American Sāmoa

Territory Profile

Population Adjusted GDP GDP per capita Major income sources Geography Legal status
54,343 (2015 est.) $711 million (2013 est.) $13,000 (2013 est.) U.S. payments, tuna  processing (largely supplied by foreign fishing vessels) 5 volcanic islands with steep topography and limited coastal plains, and 2 coral atolls in the Central South Pacific Ocean Unorganized, unincorporated territory of the U.S.

The Territory of American Sāmoa is part of the Samoan Islands archipelago, located in the Central South Pacific. The Territory’s main island, Tutuila, hosts the majority of the nation’s population as well as its capital, Pago Pago. Four other volcanic islands are inhabited: Aunu’u, which is close to Tutuila; and Ofu, Olosega, and Ta’u, which are located east of Tutuila and together make up the Manu’a Islands. Two coral atolls – uninhabited Rose Atoll, which is part of a marine national monument, and inhabited Swains Atoll – are also included in the territory. The volcanic islands are extremely rugged, with limited coastal plains. Pago Pago harbor, located on Tutuila Island, is one of the best natural deepwater harbors in the South Pacific. Its high shipping capacity, as well as strategic location in the South Pacific, led to significant international interest in and presence on the island since the 19thcentury. An 1899 treaty divided the Samoan Islands between Germany and the U.S., and in 1900 American Sāmoa became a Territory of the U.S.

Photo © NOAA, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Photo © NOAA, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Key Climate-related Stressors and Issues

The tuna industry is the Territory’s 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. To cope with and adapt to these changes, there is a clear need to integrate climate information into fisheries research and management.

With approximately 55,000 residents and a rugged, steep topography, American Sāmoa has limited coastal plain land available for development. Sea level rise poses challenges for coastal ecosystems and infrastructure, including transportation and military installations, and water infrastructure and freshwater aquifers and wells.

The coral reefs of American Sāmoa support a diversity of species and are experiencing decline due to several stressors. In addition to factors including overexploitation of reef species, land-based pollution, and a lack of enforcement as contributing causes for the decline in reef fisheries, the Coral Reef Advisory Group identified increased coral bleaching due to climate change as a major concern for the functioning of the coral reef ecosystem.

Adaptive Capacities

The government of American Sāmoa has initiated action to address the impacts of climate change, but few national policies explicitly address climate change adaptation. A 2007 Executive Order on Climate Change identified five “significant and undeniable repercussions to [American Sāmoa’s] land and . . . way of life” imposed by climate change:

  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.

The Executive Order acknowledges that it was intended merely as an initial step, suggesting that subsequent executive action is needed to establish a climate change policy. Though not official policy, the Territorial Climate Change Adaptation Framework was developed by natural resource managers, scientists, and experts, and identifies a number of priority adaptation strategies and projects.  

American Sāmoa developed a climate change working group within the Coral Reef Advisory Group (CRAG) to monitor impacts of changes on coral reef ecosystems. Understanding that the natural environment contributes to their livelihood, the American Sāmoa government has formed many environmental task forces and initiatives to promote sustainable development of resources for the long-term survival of their people. CRAG developed short and long term action plans that prioritize activities for funding. This process led to the development of local action strategies (LAS) in each of the seven states and territories of American Sāmoa.

The preceding text is excerpted and abridged from the following sources:

Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook,”American Samoa,” available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/aq.html

Pacific RISA, Territory of American Samoa, available at http://www.pacificrisa.org/places/territory-of-american-samoa/

Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Pacific Climate Change Portal, “American Samoa:,” 2012, available at http://www.pacificclimatechange.net/index.php/country-profiles/am-main

Richard Wallsgrove and Zena Grecni. 2016. Water Resources in American Sāmoa: Law and Policy Opportunities for Climate Change Adaptation. Honolulu: Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments. Available at http://www.pacificrisa.org/resources/publications/