archipelago and representing an outstanding example of ongoing ecological processes in the evolution of marine and terrestrial habitat. 

Criterion (x):   Fatagele Bay contains a very diverse and healthy ecosystem, with over 200 species of corals, 1,400 species of algae and invertebrates and 271 species of fish.  Swains Island  is a hotspot for coral cover, large fish (biomass) and fish species richness. The Ta’u area’s "Valley of the Giants" contains large Porites corals, including what is thought to be the oldest and largest Porites coral in the world, over 500 years old.  The Muliāva area encompasses seamounts and a hydrothermal vent that are biological hotspots, providing habitat for an unusual group of deep-sea organisms. Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is a hotspot for fish biomass, has a unique coral community and is an important refuge for giant clams (currently proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act).  Rose Atoll also contains important nesting grounds for the endangered green sea turtle that is likely a source population for many areas of the south Pacific. The area also supports endangered corals, eagle rays, Pacific bottlenose and spinner dolphins, many shark species and humpback whales.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The combined area of the site comprises over 35,174 km2 (13,581 square miles) representing an unusually intact marine ecosystems, large enough to support ongoing biological and ecological processes essential for ensuring continued evolution. The remoteness and inaccessibility of most of the habitats limit human impacts. Regulations prohibit taking or damage to coral and limit destructive fishing methods. The main threats to the area’s coral reef ecosystems are the increasing water temperatures and ocean acidification consequences of climate change. Other potential marine threats include crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, illegal harvest, marine debris and damage from shipwrecks and oil spills. These issues are being monitored to prevent and mitigate their impacts.

Comparison with other similar properties

Currently, no other World Heritage site has been designated specifically to protect hydrothermal vents and the biological hotspots that depend on them (although these habitats are also found within the Gálapagos Marine Reserve). Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and the Muliāva management area of the sanctuary contain deep-water pelagic ecosystems that provide habitat for deep sea fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds, and which the IUCN has highlighted as an under-represented marine ecosystem on the World Heritage List.