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State Submerged Resources > Guam


The U.S. Territory of Guam is the largest and southernmost island of the Mariana Islands in the North Pacific Ocean. The southern maritime boundary of Guam borders the Federated States of Micronesia, and the northern maritime boundary borders the Northern Marianas Islands. Guam is surrounded by coral reefs near its shore.

What is Guam's maritime history?

Guam's indigenous population, the Chamorros, came to the island about 4,000 years ago from Malaysia. Ferdinand Magellan made the first European contact with Guam in 1521. Spain began colonizing the island in 1668 and it served as an important stop for provisions and rest on the Manilla Galleon trade route between Mexico and the Philippines. In 1898, the United States took control of the island following the Battle of Guam in the Spanish-American War. During World War II, the Japanese invaded Guam in 1941 and treated the people of Guam as enemies in an occupied territory. The United States retook the island in 1944. Following the war, the Guam Organic Act of 1950 established the island as a territory of the United States.

What sites are underwater?

Guam's waters are filled with reminders of past military conflicts and naval battles involving the Germans, Japanese, and Americans. There are wrecks of ships, planes, barges, and their cargos and contents including munitions.

One of the most popular dive spots on Guam is in Apra Harbor where shipwrecks from two world wars lie adjacent to each other. The SS Rjasan was a steel hulled passenger and freight steamer built in 1909 for the Russians. The Germans captured the vessel in 1914, renamed it SMS Cormoran, and converted it to an armed commerce raider. From 1914 to 1917, the Cormoran sat in Apra Harbor for lack of fuel. The ship was scuttled by its captain in 1917 to avoid capture by the Americans during World War I.

The Tokai Maru was a Japanese passenger and freight steamer built in 1930. In 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy re-commissioned it under contract to transport personnel and war materials. The Tokai Maru was anchored in Apra Harbor when, in January 1943, it was torpedoed and disabled by the U.S. submarine Flying Fish. Seven months later, a second U.S. submarine, the Snapper, torpedoed it again, this time sinking it. The wreck of the Tokai Maru lies adjacent to the wreck of the SMS Cormoran in Apra Harbor.

Other World War II underwater sites in or near Apra Harbor include the Japanese transport Kitsugawa Maru, a Japanese carrier dive bomber, and an American concrete barge sunk during the war to act as a breakwater. The Japanese transport Aratama Maru was sunk in 1944 in Talofofo Bay on the southeastern shore of Guam.

Who takes care of Guam's underwater archeological sites?

Primary responsibility for underwater sites falls to the Guam Historic Preservation Office in the Department of Parks and Recreation, which partners with other entities including the Guam Historic Preservation and Review Board, the Guam Museum, and the Guam Preservation Trust. Several other territorial and federal agencies may also have jurisdiction over a particular site.

What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?

Permission is needed from the Department of Parks and Recreation to conduct any type of exploration or recovery operation that may remove, displace or destroy an underwater historic property. Permittees are responsible for obtaining permission of any federal agency having jurisdiction.

Are there any underwater parks in Guam?

The Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources in the Guam Department of Agriculture has established and manages five marine preserves to protect the island's coral habitats and marine life. These marine parks are Pati Point Preserve, Tumon Bay Preserve, Piti Bomb Holes Preserve, Sasa Bay Preserve, and the Achang Reef Flat Preserve. War in the Pacific National Historical Park preserves and interprets cultural resources of World War II at seven units on Guam.

What laws concern underwater archeology in Guam?

There are a number of historic preservation related laws that affect underwater archeology including Public Law 12-126, Public Law 20-151, Public Law 27-89, and Title 21 (Real Property) Chapter 76 (Historical Objects and Sites) of the Guam Code. All government agencies in Guam have the responsibility and mandate to protect and preserve cultural resources under their jurisdiction or control.

Related Websites:

Guam Department of Parks and Recreation