Northern Mariana Islands

Environment:

The Northern Mariana Islands are in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. The southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs, and the northern islands are volcanic. The highest point is on the uninhabited island of Agrihan at 965 meters (3,166 feet), a stratovolcano. The main inhabited islands are Saipan, Rota, and Tinian.

Environmental issues include the contamination of groundwater contributing to disease on Saipan, cleaning-up the landfill, and the protection of endangered species conflicting with development. One Superfund site has been cleaned up in Garapan on Saipan. The Division of Environmental Quality is charged with environmental protection. The Division of Fish and Wildlife is concerned with invasive species, hunting and fishing. The Department of Lands and Natural Resources manages forestry. Coastal Resources Management is concerned with coral reef monitoring (see also CRM Saipan). CoCo, the CNMI Organization for Conservation Outreach, is their collaborative environmental education initiative. The semi-official CNMI Coral Reef Initiative also maintains an e-learning website.

The Coastal Resources Management office regulates commercial marine recreation through its permitting process, and has designated jet ski exclusion zones near hotels, shallow reefs and seagrass habitat. The discovery of seagrass bed propeller scars associated with marine sports concessions prompted an investigation into the ecological impact of these activities in Saipan Lagoon. Hotel operators have also been seeking permission to remove seagrass beds from designated swim zones.

Natural protected areas include the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, a United States National Monument. Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Other protected areas include Asuncion Island Preserve, Guguan Island Preserve, Maug Islands Preserve, and Sarigan Nature Reserve. The local NGO, Mariana Islands Nature Alliance is concerned with protection of the Managaha Marine Conservation Area, among other activities.

Ihaggan, which means seaturtle in the local Chamorro language, is a jointly run project on the endangered seaturtles of the Marianas. TAGS, the Turtle Advocate and Guardian Society, is a local organization on Saipan for the protection of seaturtles and their nesting sites. The Pacific Marine Resources Institute is a Saipan based NGO working on sustainability throughout the Pacific region.

Hikes On Tinian is an extensive blog about hiking Tinian island. Dive Rota is a diving operator on the island of Rota. Submarine Sirena operates subsea tours out of Saipan.

Culture:

Chamorro people are indigenous to the Mariana Islands, and belong to the Austronesian language family. It is thought that the islands may have been inhabited as long as 2,000 years before Christ. In the 16th century, Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to land in the Marianas, which Spain formally claimed in the 17th century. The islands were named in honor of the Spanish Queen, Mariana of Austria. At the end of the 19th century, following the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the rest of the Marina Islands to Germany. At the outset of WWI, Japan took control of the Marianas, and retained control as trust territories until WWII. In 1944, the United States took the Northern Mariana Islands in the Marianas Campaign, including the Battle of Saipan and Battle of Tinian. In 1945, both the Enola Gay and the Bockscar, which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, flew out of “North Field” on Tinian Island.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) officially became a territory of the United States in 1975. CNMI came under U.S. federal minimum wage regulations in 2007, and immigration law in 2008. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took over immigration and border controls. By 2015, the federal immigration transitional period is slated to end, from previous special status for foreign workers to normalization with the U.S. mainland. In 2012, more births were recorded in CNMI from “birth tourism” than births from the local population. In 2013, Benigno Fitial became the first governor of any U.S. territory to be impeached. Subsequently, it was discovered that Fitial had signed an agreement for “green” nuclear energy, the construction of a fast breeder reactor in CNMI, solely at the expense of Global Energy Corporation. Today, crime against tourists does happen primarily on Saipan, as can be seen from NMI Crime Stoppers “Crime of the Week”.

The Division of Historic Preservation is in charge of identifying and protecting archaeological, historic, and cultural resources in CNMI. American Memorial Park, commemorating the Marianas Campaign, is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. In Saipan Lagoon, the Battle of Saipan – Maritime Heritage Trail is a historical marine protected area and underwater heritage trail for wreck diving. The Northern Mariana Islands Council for the Humanities supports an interesting variety of cultural projects. The official Marianas Visitors Authority presents a good source of information all about CNMI. In 2012, it was announced that Chinese investors were considering building something like a Titanic theme park on Tinian island.

References:

  • Northern Mariana Islands Tourism Master Plan 2012-2016 by AL Smith et al, 2012
  • The Economic Impact of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument by T Iverson, 2010
  • The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands by J Starmer et al, 2008
  • The Rocks That Roared: Tourism With a History Lesson on Saipan and Tinian by L Byrd, 2002
  • Absorptive capacity and diversification of a small tourist economy: the Northern Mariana Islands by H Kakazu, 1994