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American Samoa Faces Health Threats, Stronger Storms, and Challenges for Coral Reefs from Climate Change, Says New Report

Floodwaters, like those pictured here in Nu‘uuli after heavy rain, carry pathogens and pose a direct risk to safety. Heavy rains and flooding can threaten homes, close roads, down powerlines and trees, and cause landsides. Such floods become more likely as the climate warms. Photo by Valentine Vaeoso.

Human health risks, stronger cyclones, coral reef death, and coastal flooding are among the major challenges detailed in a new report on climate change in American Samoa published today. The report was led by members of CPO’s Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (Pacific RISA) team and co-supported by CPO’s Assessments Program

“Places like American Samoa are always likely to be among the very first to see environmental impacts. The ocean is a major part of most aspects of Samoan life, and fishing is our chief industry,” said U.S. Congresswoman Amata, who represents American Samoa. “A thorough climate report that is specific to American Samoa will be an excellent lasting resource. I appreciate all the work that went into this process, as we work to safeguard our beautiful islands, especially issues like promoting reef health, preventing severe wave damage, and preserving shorelines from erosion.” 

The report, Climate Change in American Samoa: Indicators and Considerations for Key Sectors, builds upon the Fourth National Climate Assessment, offering a closer look at the implications of climate change for American Samoa and providing information for a wide range of sectors. It is the fourth in a series of reports prepared by the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA), a consortium of government, NGO, and research entities.

Key Impacts

Climate Change in American Sāmoa lays out the changes the Territory is already experiencing, as well as what lies ahead. Key impacts and challenges highlighted in the report include:

  • Temperatures have risen, and hotter days and nights affect human health. Heat waves can exacerbate a range of pre-existing health issues, and hot weather poses a particular threat to children and elderly people.
  • Stronger tropical storms and cyclones are expected globally and around American Sāmoa. More intense tropical cyclones mean a greater potential for loss of life, damage, and public health issues from these storms.
  • Sea level rise threatens infrastructure, including drinking water, agriculture, housing, and transportation, as well as ecosystems and cultural sites. More frequent and intense coastal flooding and erosion are anticipated as sea level rise accelerates. Continued effects of the 2009 earthquakes magnify local sea level rise in American Sāmoa.
  • Oceans are warming, causing coral bleaching that is already widespread and severe. Extensive coral loss is possible within the next few decades if current trends in rising ocean temperatures continue. American Sāmoa has some of the oldest and largest corals in the world, and coral reefs inject millions of dollars annually into the local economy. In addition, American Sāmoa’s fringing coral reefs provide the best natural shoreline protection for the island.

Authors from American Samoa Community College, the University of Hawaiʻi, and the East-West Center—along with more than 20 technical contributors from local government, NGOs, and research—collaboratively developed the American Samoa PIRCA report. PIRCA is funded and supported by CPO’s RISA program, the East-West Center, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s PI-CASC, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

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