Saipan is the largest island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. The Commonwealth consists of a chain of fifteen tropical islands belonging to the Marianas archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean. Saipan has a total area of 44.55 sq mi (115.4 sq km). According to the 2010 United States Census, Saipan's population was 48,220, a drop of 22.7% from the 2000 US Census; the population decrease is largely attributed to working immigrants and their families either returning to their home countries after the collapse of the garment industry or moving to other locations with economic opportunities such as Guam and the United States.
The Commonwealth's center of government is located in the village of Capital Hill on the island. As the entire island is organized as a single municipality, most publications term "Saipan" as the Commonwealth's capital.Located at latitude of 15.25° north and longitude of 145.75° east, about 120 mi (190 km) north of Guam, Saipan is about 12 mi (19 km) long and 5.6 mi (9.0 km) wide. It is a popular tourist destination in the Pacific.
The western side of the island is lined with sandy beaches and an offshore coral reef which creates a large lagoon. The eastern shore is composed primarily of rugged rocky cliffs and a reef. Its highest point is a limestone covered mountain called Mount Tapochau at 1,560 ft (480 m). Many people mistakenly believe Mount Tapochau to be an extinct volcano, but it is in fact a limestone formation. To the north of Mount Tapochau towards Banzai Cliff is a ridge of hills. Mount Achugao, situated about 2 miles north, has been interpreted to be a remnant of a stratified composite volcanic cone whose Eocene center was not far north of the present peak.
Besides English, the indigenous Chamorro language is spoken by approximately 19 percent of the inhabitants. The island also has many other large, strongly defined lingual and ethnic groups because of the large percentage of contract workers (60% of total population, as of 2001) from China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In addition, a large percentage of the island's population includes first-generation immigrants from Japan, China, and Korea, and immigrants from many of the other Micronesian islands.The current Mayor of Saipan is Republican Donald G. Flores, who was sworn into office on January 11, 2010.
Agriculture, Flora and Fauna
Saipan's flora is predominantly limestone forest. Some developed areas on the island are covered with Leucaena leucocephala, also known as "tangan-tangan" trees that were introduced some time after World War II. Remaining native forest occurs in small isolated fragments on steep slopes at low elevations and highland conservation areas of the island. Coconuts, papayas, and Thai hot peppers – locally called "Donne Sali" or "Boonie Peppers" – are among the fruits that grow wild. Mango, taro root, and bananas are a few of the many foods cultivated by local families and farmers. Sportfishing has decreased in recent years due to overfishing and is generally considered unacceptably by locals. Historically numerous small boats caught tuna, wahoo, billfish and many other species.
Saipan is home to a number of native bird species. Among them: The Mariana fruit dove, White-throated Ground Dove, Bridled White-eye, Golden White-eye, and the endangered Nightingale Reed Warbler. The island used to have a large population of giant African land snails, introduced either deliberately as a food source, or accidentally by shipping. It became an agricultural pest. In the last few decades, its numbers have been substantially controlled by an introduced flatworm, Platydemus manokwari. Unfortunately, possibly due to the flatworm, the native tree-snails also became extinct.
Music on Saipan can generally be broken down into three categories: local, mainland American and Asian. Local consists of Chamorro, Carolinian, Micronesian and Hawaiian Reggae, called Jawaiian music and song, often with traditional dance for many occasions. Mainland American consists of many of the same varieties that can be found on U.S. radio, and Asian consists of Japanese, Korean, Thai and Philippine music among others. There are seven radio stations on Saipan, which play mainly popular and classic English-language songs as well as local and Philippine music.
Travel to and from the island is available from several airlines via Saipan International Airport. A ferry also operates between Saipan and Tinian, its smaller neighboring island 5 miles to the south. Taxis are available. One of the island's two main thoroughfares, Beach Road, is located on the western coast of Saipan. At some parts of the road, the beach is only a few feet away. Flame trees and pine trees line the street.
The street also connects more than six villages that lie on the western coast of the island. Middle Road is the island's largest road and runs through its central section. Like Beach Road, Middle Road connects several villages throughout the island. Several offices, shops, hotels, and residences lie on or nearby these highways. Middle road is labeled "Chalan Pale Arnold" on maps, but very few people call it that. As there are no street numbers in Saipan, directions are usually given using landmarks.