Public Access Enhancement

The CNMI Constitution protects public access to the sea and tidal areas as a matter of cultural heritage. Likewise, DCRM is committed to maintaining and enhancing public access to these coastal areas in the face of increased use, commercial and industrial development, sea level rise, natural disasters, and other stressors.

The Shoreline Access Guide (2015) provides information about the recreational opportunities and amenities found at access points across Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Lao Lao Bay Diver’s Path

Project Description: Lao Lao Bay has long been one of the more popular dive sites on the island of Saipan for residents and tourists alike. Before tourism was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of visitors would go to the site each day. It is likely that the number of visitors will increase when tourism resumes based on historical tourism trends in the CNMI. The 2015 DCRM Public Access Guide for Saipan, Tinian, and Rota identified several channels that divers utilize to enter the deeper expanses of the bay. To the inexperienced diver or tourist unfamiliar with the area, these channels may be difficult to identify and footing can be hazardous due to incoming waves. Without visual aids, divers follow local tour operators who are knowledgeable about these paths and utilize ropes that have been installed at drop-off points to enter the deeper areas.

To address this issue, in July 2022, DCRM contracted the professional services of Tasi Research & Consulting (TRC) to carry out the installation of the dive markers and information signage. The dive markers provide experienced and inexperienced divers alike, with the visual aids needed to guide them to the dive spots. Moreover, the purpose of this project is to alleviate stress on the adjacent coral reef environments and narrow the footprint of divers, residents, and visitors. For the terrestrial component, TRC had received input from various divers on Saipan about the initial concept for the associated signage for the dive markers. TRC had worked with DCRM Outreach Coordinators on the design and development of the signage, which will be installed onto a preexisting frame at the Lao Lao Bay dive site.

This project works towards DCRM’s Strategic Plan Goal 1: “Public access and use of coastal resources are enhanced, protected, and restored.”

Jeffrey’s Beach Boardwalk Project

The Jeffrey’s Beach Boardwalk project proposal for CZM IIJA funding is needed to protect the coastal resources and habitat in the area while encouraging passive public access and responsible tourism. This passive public access enhancement was a recommendation highlighted by the Saipan Shoreline Access & Shoreline Enhancement Assessment (SASEA) which that assessed Saipan’s eighteen (18) beaches to determine each one’s vulnerability to coastal erosion and identify site-specific shoreline enhancement opportunities.  Based on the study, the DCRM team had identified Jeffrey’s Beach as a beach that needs public access enhancement due to the heavily degraded road and being a safety hazard for residents and visitors.

To address this need, DCRM’s intent is to have passive public access to prohibit vehicular access and the further degradation of the natural environment. Due to the frequent vehicular access, erosion is a major threat to the water quality of the nearby stream/estuary. The main goal of the boardwalk is to be a low-impact, passive public access to the main beach area and help protect natural wildlife habitat, connecting ecosystems such as an intermittent stream/estuary also classified as a wetland, and beach/shoreline. It will also encourage visitors to appreciate the natural and cultural importance of the area through ADA-compliant access. The boardwalk would begin near the current Jeffrey’s Beach trailhead adjacent to Route 36, and stretch approximately 400 meters (1,312 feet) mainly following the existing unimproved road/pathway, ending at Jeffrey’s Beach; the width of the boardwalk would be 1.5 meters (5 feet). Supporting amenities would include a parking area of 186 square meters (2,000 square feet), point-of-interest signs along the boardwalk, as well as a viewing platform at the termination of the boardwalk. The total area of the project footprint would be about 786 square meters (0.2 acres); this includes 600 square meters (0.14 acres) for the boardwalk and 186 square meters (0.045 acres) for the parking area.

Other than the ecosystem benefits, various social benefits can result from this passive public access project. Some of the social benefits are that it will stimulate economic gain through tourism in tandem with Route 36 road improvements, create opportunities for local businesses in the area, and encourages new avenues for ecotourism for local community members in areas such as birdwatching, hiking, while maintaining harmony with cultural values as people can still access and utilize the area for hunting, gathering, and fishing. The boardwalk would encourage visitors to appreciate the beauty and ecological importance of the CNMI’s forests while allowing vegetation to recover and stabilize the unpaved road, reducing local sediment runoff. DCRM is currently working on grant funding opportunities to fund the construction phase of this project.