Rose Atoll is the easternmost Samoan island located approximately 130 nautical miles (180 miles) east-southeast of Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa, and the only atoll in the Samoan Archipelago. It is the southernmost area of land and sea under the control of the United States and shares the distinction with Jarvis Island of being the only National Wildlife Refuges located south of the equator. The atoll also has 2 Samoan names as well, Motu o Manu or “Islands of Seabirds” and Nu’u o Manu or “Village of Seabirds”. The people of Ta’u Island also have their own name for the small atoll, referring to it as either Muliava, “The End of the Reef” or Muli A’au, “The Last Reef”. French explorer Louis de Freycinet gave Rose Atoll its permanent name after his wife, Rose de Freycinet in 1819.
Rose Atoll is a nearly square coral and coralline algal reef with 2 tiny islands, Rose and Sand Islands. Each is located on a coralline algal reef rim enclosing a lagoon, forming one of the smallest atolls in the world. Rose Island is 17 acres, vegetated and fairly stable with a maximum elevation of 10 feet. Sand Island, however, is shorter and changes in size and shape in response to any substantial storm, with an average of 7 acres. A single, natural pass links the lagoon to the sea. The lagoon is a maximum of 1.2 miles wide and up to about 98 feet deep. Rose Atoll is part of the Territory of American Samoa and was established as a National Wildlife Refuge by cooperative agreement between the Government of American Samoa and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (a predecessor of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) on August 24, 1973.
In October 1993 the F/V Jin Shaing Fa ran aground, which resulted in 100,000 gallons of oil spilling onto the reef which killed many invertebrates and much of the crustose coralline algae (CCA). With the influx of iron from the shipwreck acting as a fertilizer as well as the habitat being physically and chemically damaged by the ship, fuel and oil, invasive turf algae and cyanobacteria were able to take over the reef near the wreck site. The US Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the American Samoan government put together a Restoration Plan in 2001 to have the wreck removed. By 2003, the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) agreed to fund the restoration and monitoring. The removal of the wreck debris took place from 1999 to 2007 with a final removal in 2010. After the removal from the wreck, scientists continued to monitor the reef and observed significant improvements in the health of the reef over time. The FWS will continue to monitor the reef until 2017, a full 10 years after the complete removal of all the metallic debris.
On January 6, 2009, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument was established, including Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within its boundaries. For more information, please visit the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument webpage.