National Park Of America Samoa

The National Park of American Samoa is located in the American territory known as American Samoa. The park is actually divided into three different areas comprised of the islands of Ta‘ū, Tutuila, and Ofu-Olosega. This park was legally established by Public Law 100-571 in 1988, but the land could not be acquired due to the traditional communal land system of its native inhabitants. However, in 1993, the National Park Service signed a fifty-year lease with Samoan village councils to acquire the land and in 2002, a thirty percent expansion on Olosega and Ofu islands was approved by Congress.

The National Park of American Samoa is comprised of 9,000 acres of land and water. The Tutuila area of the park is located near Pago Pago, on the north side of the island. It is separated by many features including 1,610-foot Mount Alava and Maugaloa Ridge, which holds Tafeu Cove, Amalau Valley, and Craggy Point. It is also separated by the Pola and Manofa Islands.  This area is the only part of the park that can be reached by car, and so is a popular area for visitors. The Ofu, Olosega, and Ta‘ū areas of the park, also known as the Manua Island group, can be reached by plane.

Volcanic islands comprise a large portion of land in the National Park of American Samoa. These volcanoes form a large formation of shield volcanoes that extends from west to east along the Pacific Plate. The islands were formed by multiple shield volcanoes that are grouped together and are made of basalt lava flows. Much of the original lava used to form these islands has broken into breccia, or angular fragments of basalt. It is thought that these islands were created when volcanoes erupted during the Pliocene and Holocene eras. The youngest island in the park, T’au Island, is the last remnant of a volcano that collapsed in in the Holocene era. Because of this collapse, T’au Island holds some of the world largest sea cliffs, reaching a height of over 3,000 feet.

The hot spot that created the volcanoes which formed the islands has shown recent signs of activity, although there has been no volcanic activity recorded in the National Park of American Samoa in recent years. The last recorded eruption of hot spot activity occurred in 1973, when a submarine detected the activity just east of the park. It has been found that an island is forming east of Ta’u Island, following the eastern formation pattern of the park. This island, known as Vailulu’u Seamount, has been found to have formed over the past fifty years and has caused the sea mount to move 14,764 feet from the ocean floor.

There are relatively few native plants and animals in the National Park of American Samoa due to its isolation. One bird species, known as the Samoan Starling, and thirty percent of the plants are native to the area. Some of the native plants include 487 ferns and flowering plants, and there are cloud forests and tropical rainforests located throughout the archipelago. Most of the plant life located in the park originated in Southeast Asia. The islands also include bird species such as the wattled honeyeater, the Pacific imperial pigeon, the spotless crake, and the many-colored fruit dove among other species.

The National Park of American Samoa contains many animal species. The only native mammals that occur on the islands are the insular flying-fox, the Pacific shealth-tailed bat, and the Samoa flying-fox. All three of these species are important to the ecosystem of the islands due to their seed dispersing abilities, but the Pacific sheath-tailed bat was nearly eliminated from the islands during Cyclone Val. Invasive animals like pigs and rats occur in great numbers throughout the park, but these are currently being controlled to preserve the islands natural biodiversity. The park holds native reptiles including the mourning gecko, the Polynesian gecko, the Pacific boa, and seven species of skink. The marine life surrounding the islands is highly diverse and includes 890 species of fish, 200 types of coral reefs, sea turtles, and humpback whales. Ta‘ū Island is surrounded by some of the largest coral colonies in the world.

The National Park of American Samoa has suffered damages in the past due to an earthquake and tsunami that occurred in 2009. These disasters killed 32 inhabitants of the islands and caused many more injuries. Nearly 200 business and homes were destroyed, as well as the main office and visitor’s center of the park. The islands have also experienced landslides, both under water and above water, which were the results of erosion and other types of weathering. Liu Bench, located on Ta‘ū Island, is a large mass of rock that is at risk of collapsing into the ocean. If this occurs, it could cause a tsunami that would be strong enough to damage Fiji in the southeast. The coral reefs around the park are threatened by carbon dioxide concentrations, rising sea levels, and increases in temperatures. It is thought that these threats could wipe out the reefs by the middle of the century.

Image Caption: Looking across Vatia Bay towards Pola Tai, Tutuila, American Samoa; National Park of American Samoa. Credit: Eric Guinther/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)