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Friday, April 18, 2014

Divers eyeing underwater historical trail

Scuba divers and historic preservation officials on Saipan are considering a plan to establish an underwater historical trail in the island’s lagoon, a move that could bolster the local tourism market.

The lagoon on Saipan’s western coast is an underwater graveyard of World War II relics, many from the battle waged for control of the island. Tanks, pontoon barges, the remains of a Japanese anti-submarine boat and even an aircraft lie on the seafloor and in the surrounding waters, according to those involved in the project.

Underwater archaeologists Jason Burns and Michael Krivor earlier this year catalogued a host of this war era wreckage in a survey, employing specialized sonar and magnetic detection equipment. A draft report on those findings will arrive at the Commonwealth’s Historic Preservation Office in the coming weeks, said director Roy Sablan.

Establishing an underwater trail for divers is “the next move” Sablan said, noting the report will help guide that effort. “It will be a good opportunity for tourists,” he said.

The trail could serve as a major draw for diving enthusiasts, who would follow local tour operators from wreck to wreck. But before the project can begin, a further survey might be conducted to learn how many more artifacts there are to discover in Saipan’s lagoon, according to preservation office staff archaeologist Ronnie Rogers.

“When the west coast of the island was bombed, a lot of equipment got pushed into the lagoon and ended up on the bottom,” Rogers said, adding a more thorough survey might occur in the coming months and completion of the trail may take up to a year.

Saipan’s underwater history “is a resource from which we can all benefit,” he added.

The prospect of an underwater trail would “add to the repertoire of what Saipan’s diving sites have to offer,” said Mike Tripp, local dive instructor and underwater video producer. “The ability to have something like this in a total package for divers is really something that would have a lot of benefits for the diving businesses here.”

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