World Wetlands Day 2008 -- Japan


World Wetlands Day 2008 in Sarobetsu-genya, Japan

On February 3, 2008, a wintery World Wetlands Day was celebrated near the Ramsar site Sarobetsu-Genya on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. Under blue skies, young and old gathered in the coastal community of Wakasakanai, Toyotomi Town, to explore on snowshoe the sand dune forests lining the coast- the only one of their kind in Japan. This event raised awareness on the relatively-unknown sand dunes, which border the moors of Sarobetsu-genya to the west.

With the help of local volunteer guides, participants were able to experience the contrast between slopes densely covered with mizunara trees (Quercus crispula) and the barren, white troughs below. Along the way, a variety of seeds and animal tracks were identified. Afterwards, participants warmed up with surf clam curry and hot milk produced on the neighbouring moors. Afternoon activities included making and flying traditional Japanese kites adorned with wetland-themed messages.

Wakasakanai proved to be an ideal locale to highlight this year’s World Wetlands Day theme, “Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People”. The pristine coastal waters off Wakasakanai are home to the finest surf clams in Japan and the moors misted with salty air impart a delicate flavour to the milk produced there. Throughout the years, these sand dunes have quietly kept watch over the community. Therefore, this event also helped remind people of the enjoyment, mental well-being and other benefits that can be attained from the sand dunes.

Celebrated at N 45ºlatitude, this is one of the few World Wetlands Day events in which the wetland in question is completely buried under snow! Despite the cold, (or rather because of it) participants were able get a rare glimpse inside the sand dunes, which are too swampy to enter in warmer months. Furthermore, they were able to see that the dunes are still teeming with life in winter- a fact often overlooked with ecosystems.

This event was organised by a group of locals as part of a capacity building activity with the Ministry of the Environment Hokkaido Regional Office. The capacity building of local communities is a major priority of a multi-stakeholder initiative striving for both the nature restoration and agricultural development of Sarobetsu Mire. At the centre of this initiative is the Kami-Sarobetsu Nature Restoration Program Council, which comprises a variety of stakeholders including NGOs, locals, government agencies, local authorities, researchers and the private sector.

1. A group traverses a sand dune on snowshoes

2. Local volunteers explain the local ecology

3. A group of local schoolchildren learn about the sand dunes

4. Building kites to fly in the vast Sarobetsu sky

Photo credits:
1&2 Kesago Nishijima
3&4 Wakkanai Ranger Office

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