US base issues cast doubt on World Natural Heritage Site designation for Yambaru National Park woodlands

US base issues cast doubt on World Natural Heritage Site designation for Yambaru National Park woodlands

The Northern Training Area extends through Higashi Village and Kunigami Village, which rest in abundant woodland in the northern part of Okinawa Island. (Photograph taken on July 14)

September 15, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that was held in Hawaii at the beginning of the month focused on the issue of invasive species. During the meeting the IUCN adopted a recommendation on protecting Okinawa Island against invasive species. The recommendation suggests that hauling soil to the planned site for construction of a base at Henoko should be halted, due to the concern that invasive species may be within the soil used for land reclamation work.

Yambaru National Park will soon be established, the newest following Kerama Shoto National Park, and Ishigaki-Iriomote National Park. The Japanese government highly values the ecosystem that supports precious wildlife living and breeding on these islands. As such, Japan is aiming to have the Yambaru woods along with Amami Oshima, Tokuno Island, Iriomote Island designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site under the title Amami Ryukyu in 2018. However, the U.S. Northern Training Area is a bizarre environment demonstrating mixed efforts of military exercises and environmental conservationism. NGOs for environmental conservation evaluate with concern that Amami Ryukyu is an unrealistic candidate for a World Natural Heritage Site under the current limits and criteria.

Mariko Abe of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan pointed out in regards to the Yambaru woods that a national park is decided by the country, but designation as a World Natural Heritage Site is judged on harsh worldwide standards.

In contrast to the IUCN, Mariko Abe mentions, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO’s official consultative body evaluates in technical terms if a site fulfills natural heritage criteria. Abe thinks that Amami Ryukyu gaining designation as a World Natural Heritage Site may only get more difficult if the Japanese government continues to force through base construction, the way it has ignored the last four IUCN recommendations.

Yoshikazu Makishi of the Okinawa Environment Network said that, “the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are pressing forward with actions that hurt the environment, while the Ministry of the Environment calls for environmental protection.” He thinks that the Japanese government’s internal contradictions are not common knowledge, worldwide.

Should construction of helipads in the Northern Training Area be completed, the noise from Osprey and other US military aircraft will resound through the Yambaru woods. Makishi thinks that it would be impossible to call this a wildlife paradise with all the noise. He called for expansion of the special protection zone that does not allow small-scale development or environmental destruction.

Yambaru National Park

Under the Natural Parks Act, the Ministry of the Environment designates and manages boundaries of the Yambaru National Park. The goal of the park is to protect one of the largest subtropical evergreen forests within Japan, and the many rare species that call the ecosystem home. The Yambaru region that extends throughout the villages of Kunigami, Higashi, and Ogimi, and is comprised of about 13,700 hectares of land and about 3,700 hectares of sea. Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park is also incorporated within Yambaru National Park.

(English translation of T&CT and Erin Jones)

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