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Northern Mariana Islands - Enviornment

Northern Mariana Islands Environment

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is made up of 14 of the 15 Mariana Islands (the 15th is Guam, a separate US territory and the southernmost of the chain), stretching nearly 400 miles (645km) north to south. Saipan, the main island, is 1650 miles (2660km) west of Manila; 1700 miles (2730km) north of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and 3720 miles (5980km) west of Honolulu, Hawaii. Guam is about 50 miles (80km) southwest of Rota, the southernmost of the Northern Marianas. The Mariana Islands mark the dividing line between the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea. Just to the east of the chain, the Mariana Trench dives 38,635ft (11,775m), forming the world's greatest known ocean depth.

Saipan, the largest island, is a mere 47 sq mi (120 sq km); the smallest is Farallon de Medinilla, at less than half a square mile. (North Maug Island is smaller still, though it's usually counted together with its two neighbors as one island; all three are the tips of a partially submerged volcano.) Most of the islands are actually the tips of volcanoes, some of which are still active. Pagan, about 350 miles (565km) north of Saipan, erupted in 1984 and 1988. There are also occasional earthquakes, like the one that rocked Anatahan in 1990, measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale. Pagan's neighbor to the north, Agrihan, has the highest point in Micronesia, at 3165ft (965m). Most of the islands north of Saipan are part of the Northern Islands Sanctuary, uninhabited save for game wardens and the flora and fauna they preserve.

The coconut palm tree is the most important plant in the islands. Copra, the dried meat of the nut from which coconut oil is made, is the commonwealth's most important export and a major source of revenue for many residents. The nut also provides food and drinking liquid, while the flowers provide sap for making a wine called tuba. Rope is made from the green coconut husks, and fuel and charcoal are made from mature husks. The wood is used for lumber and carving, the fronds for thatch and baskets. The islands' other main tree is the flame tree, which has scarlet blossoms. You'll also see coleus, caladium and philodendron.

The only land mammals native to the islands are bats, though they've all but disappeared due to their popularity in Chamorro cuisine. Animals that have been introduced include dogs, cats, mice, rats, pigs, cattle, horses and goats. There are also Sambar deer on Rota and Saipan. Several lizards are native to the Marianas, such as skinks and geckoes, which stroll on walls and ceilings with suction-cup feet. Among the bird species found in the Marianas are the rufous fantail, the beautifully plumed golden honeyeater, the fairy tern and the Vanikoro swiftlet (an endangered bird). Out in the water is a wide range of hard and soft corals, anemones, sponges and many varieties of shellfish, including the giant tridacna clam. Sea cucumbers, which when dried and smoked are considered an aphrodisiac in China and South-East Asia, commonly dot the shallow waters near shore. Porpoises, sperm whales and beaked whales can also be found in the local waters.

Saipan, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world's most equable temperature, averages 81°F (27°C) all year. The rainy season is from July to October. The Marianas are directly in the path of typhoons, which tend to sweep through from August to December. Such storms have become more frequent and destructive lately, so travellers should be aware of weather conditions in the islands if they plan to visit during these months.

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