It might be hard to believe, but Laolao Bay saw its first residents by at least 1050 B.C. According to experts, this is among the earliest known record of human occupation in the Northern Mariana Islands. So why did those first settlers choose Laolao? It’s likely because the surrounding area offered fertile land, fresh water sources, and a sheltered bay that was teaming with marine life. Plus, the area was close to sources of basalt stone, which was an important component for traditional tools.
The initial Chamorro inhabitants of Laolao Bay left behind traces of their extensive settlements. 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 be build traditional Chamorro houses. Much of Laolao, however, has not been studied and much is left to discover.
It seems almost every period of Saipan’s history involves Laolao Bay. In 1858, during the Spanish period (1688-1899) an English stream frigate, the Magicienne, is believed to have landed at what was renamed Bapot. In Chamorro, “bapot” means steamship, which might answer how the area eventually got its name. However, Laolao Bay was often referred to as Magicienne on Western maps until the middle of the twentieth century.
During the German period (1899-1914), administrator Georg Fritz had hopes of development for the area and ordered the construction of a road connecting Laolao with Garapan on the western side of Saipan.
During the Japanese period (1914-41), sugar plantations were developed on Saipan, with agricultural villages close by. There were also smaller settlements of farm families, including one area behind Bapot. It’s reported that Laolao Bay was also used by Japanese families to farm tobacco and for mineral mining.
During the World War II period (1941-45), the Japanese built military facilities, from batteries to concrete blockhouses, at Laolao to protect against possible American invasion. Post World War II accounts show that Laolao Bay was planted with maize, coconut palms and bananas, with the rest of the land lying fallow with grass.
(Source: Russell, S. 1987. Laulau: Its History and Historic Resources.)
Today, Laolao Bay’s unique natural resources attract local residents and visitors alike. On any day of the week, you’ll find divers exploring its vibrant coral reefs, fishermen throwing net or spearfishing, kids cooling off in the bay’s swimming hole located just inside the reef, and families barbequing under the cover of its thick jungles.
One of the main reasons Laolao Bay is one of Saipan’s most valuable—and visited—natural resources is its rich biodiversity. More than 100 coral species are found in the bay, several of which are found only in the Mariana Islands. Its creatures include sea snails, starfish, urchin, sponges, and numerous fish species. Laolao Bay is also a sea cucumber sanctuary, as well as a nesting ground for the endangered green sea turtle.