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Apra Harbor is a deep-water port on the western side of the United States territory of Guam. The harbor is formed by Orote Peninsula in the south and Cabras Island in the north. To the south, the harbor narrows and then widens again to form an inner harbor. The southern end of the harbor is the location of Naval Base Guam. The northern end is the commercial port, which handles about 2 million tons of cargo a year. It is considered one of the best natural ports in the Pacific and attracts many tourists.
Past and future use
Apra comes from the Chamorro word apapa 'low.' Apapa is the original name for what is now Cabras Island. During Spanish rule, a saint’s name was added and the area became known as the port of San Luis de Apra.
Since 1898, ships that burned coal, and later petroleum products, used Guam's ports, mainly Apra. From 1941 to 1944 during WWII the Apra Harbor was under Japanese control and was fully used for repair and refueling of their submarines and warships. The liberation of Guam in 1944 caused huge amounts of damage to the coastal environment. Navy News noted that over 7,000 tons of explosives had been used that previous year to clear ship passages in Guam. 50 pounds of these explosives is enough to destroy a volume of coral one hundred feet by three feet deep. The Glass Breakwater and inner Apra Harbor were built to support the US military after WWII. Apra Harbor served military, civilian shipping needs, and included facilities for ships and nuclear submarines. Also for repair, supply, and fuel transfer. Nuclear and conventional weapon transfer; fishing, recreational, and tourist also used the harbor.
Apra Harbor was home to rich fishing grounds. It took the ports of Umatic and Central Hagatna's place during the 19th century when the ports of Piti and Sumay opened which was put into more frequent use. Piti was the main port for Hagatna while Summay was used for a rest stop for whalers. As many as 60 whaling ships came through the harbor per year. While Hagatna was the capitol of Guam, Summay became the commercial and financial part of town.
During the whaling period, Apra was considered to be one of the best ports in the Pacific. As the whaling era came to an end Guam's economy was in decline. Guam's economy started to improve when Spain's reign came to an end.
Today most of Apra Harbor is controlled by the U.S. Navy, but some ports remain public such as Sasa Bay, the Piti Channel and parts of Glass Breakwater. The land where the commercial port was located was transferred to Guam's government in 1969.
Apra Harbor today is more than an important port to Guam. It is also a popular recreation area for personal watercraft user, boaters, and surfers. Apra Harbor is home to a couple shipwrecks that are popular with scuba divers. The most well known wrecks are the World War I-era German merchant ship, SMS Cormoran, and the World War II-era Japanese freighter, Tokai Maru which lie side by side on the ocean floor.
Military Realignment and the Expansion of Apra Harbor
In 2006 the U.S. Japan "Roadmap for Realignment Implementation Agreement" agreed that over 8,600 U.S. marine corps members from Okinawa, Japan to Guam, to relocate from the U.S. territory to Marianas Islands. This reorientation could be one of the largest peacetime military relocations in U.S. history. This could also have a significant impact on the marine species in Apra Harbor, which face threats from direct damage by construction and dredging activities, but also from changes in the dynamics of the system, whether it introduced species or death by loss of coral reef habitat.
The details of the military move are evolving, but much is on hold with the budget sequestration. Leaders have suggested the need for expansion of Apra Harbor, which is the largest deep water port in the Western Pacific and the busiest in Micronesia. When construction is complete, over 70 acres of coral reef will have been destroyed due to required dredging.
The negative effects of dredging activities are twofold: not only are important marine organisms completely removed or scraped off of the ocean bottom, but the dredging also increases sedimentation and turbidity that severely decreases water quality, making it difficult for remaining plants and algae to photosynthesize, therefore further reducing organism survival.
Furthermore, there have been reports on sediments in Apra Harbor to be particularly high in copper, mercury, nickel, lead, tin and zinc. The harbor's sediments stems from post-World War II in the Ship Repair Facility, which have contributed to probably the most polluted sediments in any Guam harbor and possibly some of the most polluted harbor sediments in the world. These sediments could have a negative effect on the health of Guam's ecosystem.
The dredging is the main focus of expansion of the military presence, but not the only concerning alteration to the sensitive marine ecosystem of Apra Harbor. The activities involved in the construction of the expanded naval base would result in noise-related adverse effects to sea turtles and essential fish habitats. Special-status species like sea turtles would face long-term effects from construction activities. Additionally, the port increases the risk for non-native marine species introduction; there is a projected six-fold increase in cargo arriving at ports of entry. This increase could result in as much as a six-fold increase in introduced species which are not found in Guam.
The port not only serves the U.S. Navy but is a tourist attraction as well. Its wealth of marine life includes unique habitats home to many species that are not found anywhere else. Apra Harbor's coral reefs and fishery resources are major components of Guam's economy. According to Guam Economic Development Authority, tourism accounts for up to 60% of the government's annual revenues as well as providing 20,000 direct and indirect jobs. The reef's health is a big concern. A decline in coral species increases vulnerability of the coastal area and loss of ecosystem livelihood.