Laolao Bay is one of the three priority watersheds identified in the CNMI’s coral reef managment strategy and priority setting documents. Laolao is a sheltered bay on the east side of Saipan and unlike much of the rest of the island is accessible to divers and fishers year-round. In addition to the social and economic importance of the bay, Laolao also has strong cultural importance. Some of the earliest artifacts from human occupation of the Northern Mariana Islands were found here, dating to at least 1050 BC (over 3,000 years ago!). Archeological studies have found several large village sites that have included petroglyphs and rock art, stone and shell artifacts, ceramic shards, and latte stones, which were pillar-like foundations used to build traditional Chamorro houses.
As with the other priority watersheds, a Conservation Action Plan (CAP) has been designed to implement projects to improve, protect, enhance and conserve the many natural, cultural, social and economic resources within the Laolao Bay watershed. The CAP serves to organize cooperative efforts between regional, federal and local partners. In 2012 an Addendum was written and can be found here.
The CAP for Laolao Bay was completed in 2009, listing runoff, large-scale disturbance, lack of herbivory, fire, invasive species and poaching as major threats to the natural resources in Laolao. The CAP was used to leverage funding to design and support different projects, including:
- Improving (regarding, paving, reinforcing) Laolao Bay Drive and Gapgap Road, two majors contributors to sediment runoff in the bay
- Revegetating the upland “badland” areas that have been affected by fire and illegal land clearings and also contribute to soil runoff
- Measuring water quality in Laolao Bay at additional sites
- Implementing a social marketing campaign in the bay to encourage stewardship by the public
- Conducting grassroots education and law enforcement through community groups that frequent Laolao Bay
- Evaluating turtle habitat and increasing education about sea turtles
Many of these projects were initiated or even completed by 2012 when the existing CAP was reviewed and updated as part of the iterative and adaptive CAP process. Efforts are still on-going to increase stormwater control best management practices (BMPs) such as planting native plants, using erosion control techniques and installing permeable parking and rain gardens. Two major social marketing campaigns, OurLaolao and the Laolao Bay Pride Campaign are being conducted to educated visitors about cleaning up their trash and to encourage landowners to protect their soils and the reef. Monitoring of water quality, sea turtles, and marine life is ongoing with the goal of understanding the most important land- and marine-based threats to each of these variables.