Reef Resilience in Laolao Bay, Saipan
Evaluating Reef Health and Water Quality
Due to an extremely favorable natural environmental setting, Laolao Bay is one of Saipan’s most desirable coastal areas, with some of the coral reefs valued at over 10 million dollars per square kilometer based upon a recent economic study. However, throughout the past decade, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) long-term marine monitoring program has documented declining, compromised, coral reef condition throughout Laolao Bay. Armed with management plans and strategies, the CNMI Division of Environmental Quality applied for and received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to conduct the Laolao Bay “Road and Coastal Management Improvement” project. Briefly, the project includes road construction and drainage improvement in the western portion of the bay that will decrease land-based pollution being washed into the bay during storm events. The project also includes multi-year, re-vegetation efforts that aim to replant barren savannah uplands with native trees and shrubs. In association with these activities, ecological and water quality monitoring are being conducted by PMRI, Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Coastal Resources Management Office (CRM) to evaluate the current ecological and environmental conditions, and their expected improvement due to project activities.
Interestingly, extensive baseline ecological surveys were conducted in 1991 in conjunction with the development of the Laolao Bay golf course. The unique availability of baseline data from 1991 provided a characterization of the nature and magnitude of trends, not previously available. The collective results highlight negative changes to Laolao’s coral reef assemblages and fisheries have become evident over the past 20 years, and compromised ecological states currently exist. It is apparent that both land-based pollution and unsustainable fishing are drivers of these trends, however the degree to which both have impaired the resources will become more evident as improved water quality datasets continue to become available through the second part of this project. While reductions in persistent red algal biomass are expected given the completion of the road improvement and land restoration activities, the ecological response may require several years before becoming evident, or may proceed slower than expected without a concomitant increase in herbivorous fish biomass. Download the complete 2011 report (link on the sidebar, above left) to learn more.
Cheenis Pacific 1991 EA 9 (pdfs):