Rusting relics still have tales to tell in Saipan

sherman-tankThe rusting remnants of a Second World War battle will soon take on a new life, thanks to a project by Flinders maritime archaeology lecturer Ms Jennifer McKinnon.

In her role as a research associate of the non-profit maritime archaeology organisation Ships of Exploration and Discovery, Ms McKinnon has won funding of US$50,000 from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program to organise the creation of an underwater heritage trail off the Pacific island of Saipan.

One of 12 small islands in the Mariana archipelago, Saipan was the scene of fierce and protracted fighting between Japanese and American forces in 1944. Its shallow coastal waters are littered with battlefield remnants, including the wrecks of ships and landing craft, fragments of aeroplanes and even stranded tanks.

Ms McKinnon said the year-long project will involve local volunteers who will assist in surveying and recording the material; she will also help create interpretive material such as brochures and dive guides to assist divers in touring the sites.

Visiting the wartime wreckage is already a popular pastime for recreational snorkelers and SCUBA divers, particularly Japanese tourists.

“A lot of folks are already diving on these sites, but many have no idea about the history and their importance,” Ms McKinnon said.

“A major part of preservation and long-term conservation of these sites lies in education and public outreach.”

Ms McKinnon said the area was one of great natural beauty, characterised by pristine water and coral reefs.

“Heritage tourism is one way people can boost the local economy and encourage tourism without sacrificing the environment and heritage,” she said.

Around eight sites will be developed, each with a brochure and a laminated underwater site guide printed in English, Japanese, Korean and Chamorro. As well as interpretive signage on the shore, Ms McKinnon hopes that concrete plinths with brass plaques can eventually be added.

Ms McKinnon said some of the relics will be able to be specifically identified and linked back through historical research to military units and even individual troops.

“It would be really exciting if we could actually meet some of the people who were involved and get their stories,” she said.

Ms McKinnon has previously worked on underwater heritage trails in Florida and is currently conducting a joint project on the feasibility of a maritime heritage trail in Darwin.

“For my research, it’s all about underwater cultural heritage and how heritage tourism and underwater heritage trails assists with the management of these sites,” she said.

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