American Samoa and Its Change of Climate

Over the past year, I’ve been interested to see how many of the places in the world where I rowed are in the daily news. With today’s White House announcement of America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, I’m struck by how short sighted and self-serving this is given the U.S. has responsibilities to its territories worldwide like American Samoa.

Yesterday, I came across an old tattered plastic bag of volcanic pumice brought home from our 1984 – 85 row across the South Pacific. Each small grey rock was shot full of holes and though the bag contained 10 or so pumice collected over a couple of days of rowing though miles of floating pumice, all of it weighted an ounce at the most. Hearing the pumice tinkling against the hull of the rowboat at nighttime is one of my best memories of the South Pacific row.

Inspired by my pumice rocks and after so much media discussion on climate change over the past week, I started wondering about climate change in the South Pacific islands. I found on the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA) website a 2012 report on climate change in the Pacific Islands. In particular, the Territory of American Samoa had a whole chapter dedicated to its evolving ecology.

Tutuila, the main island in the Territory’s archipelago has a special place in my memories too. We rowed there from the Marquesas Islands in 40 days and considered it the best passage of the entire South Pacific row. In fact, despite the extremely dramatic wind storms we encountered at sea, the trip was so memorable that I was sure that I might be pregnant when we rowed into the port of Pago Pago. Though a pregnancy test indicated not, we spent a month in smelly Pago Pago where the Star Kist tuna factory regularly discharged their waste waters into the port. Despite being anchored in those sometimes oily waters, we met a lot of wonderful Samoans and Americans who helped us out in restocking the boat for the next passage to Vanuatu.

Since I was there in 1985 though, climate change has really affected the islands of American Samoa. In 2007, an Executive Order on Climate Change noted the following significant changes to the islands. These are:

  1. “A loss of landmass and shoreline from an increase in sea level
  2. An increase in food cost and dependence upon off-island food sources because of projected decreases in local agricultural production due to the increase in temperature, loss of land mass, and higher rate of pest infestation
  3. Potential need for the relocation of our population and the resulting loss of spiritual connection to the land our families have occupied for centuries
  4. Coral reef loss due to increases in water temperature and depth
  5. An increase in mortality and economic losses from an increase in the number and strength of tropical storms and lack of reef protection.” (pircas.org)

That tuna industry that I remember so well in 1985, is according to the pircas.org website “…the Territory’s [American Samoa} primary economic driver. This and other sectors depend heavily on healthy marine and coastal ecosystems. Changes in catch sizes, species composition, and other characteristics pose challenges to harvesting and processing, which can result in economic losses.”

Now I look back at that time differently when I consider what is happening these days. American Samoa is a U.S. territory and would be presumably affected by the new plans of the current administration to make its own “deal”.

Doesn’t this territory once an independent proud island nation but unhappily divvied up in 1899 by treaty between Germany and the U.S., only in 1900 to become a territory of the U.S. deserve better than this “fight against climate action [is] largely driven by sheer spite”? (Krugman 2017)

Sources

“American Samoa – Territory Profile.” PIRCA – The Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment. 2016. Web. 1 June 2017.

Krugman, Paul. “Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Climate Accord.” New York Times.1 June 2017. Web. 1 June 2017.

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