March 13, 2017

Meet Saipan, one of America’s forgotten territories

On February 1st 2017, Heath Kelsey, Caroline Donovan, and I traveled from Guam to our last stop on the Pacific Islands trip, Saipan. Saipan is an island in the Mariana Archipelago, and is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a US territory. Saipan, Rota, and Tinian are the only islands currently inhabited in the Marianas.

Flying from Guam to Saipan, we passed over Rota. Photo credit: Alex Fries

We traveled to Saipan for our last workshop, which was held to develop the Mariana Islands Report Card. Twenty people participated in the workshop, which was held at the Pacific Islands Club. The workshop covered conceptualizing the system, determining values and threats, looking at different regions, specifying thresholds and scoring of indicators, and drafting the layout of the report card. We also talked a lot about the history and culture of Saipan and CNMI and the effects those things have had on coral reefs.

Determining values and threats for CNMI. Photo credit: Alex Fries

CNMI has a long history from the time it was settled, stretching as far back as 4000 BCE. The pacific islanders that settled the Marianas were known as the Chamorros after their first contact with Spaniards in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed on Guam. Other pacific islanders called Carolinians migrated to the island from the Caroline Islands, part of Micronesia and Palau. The Spanish formally occupied the island starting in 1600 until the Spanish-American war. After occupation by the United States during the war, it was sold to Germany in 1899. During WWI the Japanese captured the island, and held it until WWII when the United States took control of the island. Occupation by so many different groups, and being the site of three major wars has taken a toll on Saipan.

Map showing the pacific campaigns during WWII. Photo credit: Alex Fries

After the workshop, the IAN team gave out awards to our NOAA colleagues who were with us in all four workshops. We celebrated a job well done, and more work to do in the coming year to complete these report cards.

The group with NOAA staff holding up their awards. 

The next day, Heath, Caroline, and I explored the island, going to many historical sites as well as two beaches for snorkeling. We saw several WWII memorials and cemeteries, Suicide Cliff, and Banzai Cliff, where thousands of people lost their lives instead of surrendering.

Japanese encampment (left), and one of the many memorials (right). Photo credit: Alex Fries

We stopped by the Grotto, a collapsed limestone cavern where you can sometimes dive and snorkel depending on the weather conditions. Conditions were not ideal, so we traveled to the east and south of the island and snorkeled at Lau Lau Beach and Obyan Beach.


The grotto. Photo credit: Alex Fries

Lau Lau Beach. Photo credit: Alex Fries

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About the author
Alexandra Fries is a Science Communicator at the Integration and Application Network. Alex has a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University.
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