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   home/solutions around the world/why protect your own reef?

American Samoans protect their own reefs.

Why Protect Your Own Reef?
  • Protecting coral reefs can result in better fishing and other benefits.
  • Villagers on American Samoa are protecting their own reefs.
  • A network of locally managed marine protected areas has been created this way.

Many tropical nations rely on coral reefs for food and other income. Protecting coral reefs can improve fishing. Catches can increase in size and quality, and species thought to be lost from the reef can reappear. Many American Samoans are beginning to protect their reefs - from individuals to villages to the government.

 Why protect coral reefs?

Coral reefs are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Millions of people rely on coral reefs for food, but this ecosystem also provides many other benefits, including:

  • Tourism income
  • Erosion protection
  • Protection from tropical storms and tsunamis
  • Creating habitat for millions of marine organisms
  • Providing fish nurseries and spawning grounds
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Carbon and nitrogen fixing
  • Sediment stabilization

These benefits are lost if an ecosystem’s diversity is reduced, because it takes the interactions of many marine organisms to create and maintain all of these benefits. Protecting coral reefs from interference allows diversity to recover, and restores reef productivity.

Fish spill from the protected reef into areas where they can be caught. These fish are generally bigger and better quality than fish from unprotected reefs. Eggs and young marine organisms also spill from these protected reefs, and help to repopulate nearby reefs. Just how far these young marine organisms spread is not known, but is currently being studied. See “Marine parks” for more information.

 How to protect your reef

Ways of protecting a reef include:

  • Prohibiting fishing.
  • Decreasing pollution from village.
  • Decreasing reef damage by anchors.
 How not to protect your reef

Technology can make fishing almost too easy, and one response to declining fish numbers is to use destructive fishing techniques. These techniques can often gather a lot of fish in a short period of time, but they strip fish from a reef destroying the reef’s long-term productivity by using reefs at unsustainable rates.

One example of an unsustainable fishing technique is dynamite fishing. Dynamite (or hand-made explosives) are thrown into the water and shockwaves stun or kill fish caught in the blast. These fish are then easily scooped up.

However, dynamite fishing decreases the amount of fish that can be taken, because it turns the reef into algae-covered rubble and kills its inhabitants. The reef cannot easily recover from dynamite fishing, because coral larvae cannot re-establish easily and there are no fish left to maintain the reef (and to make more fish).

 Fagamalo's problem

Like many communities around the world, Fagamalo village in American Samoa had a problem – it was getting harder and harder to catch fish on their reef. In response, they set aside part of their reef as a protected area by prohibiting fishing.

Fishermen count fish in the protected area every year or two. They have already noted increases in fish yields, as well as the return of fish species thought to have been lost in the local area.

 American Samoa's marine protected areas

American Samoa’s first marine protected area was established in 1973 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the government of American Samoa. However, the movement to protect the reefs of American Samoa really took off in 1985 when a local woman decided to protect the reef in front of her beachside bar. With the improved fishing in these protected areas, more and more locals started protecting their reefs, and there are now over a dozen locally managed marine protected areas in American Samoa.


Gell, F. & Roberts, C. (2003, September). Benefits beyond boundaries: the fishery effects of marine reserves. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18(9): 448-455. Retrieved 10 September 2008 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VJ1-48Y6NXJ-4&_user=145269&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=145269&md5=040bb71928a49fb11f3c322ff27ff057

Lubchenco, J. (2003). Plugging a hole in the ocean: The emerging science of marine reserves. Ecological Applications 13(1): 3–7. PDF retrieved 9 September 2008 from http://palumbi.stanford.edu/manuscripts/EA.Lubchenco%20et%20al%202003.pdf

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, (2005).Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis. World Resources Institute. PDF retrieved 10 September 2008 from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.356.aspx.pdf

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: Biodiversity synthesis. World Resources Institute. PDF retrieved 10 September 2008 from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.354.aspx.pdf

Peau, L. (2004, September). American Samoa Local Action Strategies (LAS). US Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF). PDF retrieved 9 September 2008 from http://www.coralreef.gov/las/AS_LAS_factsheet.pdf

Tisa’s Barefoot Bar. (2008). Heal the lagoon. Tisa’s Barefoot Bar. Retrieved 15 October 2008 from http://www.tisasbarefootbar.com/maindetail.aspx?id=2&cat=18

United Nations. (2008, January 3). Overfishing: a threat to marine biodiversity. United Nations. Retrieved 9 September 2008 from http://www.un.org/events/tenstories_2006/story.asp?storyID=800

Wusinich-Mendez, D. & Trappe, C. eds. (2007, February). Report on the status of marine protected areas in coral reef ecosystems of the United States. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program Report (NOAA). PDF retrieved 9 September 2008 from http://www.coralreef.noaa.gov/Library/Publications/cr_mpa_report_vol_1.pdf

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