Pollution in American Samoa, a look at the Nu’uuli Mangroves

Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on a planning meeting between the Environmental Protection Agency of American Samoa, Department of Marine Wildlife and the American Samoa Power Authority.  This meeting was to discuss the implementation and roll-out of a new mitigation program that would include data collection to help assist in evaluating the types and sources of pollution on the coastlines of American Samoa.  Within 3 weeks, I found this article written in the local newspaper, the American Samoa News about a group of roughly 25 individuals who collected 160 bags of waste during a cleanup of the Pala Lagoon on the opposite side of the Nu’uuli Mangroves.

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A picturesque scene from the Nu’uuli mangroves.  Unfortunately, everything isn’t a beautiful as it seems.

With this in mind, I accepted an invite to take a short tour of a section of the Mangroves, a section that stretches out into the Lagoon and is one of the areas proposed to be mitigated by the EPA.  What we found was heartbreaking.

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A look inland shows large swaths of pollution across the mangroves and inland island.

As I toured the mangroves, I had a conversation with Dennis Ahoia, a local business owner and family member tied to one of the pieces of land designated as part of the Nu’uuli Mangroves.   This part of the island is uninhabited, yet the area is full of rubbish, and most of it is fairly new. After a short boat ride across the bay, Dennis lead me through the mangroves, most of which are completely undeveloped.  He showed me sections where decades ago, walls and foundations were buried from when families used to live here.

As he used his machete to clear a pathway he explained to me his families involvement in cleaning up a portion of the land.  His astonishment at the quantity of pollution was evident.  “Several years ago we were cleaning up a portion of this land, and a small fire spread across the mangroves, it burned for several days and while it was unfortunate, it burned all the trash.  So all of this, all of this is new.”

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Styrofoam food containers, single use beverage containers and other signs of human consumption are mixed with natural organic plant material at the  Mangroves shoreline.

What amazed me the most is that there are significant barriers at the waters edge that should in theory capture and limit the spread of rubbish in this area.  Large portions of debris can be found up to 50 feet inland from the shoreline.  According to Ahoia, much of this pollution comes directly from the Village of Nu’uuli and the multiple streams that discharge into the bay. His disheartened amazement at the quantities of pollution is evident throughout our entire walk.  “Where does all this come from?”, he asks shaking his head.  “People don’t take care of their garbage and it ends up here.”  It appears that this debris then floats with the currents until it comes to the shoreline where wind and varying tides carry it inland.

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Nu’uuli Mangroves – 10 -30 feet inland, you can see the waterline

Managing this pollution is a multi step process that begins with personal responsibility.  Putting trash in its place and not littering are the first solutions to preventing this type of pollution to occur.  Secondary measures are to avoid purchasing items that are common pollutants like Styrofoam take out containers.  Requesting your local business purchase environmentally responsible packaging and traveling with personal beverage containers are additional measures to preventing the problem.

Additionally,  active mitigation – or cleaning up these type of areas is also important.  Forming a group of friends and family members, faith based community, or other group that gathers regularly is a great way to make an impact on pollution in your local area.  By taking people out to clean up existing trash, we spread awareness and educate people about the impact litter makes.  This blog on tips to running a successful community cleanup can be a great place to start you on starting your own cleanup group.   If you are interested in helping clean up American Samoa please contact the EPA  by email :info@epa.as.gov  or call them directly at 684.633.2304

 

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How you shop is important, it is already changing the world.

When recycling was beginning to be a requirement on a national level, there was much ado about how it was all going to work.  People all over this country were involved in the idea that what they were doing was important and would be useful for generations to come.  How recycled products would be labeled, what types of material were to be used to be ‘post-consumer’ content and at what percentages.  What is post consumer waste?  What percentage of post consumer product could you use, was it safe?  What would standard be?  Who would enforce this?  Does the Federal Government have a responsibility to do this?  Do they have the right?  A lot of work was put into the entire process.

And yet, according to the EPA, only 7% of the plastic that is created – gets recycled.  For some really good reading the 1990 report to Congress by the EPA titles,”Methods to Manage and Control Plastic Waste“.  In the meantime understand this – as a species we suck at cleaning up after ourselves.  And this my friends is creating a massive problem for our world. These problems are not just land based problems like, “our landfill is full, can we send our garbage to yours?”  While this happens all the time in the Midwest (garbage from cities like Chicago travels out of the city and even into Wisconsin.   Unfortunately, not all states have space where they can send their trash.  So what happened to all the garbage from a city like say, New York when there is no landfill space?  They took it out to sea, an activity that eventually ended in the 90’s.

ARE YOU OUTRAGED?  You should be.  Just in case you didn’t catch the earlier point, let me repeat it for you.  The City and State of New York authorized barges of trash to be sent out to sea.  A practice that is known to exist for over 100 years.  You and I can be sure they aren’t the only ones.  This might not have been a major issue at first, however since the creation of plastic in the 1850’s, we have been throwing it in the ocean.

So now we have organizations like 5 Gyres Institute  who are seeking to understand how the ocean is impacted by this trash and promoting, like this author, to increase recycling methods while reducing the amount of plastics we purchase.  Unfortunately the problem has become a beast of it’s own as we have come to discover that there are more than 5 major garbage patches in our oceans.  The main ones are flowing along our worlds major oceanic currents, known as gyres.  These ocean currents are so strong and regular that the water carries everything that we throw in them.  Greenpeace published a whitepaper sometime in the last 5 years titled,” Plastic Debris in the Worlds Oceans.”

What can I do?

The point of all of this is simple.  You purchase plastic on a daily basis.  There truly is no way around it.  Companies have concluded that you won’t do anything about it in the form of not purchasing their products and that articles like this will provide you with awareness that you will soon forget to act upon as soon as your hunger or schedule gets in the way.   The first thing that each of us can do is to make daily decisions to “Cut The Plastic out of our Lives”.  Demand manufactures use post consumer products, that virgin plastics are labeled effectively, and remember it’s how you spend your money that speaks to companies the most.  Stop purchasing products that are not made with the environment in mind, especially individually wrapped products.   Buy in bulk, and send your kids to school or daycare with smaller plastic storage containers.  Encourage recycling at work, places you shop, and demand it in your home.   Maybe you are seeing this information for the first time,  it’s ok if you weren’t educated about all of this before today.  What matters is what you do from here on out.  To quote G. I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”