Yambaru forest to be designated as national park, but not including US training area

February 28, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) announced on February 27 that it would designate about 17,000 hectares of the northern part of Okinawa as “Yambaru National Park (tentative name)”. The area, which is located in three villages, Kunigami, Higashi and Ogimi, is covered by the nation’s largest subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest.

The MOE will decide this plan at the central environment council held in June and release its announcement through official gazettes in July.

It will be the third national park in Okinawa prefecture, following the Kerama Islands which became a national park in 2014.

About 7,800 hectares, a part of the U.S. Marine Corps’ northern training area that the governments of the United States and Japan agreed to return to the owners, will not be included in the designated area.

According to the MOE, it will discuss the expansion of the designated area when the part that is now the training area is returned in the future.

The government aims for the Amami and Ryukyu island chains, which include the Yambaru area, to be registered as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site for natural assets in 2018.

UNESCO has asked Japan to strengthen the regulations for preserving the natural environment in the area as a condition for listing. The MOE aims to build momentum towards winning the world natural heritage listing through its designation of the Yambaru National Park.

The new park will have about 13,600 hectares of land area and about 3,700 hectares of sea area.

A part of the Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park will be added to the new park.

Many indigenous species, including Yambaru kuina, or Okinawa rail, and Noguchigera, or Okinawa woodpecker, live in the evergreen broadleaf forest of Yambaru.

The MOE plans to designate 790 hectares of the new park as a special protection area, where the strictest rules will be imposed, and designate 4,402 hectares of the park as a class 1 special district. These areas will be included in the Amami and Ryukyu island chains, which the government has recommended as a world natural heritage site.

(English translation by T&CT)

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