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What Should I Know About the Mariana Islands?

The Mariana Islands, which are volcanic islands that were formed by the collsion of tectonic plates, sit opposite the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest point on Earth.
Yams are a main product of the Mariana Islands.
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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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The Mariana Islands, commonly known as the Marianas, are an archipelago of fifteen oceanic volcanoes in the north-western Pacific Ocean. It is widely accepted that Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to discover any of the islands in this group. According to historical record, he spotted two of them on 6 March 1521.

The islands are, in fact, just a small part of a mountain range that is mostly submerged in the ocean. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, these islands were also known as the Ladrones Islands. In Spanish “Islas de los Ladrones” translated to “The Islands of the Thieves.” This name comes from a trade misunderstanding between Spanish sailors and island natives not long after Magellan laid eyes on the land.

The mountain range that is home to the Mariana Islands is quite long. In fact, in its entirety, the range is 1,565 miles (2,519 kilometers) in length. Japan resides at one end of the range with Guam at the other end. The Mariana Islands are a part of this range that is known as Micronesia. Guam is a territory of the United States of America. The Northern Mariana Islands, however, are a Commonwealth of the United States of America.

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The Mariana Islands consist of two distinct groups, southern and northern. The southern group are five islands which are all made of coralline limestone. They are named Rota, Guam, Tinian, Aguijan, and Saipan. All of these southern islands are inhabited except for Aguijan. The northern part of the Mariana Islands are made up of ten volcanic landmasses. Only four of these northern islands are inhabited. These inhabited northern Mariana islands are named Pagan, Anatahan, Alamagan, and Agrihan. In this northern volcanic group, the earth is still quite active. Earthquakes are common in this region.

The soil on the Mariana Islands is rich, and almost all of them have a plentiful water supply. Chief products of the islands include coconuts, sweet potatoes, yams, coffee, sugar, cocoa, tobacco, and mother-of-pearl. Copra, the dried meat of a coconut, is the principal export.

The Mariana Islands were claimed by Spain in 1667. Because the Chamorros, natives to the islands, were not resistant to viruses brought by early Spanish settlers, almost the entire population was wiped out. The Marianas were a Spanish colony until 1898 when, Spain ceded Guam to the US as a result of the Spanish American War. Spain sold the remaining islands to Germany in 1899. In the early 1900's Japan began to occupy these islands. World War II brought fighting to the islands when the US tried to capture them.

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