In October 1993 the Jin Shiang Fa, a Taiwanese fishing vessel, ran hard aground on the western reef of Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The vessel broke up before a salvage tug could reach the atoll, resulting in the release of over 100,000 gallons of diesel and lube oil across the reef. The spill killed a large area of the primary reef building organisms, crustose coralline algae, near the wreck site. Invasive species of cyanobacteria and articulated coralline algae immediately began colonizing those areas of the reef injured by the spill. Data collected in the years following the spill indicates that iron released into the water from corroding metal wreckage is stimulating the growth of the invasive 'weedy' species, thereby preventing resources injured by oil from returning to baseline conditions. These 'weedy' species have spread to areas of the atoll that initially were unaffected by the incident, overgrowing and killing the crustose coralline algae below. Other documented spill-related injuries included the death of numerous giant clams, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. Studies also showed that the composition of the local fish community was altered by the incident.
Since the oil spill, conditions on the reef have continued to deteriorate and there is an increasing likelihood that the very structure of the atoll will become seriously weakened in those areas where the invasive species have replaced the reef building crustose coralline algae. The Natural Resource Trustees (Department of the Interior represented by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Government of American Samoa) have serious concerns that if the reef is weakened further by the lack of a healthy reef building community, it may be breached, resulting in a significant change in water circulation patterns across the atoll, and the eventual destruction of Rose and Sand Islands. If these islands are destroyed, it would mean the loss of the most important resting and nesting habitat for federally protected seabirds and the federally listed green sea turtle in the American Samoa archipelago.
The goal of the Natural Resource Trustee's (Trustees) Restoration Plan is to stop the ongoing, spill-related injuries to the atoll, thereby permitting the natural resources of the atoll to return to their baseline condition. The large area of crustose coralline algae initially killed by the oil spill has failed to return to baseline levels due to the spread of invasive 'weedy' species. Various marine invertebrates injured by the oil also have failed to return to baseline levels in the six years following the spill. Furthermore, the area of crustose coralline algae injured has expanded due the spread of the invasive species. Emergency restoration actions taken in July-August 1999 and April 2000 indicate that removal of metallic debris will arrest the spread and dominance of the invasive 'weedy' species. The Trustees have concluded that the only way to halt the ongoing injury, caused by the Jin Shiang Fa oil spill, is to remove the remaining vessel debris. The removal of vessel debris also is considered a prerequisite to implementing any other restoration alternative.
The Restoration Plan for Rose Atoll NWR consists of removing the remaining vessel debris and monitoring the recovery of the injured reef community. Because of differences in removal techniques, the salvage effort will be divided into three separate operations. The vast majority of the metal debris on the reef flat has recently been removed by hand and the remaining removal will not require the use of underwater salvage equipment. Larger debris on the reef slope must be cut into smaller pieces by salvage divers and transported to the surface before being loaded onto a vessel for transport to an approved offshore dumpsite. The removal of the remaining lagoon debris also will require salvage divers, who will transport the debris to a smaller salvage vessel stationed within the lagoon and then to the offshore dumpsite. Monitoring will begin after salvage efforts are complete, and will be conducted biennially for the following ten years. The Natural Resource Trustees have estimated the total cost of this operation to be $1,308,313.
Public comments were sought on the Draft Restoration Plan for Rose Atoll NWR. No public comments were received by the Trustees. The Trustees subsequently adopted the proposed restoration project and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact.