CNMI Historic Preservation Office staff archaeologist James Pruitt shared with the members of the Rotary Club of Saipan his interests in reviving certain dive spots on the island for a sustainable eco-tourism spot that could possibly attract tourists.
During the club’s weekly meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, Pruitt said the site, officially named “Battle of Saipan WWII Maritime Heritage Trail,” is an underwater counterpart to a walking and hiking trail with scenic historical sites.
“Some places have interpretive walking and hiking trails where you walk along something and there are signs that describe the sites you see and what happened there. It was modeled after that, but underwater.”
Such ambitions came with certain challenges but were quickly worked around on. “Underwater, they couldn’t put the signs down, they were into logistical and expense problems with that, so they decided to make the signs on dive slates you can carry with you,” said Pruitt.
The memorial diving trail has actually existed since 2009, however it has been long since forgotten.
“It is the WWII Maritime Heritage Trail, created in 2009 under an American Battlefield Protection Program grant, from the National Park Service, and this trail was created, interpretive dive sites and posters were made, a management plan was made, but it has been lying dormant since. The group that did it is coming back next year to reassess the sites and to possibly add more sites, and now I am trying to talk about it now, to bring back public awareness,” shared Pruitt.
Pruitt also shared in an interview that one of the main reasons for the revival of the project is to take advantage of the booming tourism industry in the CNMI.
“The main goal of the project— it was an American Battlefield Protection Program grant, so they had to look at the battlefield itself, for the battle of Saipan, and these sites as a component of that battle. Realistically, it is more of a push to try and develop something that can be used for sustainable eco-tourism, that if these sites that are underwater are documented and made more available to the public, that would be more of a draw for tourism to come dive at these sites,” said Pruitt. “I am also trying to go into this other area of public outreach and bringing the heritage of everything that happened here to the public as tourism is increasing. Tourism is increasing with all these new resorts and hotels and maybe they’re coming here for a different reason, but if we can get one person’s attention and teach them something about this island that we live on, then that’s one more person that knows about our little paradise at sea,” Pruitt added.
He was also quick to mention that one of the goals of the project is to be able to provide more to the tourists besides the usual attractions.
“Obviously we are only talking about World War II, we are not talking about anything before that, but this model could be used for other sites as well, such as making more trails of eco-tourism for ancient Chamorro sites, or sites that are important to the Carolinian migration, things like that, to try and bring cultural heritage to the forefront of tourism as an alternative to coming here for shopping, enjoyment, and gambling, not that I am against things like that,” added Pruitt.
The dive sites are located all throughout the Tanapag Lagoon, with 12 total dive sites, nine of which are between Managaha and Saipan, while the other three are the partially submerged tanks that could be seen down at Susupe.