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The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of the United States. Situated in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, the Northern Mariana Islands consists of fifteen islands, which includes all of the islands in the Mariana Archipelago with the exception of Guam, which is a separate US territory.

With its tropical climate, magnificent white sand beaches, and clear blue waters, tourism drives the economy of the Mariana Islands today. Aside from its beaches, colorful underwater reefs provide interesting dive sites. Visitors can hike into its mountains, where they may find World War II tanks and other artifacts, caves, and several species of birds.

There are potential problems, however. Climate change is a concern, particularly as rising oceans could impact its marine and coastal environment. Landfills developed to support an increasing population have resulted in groundwater contamination in Saipan. The Northern Mariana Islands are located in Typhoon Alley, just north of Guam, so the islands are always at risk from powerful storms that not only cause property damage and a threat to life, but also beach erosion and damage to crops.

Located in western Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands stretch out for five hundred miles, from Farallon de Pajaros in the north to Rota in the south. The Marianas are high islands, most made of limestone in the south, and volcanic in the north. Its land area is concentrated in the southern islands of Rota, Tinian, and Saipan. Agrigan, Pagan, and Anatahan are the only other islands larger than ten square miles. Located on Saipan, Garapan is the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Rota consists of a volcanic base capped with coral limestone, resulting in a terraced appearance. Aguijan, Farallon de Medinilla, Saipan, and Tinian are made of limestone and have rolling hills and a few mountains. The islands to the north are volcanic peaks. One of two volcanos on Pagan Island, Mount Pagan has erupted several times in recorded history. Asuncion and Farallon de Pajaros are active volcanoes too. The Agrihan volcano rises to 3,166 feet. Tropical forests in higher elevations are characteristic of the limestone islands, and coconut palms grow along the coast; except Farallon de Medinilla, which is barren.

Unlike most Pacific Island groups, the Northern Mariana Islands does not have a significant native population. Known as Chamorros, the indigenous population makes up less than 30% of the population. Other ethnic groups include Bangladeshi, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and other Asian people, as well as Carolinian, Palauan, and other Pacific Islanders, and people of mixed ethnicity, with only a small population of people of European or American descent. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, accounting for nearly 65% of the population, followed by Protestants with 16%. Others include Buddhists, various folk religions, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian religions.

Having lost most of their original culture, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands have a culture that is Spanish Roman Catholic, but influenced by American culture.

Ferdinand Magellan claims the island group for Spain in 1521, naming them Las Islas de las Velas Latinas, which translates to "islands of the lateen sails," for the triangular shape of the sails used on Chamorro canoes. Later, the name was changed to Las Marianas to honor Mariana of Austria, the widow of Philip IV of Spain. Perhaps because Spain was more concerned with conquests in the Americas and the Philippines, no Spanish colonies were established until 1668, when a Jesuit priest by the name of Diego Luis de Sanvitores came, bringing priests, laymen, women, and some Filipino soldiers.

As islanders resisted conversion to a religion so foreign to their traditional beliefs, there were a series of revolts. In response, the Spanish moved the native islanders into enclaves. Many islanders were killed, and others died from disease. Spain sent reinforcements in 1680, subduing the islanders after a series of revolts, murders of missionaries, and church burnings that became known as the Chamorro Wars. The entire native population was deported to Guam until they agreed to take an oath of allegiance to Spain, accept Spanish customs, and wear Western clothes.

By the late 1800s, Spain's empire was weakening and, facing war with the United States, Spain withdrew from the Pacific, selling its possessions to Germany. As the US had occupied Guam, this marked the permanent division of Guam from the Northern Marianas. German control ended with the outbreak of World War I when the Japanese took possession of the islands. With the start of World War II, the Japanese took Guam from the United States and established bases on many of the islands, which lasted until 1943, when the islands were taken by US military forces.



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