Diving around Kerama Islands to be regulated

May 9, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo

Popular diving havens in the Kerama Islands will soon have a cap on the number of people allowed to visit.

On May 8, both Tokashiki and Zamami Villages decided to make diving companies regulate the number of people who could access the ocean area of Kerama Islands. They aim to protect the natural environment, including coral reefs around the area. Companies recognized for their engagement in environmental protection are free from the rule. Within this fiscal year or in June at the earliest, the villages will propose an ordinance for respective village legislatures and aim to carry it out next year.

In March, the Japanese government designated Kerama Islands a national park. The cap on visitors to Tokashiki and Zamami will become the first rule in the country based on the Ecotourism Promotion Act, which the government put into force in 2008.

The act designates natural resources which need preservation, as “Special Natural Tourism Resources.” It gives heads of the local municipalities the power to decide whether people can access an appointed area. After the act was passed, both the villages founded the Ecotourism Promotion Council with the Ministry of the Environment and the Diving Association in October 2008. They developd a Kerama Area Ecotourism Promotion Overall Vision, which designates the coral reefs distributional areas in depths of under 30 meters as “Special Natural Tourism Resources.”

As well as deciding on the specific number of people allowed to access the area, the council plans to discuss authorization standards for diving companies’ engagement in environmental protection and penalties for policy violation. It also plans to decide on surveillance policies.

Tokashiki Village Mayor Masashige Zamami explained that it took about five years for the council to complete consultations with each governmental agency and diving association to propose the ordinance. He said the new law was in the interests of protecting natural assets so they can continue to be enjoyed in the future.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to protect the natural environment around Kerama Islands, not to limit tourist acivity.”

(English translation by T&CT and Megumi Chibana)

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