Photos of Northern Mariana Islands

A view of the coastline in the Suicide Cliff area at the northern part of Saipan.

Introduction

Background

The Northern Mariana Islands were settled by Austronesian people around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including of Micronesians in the first century A.D., and island Southeast Asians around 900. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN sailed through the Mariana Islands in 1521 and Spain claimed them in 1565. Spain formally colonized the Mariana Islands in 1668 and administered the archipelago from Guam. Spain’s brutal repression of Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population by about 90% in the 1700s. With a similar dynamic occurring on Guam, Spain forced Chamorro from the Northern Mariana Islands to resettle on Guam and prevented them from returning to their home islands. By the time the Northern Mariana Islands’ Chamorro returned, many other Micronesians, including Chuukese and Yapese, had already settled on their islands.

In 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the US following the Spanish-American War but sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany under the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. Germany administered the territory from German New Guinea but took a hands-off approach to day-to-day life. Following World War I, Japan administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate. Japan focused on sugar production and brought in thousands of Japanese laborers, who quickly outnumbered the Chamorro on the islands. During World War II, Japan invaded Guam from the Northern Mariana Islands and used Marianan Chamorro as translators with Guamanian Chamorro, creating friction between the two Chamorro communities that continues to this day. The US captured the Northern Mariana Islands in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan and administered them post-World War II as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).

On four occasions in the 1950s and 1960s, voters opted for integration with Guam, although Guam rejected it in 1969. In 1978, the Northern Mariana Islands was granted self-government separate from the rest of the TTPI and in 1986, islanders were granted US citizenship and the territory came under US sovereignty as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In 2009, the CNMI became the final US territory to elect a nonvoting delegate to the US Congress.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Oceania, islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines

Geographic coordinates

15 12 N, 145 45 E

Area

total: 464 sq km

land: 464 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: consists of 14 islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian

country comparison to the world: 196

Area - comparative

2.5 times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

1,482 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October

Terrain

the southern islands in this north-south trending archipelago are limestone, with fringing coral reefs; the northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on several islands

Elevation

highest point: unnamed elevation on Agrihan 965 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

arable land, fish

Land use

agricultural land: 6.6% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 2.2% (2018 est.)

forest: 65.5% (2018 est.)

other: 27.9% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

1 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

approximately 90% of the population lives on the island of Saipan

Natural hazards

active volcanoes on Pagan and Agrihan; typhoons (especially August to November)

Geography - note

strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean

People and Society

Nationality

noun: NA (US citizens)

adjective: NA

Ethnic groups

Asian 50% (includes Filipino 35.3%, Chinese 6.8%, Korean 4.2%, and other Asian 3.7%), Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 34.9% (includes Chamorro 23.9%, Carolinian 4.6%, and other Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 6.4%), other 2.5%, two or more ethnicities or races 12.7% (2010 est.)

Languages

Philippine languages 32.8%, Chamorro (official) 24.1%, English (official) 17%, other Pacific island languages 10.1% (includes Carolinian (official), Chinese 6.8%, other Asian languages 7.3%, other 1.9% (2010 est.)

Religions

Christian (Roman Catholic majority, although traditional beliefs and taboos may still be found)

Age structure

0-14 years: 25.02% (male 6,937/female 5,934)

15-24 years: 16.28% (male 4,518/female 3,857)

25-54 years: 37.44% (male 9,934/female 9,325)

55-64 years: 14.01% (male 3,921/female 3,286)

65 years and over: 7.23% (male 1,988/female 1,733) (2020 est.)

This is the population pyramid for Northern Mariana Islands. A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends. <br/><br/>For additional information, please see the entry for Population pyramid on the Definitions and Notes page.

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Median age

total: 32.8 years

male: 31.8 years

female: 34.1 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 105

Birth rate

15.31 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 114

Death rate

5.28 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 188

Net migration rate

-13.67 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 227

Population distribution

approximately 90% of the population lives on the island of Saipan

Urbanization

urban population: 91.9% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.36% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

51,000 SAIPAN (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.16 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.17 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.17 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.07 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 1.19 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 1.15 male(s)/female

total population: 1.13 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 12.79 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 15.52 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 9.61 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 113

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 76.33 years

male: 74.22 years

female: 78.79 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 106

Drinking water source

improved: total: 100% of population

unimproved: total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Sanitation facility access

improved: total: 97.7% of population

unimproved: total: 2.2% of population (2017 est.)

Environment

Environment - current issues

contamination of groundwater on Saipan may contribute to disease; clean-up of landfill; protection of endangered species conflicts with development

Climate

tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October

Land use

agricultural land: 6.6% (2018 est.)

arable land: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 2.2% (2018 est.)

forest: 65.5% (2018 est.)

other: 27.9% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 91.9% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.36% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 32,761 tons (2013 est.)

municipal solid waste recycled annually: 11,794 tons (2016 est.)

percent of municipal solid waste recycled: 36% (2016 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

conventional short form: Northern Mariana Islands

former: Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Mariana Islands District

abbreviation: CNMI

etymology: formally claimed and named by Spain in 1667 in honor of the Spanish Queen, MARIANA of Austria

Government type

republican form of government with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches; a commonwealth in political union with and under the sovereignty of the US

Dependency status

commonwealth in political union with and under the sovereignty of the US; federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs

Capital

name: Saipan

geographic coordinates: 15 12 N, 145 45 E

time difference: UTC+10 (15 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the entire island of Saipan is organized as a single municipality and serves as the capital; according to legend, when the first native voyagers arrived in their outrigger canoes they found an uninhabited island; to them it was like an empty voyage, so they named the island "saay" meaning "a voyage," and "peel" meaning "empty"; over time Saaypeel - "island of the empty voyage" - became Saipan

Administrative divisions

none (commonwealth in political union with the US); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are 4 municipalities at the second order: Northern Islands, Rota, Saipan, Tinian

Independence

none (commonwealth in political union with the US)

National holiday

Commonwealth Day, 8 January (1978)

Constitution

history: partially effective 9 January 1978 (Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands); fully effective 4 November 1986 (Covenant Agreement)

amendments: proposed by constitutional convention, by public petition, or by the Legislature; ratification of proposed amendments requires approval by voters at the next general election or special election; amendments proposed by constitutional convention or by petition become effective if approved by a majority of voters and at least two-thirds majority of voters in each of two senatorial districts; amendments proposed by the Legislature are effective if approved by majority vote; amended several times, last in 2012

Legal system

the laws of the US apply, except for customs and some aspects of taxation

Citizenship

see United States

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal; note - indigenous inhabitants are US citizens but do not vote in US presidential elections

Executive branch

chief of state: President Joseph R. BIDEN Jr. (since 20 January 2021); Vice President Kamala D. HARRIS (since 20 January 2021)

head of government: Governor Ralph TORRES (since 29 December 2015); Lieutenant Governor Victor HOCOG (since 29 December 2015)

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate

elections/appointments: president and vice president indirectly elected on the same ballot by an Electoral College of 'electors' chosen from each state; president and vice president serve a 4-year term (eligible for a second term); under the US Constitution, residents of the Northern Mariana Islands do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; however, they may vote in Democratic and Republican party presidential primary elections; governor directly elected by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed; election last held on 13 November 2018 (next to be held in 2022)

election results: Ralph TORRES elected governor; percent of vote - Ralph TORRES (Republican) 62.2%, Juan BABAUTA (Independent) 37.8%;  Arnold PALACIOS elected Lieutenant Governor

Legislative branch

description: bicameral Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature consists of:
Senate (9 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms)
House of Representatives (20 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 2-year terms)

the Northern Mariana Islands directly elects 1 delegate to the US House of Representatives by simple majority vote to serve a 2-year term

elections:
CNMI Senate - last held on 3 November 2020 (next to be held in November 2024)
CNMI House of Representatives - last held on 3 November 2020 (next to be held in November 2022)
Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands delegate to the US House of Representatives  - last held on 3 November 2020 (next to be held in November 2022)

election results:
CNMI Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Republican Party 6, independent 3; composition - men 8, women 1, percent of women 11.1%
CNMI House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Republican Party 9, Democrat Party 8, independent 3

delegate to US House of Representatives - seat won by independent; composition - 1 man

note: the Northern Mariana Islands delegate to the US House of Representatives can vote when serving on a committee and when the House meets as the "Committee of the Whole House" but not when legislation is submitted for a “full floor” House vote

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) (consists of the chief justice and 2 associate justices); US Federal District Court (consists of 1 judge); note - US Federal District Court jurisdiction limited to US federal laws; appeals beyond the CNMI Supreme Court are referred to the US Supreme Court

judge selection and term of office: CNMI Supreme Court judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the CNMI Senate; judges appointed for 8-year terms and another term if directly elected in a popular election; US Federal District Court judges appointed by the US president and confirmed by the US Senate; judges appointed for renewable 10-year terms

subordinate courts: Superior Court

Political parties and leaders

Democratic Party [Daniel QUITUGUA]
Republican Party [James ADA]

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (commonwealth in political union with the US)       

Flag description

blue with a white, five-pointed star superimposed on a gray latte stone (the traditional foundation stone used in building) in the center, surrounded by a wreath; blue symbolizes the Pacific Ocean, the star represents the Commonwealth; the latte stone and the floral head wreath display elements of the native Chamorro culture

National symbol(s)

latte stone; national colors: blue, white

National anthem

name: "Gi Talo Gi Halom Tasi" (In the Middle of the Sea)

lyrics/music: Jose S. PANGELINAN [Chamoru], David PETER [Carolinian]/Wilhelm GANZHORN

note: adopted 1996; the Carolinian version of the song is known as "Satil Matawal Pacifico;" as a commonwealth of the US, in addition to the local anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is official (see United States)

Economy

Economic overview

The economy of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands(CNMI) has been on the rebound in the last few years, mainly on the strength of its tourism industry. In 2016, the CNMI’s real GDP increased 28.6% over the previous year, following two years of relatively rapid growth in 2014 and 2015. Chinese and Korean tourists have supplanted Japanese tourists in the last few years. The Commonwealth is making a concerted effort to broaden its tourism by extending casino gambling from the small Islands of Tinian and Rota to the main Island of Saipan, its political and commercial center. Investment is concentrated on hotels and casinos in Saipan, the CNMI’s largest island and home to about 90% of its population.

Federal grants have also contributed to economic growth and stability. In 2016, federal grants amounted to $101.4 billion which made up 26% of the CNMI government’s total revenues. A small agriculture sector consists of cattle ranches and small farms producing coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons.

Legislation is pending in the US Congress to extend the transition period to allow foreign workers to work in the CNMI on temporary visas.

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$1.242 billion (2016 est.)

$933 million (2015 est.)

$845 million (2014 est.)

note: GDP estimate includes US subsidy; data are in 2013 dollars

country comparison to the world: 205

Real GDP growth rate

28.6% (2016 est.)

3.8% (2015 est.)

3.5% (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 2

Real GDP per capita

$24,500 (2016 est.)

$18,400 (2015 est.)

$16,600 (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 78

GDP (official exchange rate)

$1.242 billion (2016 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 1.7% (2016)

industry: 58.1% (2016 est.)

services: 40.2% (2016)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 43.1% (2016 est.)

government consumption: 28.9% (2016 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 26.3% (2016 est.)

investment in inventories: NA (2016 est.)

exports of goods and services: 73.6% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -71.9% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

vegetables and melons, fruits and nuts; ornamental plants; livestock, poultry, eggs; fish and aquaculture products

Industries

tourism, banking, construction, fishing, handicrafts, other services

Labor force

27,970 (2010 est.)

note: includes foreign workers

country comparison to the world: 204

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 1.9%

industry: 10%

services: 88.1% (2010 est.)

Budget

revenues: 389.6 million (2016 est.)

expenditures: 344 million (2015 est.)

Fiscal year

1 October - 30 September

Exports

$914 million (2016 est.)

$520 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 180

Exports - partners

South Korea 73%, Peru 5% (2019)

Exports - commodities

scrap iron, scrap copper, scrap aluminum, computers, laboratory diagnostic equipment (2019)

Imports

$893 million (2016 est.)

$638 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 194

Imports - partners

Hong Kong 29%, Japan 29%, Singapore 16%, South Korea 9% (2019)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, trunks/cases, cars, watches, jewelry (2019)

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 20,398

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 39.44 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 176

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: digital fiber-optic cables and satellites connect the islands to worldwide networks; demand for broadband growing given that mobile services are the source for Internet across region; future launch of 5G (2020)

domestic: wide variety of services available including dial-up and broadband Internet, mobile cellular, international private lines, payphones, phone cards, voicemail, and automatic call distribution systems; fixed-line teledensity 39 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 1-670; landing points for the Atisa and Mariana-Guam submarine cables linking Mariana islands to Guam; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

1 TV broadcast station on Saipan; multi-channel cable TV services are available on Saipan; 9 licensed radio broadcast stations (2009)

Internet users

total: 16,000

percent of population: 30.6% (July 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 211

Transportation

Airports - with paved runways

total: 3

2,438 to 3,047 m: 2

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2019)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 2

2,438 to 3,047 m: 1

under 914 m: 1 (2013)

Heliports

1 (2013)

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Saipan, Tinian, Rota

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the US

Transnational Issues