While we were at the Ocean Center in Pago Pago we learned that there is a National Marine Sanctuary just down the road at Fagatele Bay (Pronounced Fangatele Bay). It is the smallest and most remote in the federal system of fourteen marine sanctuaries. It is also the only true tropical reef and thought to support the greatest diversity of life. He heard this and were instantly disappointed. We came all the way to American Samoa and focused so much on the park and the homestay that we’d missed visiting one of the most pristine places to snorkel in the United States.
And then we didn’t make our flight. Hip hip hooray! Established in 1986, the 0.25 square miles of Fagatele Bay has been protected as a no-take site. Which just means that fisherman are not allowed to take fish.
We walked the two miles from the house that we were staying at to Fagatele Bay. Our hosts were completely perplexed by the fact that we would walk that far in the head. After 1.5 miles in, I was just as perplexed. After several days of no showers and sweating I was looking a little worse for the wear. Luckily though, we passed a car wash with a sound system and an emcee. As soon as we walked by he started advertising body washes, $10. It’s like he knew, or my hair was so gross that it was obvious from across the street.
We arrived at the dirt road down to Fagatele where we heard that we would have to check in with the family that owns the land to gain access. As we walked down the road a car driven by a palagi (white person) passed us. He stopped and asked if we were headed to Fagatele. We told him that we were and he told us to hop in. Ben works for a renewable energy company doing work on one of the other islands and was meeting some friends to go snorkeling at Fagatele Bay.
His friends were none other than the Director of Interpretation and Education for American Samoa National Park (Kelsey), her friend from home (Jess), another renewable energy guy (Mike), and a girl who works as a water engineer on the island (Alanna). We hoped in the back of their car, paid the $5/person for the family to let us on their land and headed towards the bay.
It was rather pristine...
Mike had been to Fagatele Bay before, so took the lead on the snorkeling excursion. I put on my wetsuit and immediately jumped in the water. Less than 30-seconds after getting in the water a sea turtle zoomed under me and disappeared into the depths. There were fish and coral and all things beautiful. There were some especially nice specimens of staghorn coral, which is named because it looks like the antlers of a deer.
As a group we swam across the bay, Mike say a black tipped reef shark that we all kept missing. Red Footed Booby’s (a bird) flew overhead. We came across a massive school of fish and swam amongst them for several minutes. We passed living coral the size of a pickup truck and finally saw the shark that Mike kept seeing. It was a little 3-footer who seemed to stay just on the outer range of our vision; he probably thought we were competition. As Trevor said, ‘the shark must see us and think, that’s a funny looking shark.’
There are several major benefits of wearing a wetsuit. You are warm, which didn’t matter in this water. You are also buoyant, so don’t get that tired trying to stay afloat. There is also a major downfall. You are buoyant, so when you try and dive down you are pulled to the service. Whenever I would try and swim deep to get video of coral I find myself being pulled to the surface.
The water was idyllic. Mike noted that he has never seen it as clear before. We cruised back and forth across the bay and enjoyed in the wonder of snorkeling. It is one of those activities that causes time travel. It takes me from my current self and transports me back in time to when I was a child.
Children ask question after question after question after question. They are so curious and inquisitive. And then we get older, we ask fewer questions, we think we know everything. When you snorkel, unless you are a marine biologist, you don’t know the things that surround you. You have to ask, what is this coral? Why does that coral look like a head of lettuce? What is that fish? Why do they gather in schools? How do they swim together so well? How many different kinds of coral are there? Why do different corals grow in different places? What is coral? Is it a plant, is it an animal?
Not knowing things is equal parts uncomfortable and exhilarating. It’s fun to be an expert, to know things to provide answers. It is scary to be a novice, to not know to rely on others, to do research to find your answers. I find that when I am in the natural world the scales tip towards exhilarating. If you haven’t been snorkeling, let me know. I would be glad to join you on your first expedition, it probably won’t be Fagatele Bay, but it will still be a good time.
One of the other great parts of the day was meeting new and interesting people. Thank you, Ben, Kelsey, Jess, Mike and Alanna. We had a great time hanging out!
As we left Fagatele we rode out in the back of a truck and had a nice little view on the drive out.
Unfortunately, there was not room in Alanna's car so that we could get a ride back to where we were staying. Fortunately, it was a pick up so we were able to sit in the back.
I took full advantage of the opportunity and let my hair whip back and forth.