Biodiverse island areas in northern Okinawa nominated for UNESCO World Natural Heritage

January 20, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

On January 19 at a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial/Agency Co-ordination Committee (IMACC) for World Natural Heritage, the Japanese government decided to formally nominate an area that spans parts of Kagoshima and Okinawa Prefectures as a Natural Heritage candidate site with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre. This site is comprised of Amami Oshima, Tokuno Island, a northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island.

Now, the nomination file must be submitted to UNESCO through a Cabinet decision by February 1. After that, advisory bodies to UNESCO will carry out examinations around autumn this year, and the World Heritage Committee will make a decision on whether to include the site on the World Heritage List at earliest in summer 2018. An official of the Ministry of the Environment said that the IMACC believes that all the conditions for UNESCO registration have been satisfied.

The candidate site is about 37,946 hectares in total. Regarding the region’s “remarkable universal value” as a World Heritage site, the IMACC says that the candidate site is home to unique biological development that occurred during the process of island formation, and that it is an area in which it is important to conserve biodiversity represented by endemic species that are rare worldwide.

As of 2015 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species included 86 endangered species of flora and fauna (70 of which are endemic to the area) living and breeding on the candidate site, such as the Iriomote cat, Amami rabbit, and Yambaru-kuina (Okinawa rail). As measures for protection [of these endangered species], the government is promoting countermeasures against mongoose and other nonnative species, promotion of ecotourism, appropriate monitoring and use of information, and the like.

In addition to the Natural Heritage candidate site, the IMACC decided to formally nominate areas of Nagasaki and Amakusa as a Cultural Heritage candidate site. These areas harbored early Japanese Christianity back when Christians had to conceal their beliefs.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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