An eroded volcanic crater provides the exotic setting for the smallest and most remote of the national marine sanctuaries: the tiny, one-quarter-square mile (0.65-square-kilometer) Fagatele Bay sanctuary off Tutuila Island in American Samoa. The bay formed by the collapsed crater shelters the only true tropical coral reef in the sanctuary system. It is overlooked by steep slopes covered with luxuriant Polynesian rain forest.
Some 200 species of coral share the bay with jewel-toned tropical fish, crabs, shrimp, eels, turtles, and dolphins. From June to September southern humpback whales calve, court, and cavort in these and nearby waters.
In recent years the coral reef at the heart of the sanctuary has been damaged by a series of natural disasters. During the late 1970s coral-eating crown-of-thorns sea stars devoured much of the reef. Then, in the early 1990s, two hurricanes pummeled the bay. A few years later the reef suffered from coral bleaching, which causes coral to sicken and die. Fortunately, today the reef is recovering, with new growth everywhere.
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