August 28, 2012

The Mariana Islands: An American Territory


The Basics 

The Mariana Islands include about 15 islands in the western part of the Pacific Ocean – in between New Guinea and Japan.

The Mariana Islands consist of two separate areas – the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Territory of Guam.  We learned about a American territory when we took our virtual tour of American Samoa.  But, what is a Commonwealth?  It is an area owned by America (but not included in a state) that has been granted the authority by Congress to govern itself under a constitution.  It has a federally-approved government.  Unlike American Samoa, natives of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam are considered to be American citizens.

Some of the northern islands are very different from the southern islands.  The very northern part of the Mariana Islands are part of an underwater mountain range – they were formed by volcanoes that erupted over thousands of years.  As a result, they are made of mountains and forests.  Some of these islands are so rugged that no one lives on them.   The southern part of the Mariana Islands, however, are coral islands.  They were created from thousands of years of coral deposits.  As a result, they are quite a bit flatter.

Its Claim to Fame

Many people think that Ferdinand Magellan sailed through the Mariana Islands during his quest to sail around the world.  Magellan was an explorer that lived in the 1500s – Spain paid him to search for a western trade route to Asia.  Magellan was the first European to ever sail on the Pacific Ocean (he even named the Pacific Ocean!).  Magellan got to the Pacific by going around the very southern tip of South America – can you guess what it is called?  The “Straits of Magellan.”

Magellan claimed the islands for Spain and named them Las Marianas, in honor of King Philip of Spain’s wife, Mariana of Austria.   America gained control of Guam after winning the Spanish-American War in 1898.  The northern Mariana Islands had a number of different owners before becoming an American Commonwealth.  In fact, they were owned by Japan until America took control after World War II.

The islands are near the Mariana Trench – which is the lowest point on earth.  It is the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean.  The earth’s teutonic plates meet at the very bottom of the Trench.  It is long – about 1,500 miles long!  And, it is deep – over 6 miles deep!


What Makes it Tick

Guam saw a lot of action in World War II.  In fact, Japan attacked Guam the day after it attacked Pearl Harbor.  Even today, the American military has a large presence on Guam.

The Northern Mariana Islands and Guam are very different culturally, largely due to their different ownership over the years.   The Northern Marianas are influenced by the Asian cultures.


If You Visited

The Mariana Islands have perfect sand beaches and crystal clear water – they call themselves “America’s Best Kept Secret.”  If you visited, you would probably make a lot of sand castles, snorkel, or search for shells!  Guam claims to have some of the clearest water in the world – sometimes you can see over 150 feet below the surface!


Want to Know More? 

Check our Mariana Island scrapbook for information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Have you ever visited the Mariana Islands? If so, we want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.  Do you have any photos of the Mariana Islands to share? Email them to: Or, post them to our Facebook page:

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about American Samoa.  Visit these websites to learn more: