Survey and Removal of Marine Debris in Wake of Tsunami Protects Coral Reefs in American Samoa

Building materials, tires, cloth, and other debris were removed from coral reefs around Tutuila Island 
             after the September 2009 tsunami in American Samoa.
Building materials, tires, cloth, and other debris were removed from coral reefs around Tutuila Island after the September 2009 tsunami in American Samoa.

On September 29, 2009, a devastating tsunami struck American Samoa and neighboring island nations. The 15-20-ft waves damaged property, swept villages out to sea, and caused numerous fatalities. In addition, the tsunami deposited a large quantity of marine debris on coral reefs and nearshore habitats-debris that can damage the reefs and habitats as it is moved around by waves and currents.

A NOAA team worked in American Samoa from November 29 to December 17 to assess and mitigate impacts of marine debris on the coral reef ecosystems around Tutuila Island. The team’s primary mission was to complete a preliminary survey of the amount and effects of marine debris to and assess the need for further support. This information helps government agencies and affected communities to prioritize potential future debris removal operations.

The 19-member NOAA team from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC), NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office, Office of Response and Restoration, National Marine Sanctuaries, National Weather Service, and Coral Reef Conservation Program worked with representatives from other federal and territorial agencies, village leaders, local news agencies, and volunteers. Experienced marine debris divers from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division helped to survey 74 km of coral reef habitat, collect and remove more than 3.6 metric tons of debris, and identify 253 additional debris accumulations for removal.