Thursday, May 26, 2016


CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife 

"We do not understand how that island was able to be inhabited...."

So said Marianas Governor Felipe de la Corte about Guguan in his 1876 book about our islands (Descriptive and Historical Report of the Mariana Islands).

Virtually unknown to most Chamorros on Guam, the island receives scant attention from other Chamorros living in the Northern Marianas.

Unlike Pagan, Alamagan, Agrigan and Anatahan, Guguan is one of those northern islands that has not had a stable human population since around the year 1695.

Located 287 miles north of Saipan, the island is tiny. Barely 2 miles long and a mile and half wide.

Unlike most of the northern islands, Guguan is not high. The highest point is only 942 feet, less than Guam's Mount Lamlam which rises to 1332 feet. Both are puny compared to Agrigan's highest point at 3166 feet, the highest in all of Micronesia, let alone the highest in the Marianas.

US Geological Survey

It seems even our pre-Spanish ancestors had little use for Guguan. There are no known latte stones on Guguan and none were noted in past descriptions of the island. No known archaeological artifacts have been discovered, either. All this suggests that, while people certainly did live on Guguan before the Spanish arrival, they were probably not large in number. They would have been forcibly moved to the southern Mariana islands by the Spaniards after 1695. Since then, the island has been uninhabited except for a few short periods involving a few individuals.


People may not have had much use for Guguan, but the birds certainly did and still do.

Because the island does support adequate vegetation to be a source of food and shelter for the birds; since the island lacks common predators such as snakes, wild pigs, monitor lizards (iguana), goats, dogs and cats, the bird population can thrive very well here. Fruit bats (fanihi) also find a comfortable home in the dense tropical forests in some parts of the island.

Rats abound on Guguan but apparently have not harmed the bird or bat population.

The only possible disturbance (besides a typhoon) would be the two volcanoes that are still alive on Guguan. The last known eruption was in 1883, but the volcanoes are not extinct. More eruptions can occur in the future.


Because of the large bird population, Guguan did attract some attention in the early 1900s. As exotic bird feathers were commercially profitable in the use of women's hats in those days, the German Government ruling over the Northern Marianas allowed a private company, the Pagan Gesellschaft, to send workers (often Japanese) to Guguan to harvest bird feathers. Despite government conditions attempting to limit the harvesting of feathers in order to protect the bird population, a lack of government inspections lead to the decimation of the bird population. In short order, though, the Pagan Gesellschaft cut back on this enterprise, as it proved not to be the gold mine it was hoped to be, and the feather business eventually closed. The bird population recovered.

CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife
The abundant bird population of Guguan

So, to this day, Guguan is literally for the birds.

The CNMI Constitution forbids the human habitation of Guguan, along with three other islands in the CNMI. The island is dedicated to the preservation and protection of its present natural resources.

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