Ramsar and wetland values included in Japanese school curricula



[Resolution VII.9 of COP7 adopted "The Convention's Outreach Programme 1999-2002", an extremely important part of which is found in paragraph 44 of the Programme itself, in which Parties are urged to ensure that Ramsar and wetland values are included in the curricula of primary, secondary, and tertiary educational institutions. (See also Recommendation 4.5, Resolution VI.19, and Strategic Plan 1997-2002's Action 3.2.5 in this regard.) ]

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Sixth grade students in the elementary school "Wakasa Shougakkou" in the city of Tokorozawa, Japan, studying an article on the Ramsar site Kushiro-shitsugen. (Photo: Ms Setsuko Suzuki)

Article from a Japanese textbook used for the 6th grade under the subject of environmental protection and humans [translation from the Japanese]

Title: Kushiro-shitsugen (marshland) and Tanchou (Red-crowned Crane)

Author: Reiko Nakamura, Secretary General, Ramsar Center Japan

Tanchou lives only in the eastern part of Hokkaido and is a National Endangered Species. Until the mid-19th century, Tanchou could be seen throughout broader areas of Hokkaido, but it has rapidly decreased its numbers in the late 19th century due to development.

Traditionally, Japan has transformed marshland into paddy field, forming its unique culture based on rice cultivation. People from the mainland developed Hokkaido and successfully raised rice and vegetables despite the cold temperatures.

As a result of the humans’ prosperity, however, Tanchou was deprived of habitat, and it was believed that it had become extinct. In 1924, some ten to twenty Tanchous were found at Kushiro-shitsugen, in Eastern Hokkaido. People from neighbouring villages tried to feed the Tanchous in an effort to increase the endangered waterfowl, but the cautious birds did not accept the food given by the humans. In February 1952, a blizzard attacked the Kushiro region, and Tanchous almost starved to death. Farmers and schoolchildren gave them corn, and Tanchous finally accepted to eat the food from the humans.

Since then, there has been a recognition of the need to save Tanchous. People fed them out of their scarce food. The cost of the feed has since been appropriated from the national budget. Now, the number of Tanchous is counted at more than 600. The places where more than 100 Tanchous come to be fed have become protected areas. Kushiro-shitsugen was designated as an Internationally Important site of the Ramsar Convention in 1980, and the 28th National Park in 1987.

On the other hand, however, Kushiro-shitsugen has reduced its size by 2/3. Trees are cut down, and water is contaminated. Its ecosystems are not capable to host 600 Tanchous any longer. Under such an environment, Tanchous are able to survive because the humans continue to feed them. If the humans stop feeding them, how many Tanchous will be able to survive? As the humans are deeply involved in Tanchous' survival, feeding cannot be stopped.

By feeding, the humans protect Tanchou in the wild. Nevertheless, the humans have deprived Tanchou of the environment they rely upon. It is like a "zoo without fences."

Our responsibilities as the humans are to protect the environment where Tanchou can survive without human support and to keep working to retrieve the lost marshland area.

The textbook's article is accompanied by illustrations not shown here, and by an additional page showing the Ramsar sites in Japan, with photos and a map and explanatory text about the Convention.

In addition, the students in Wakasa Shougakkou school spent time with the superb bilingual Environment Agency of Japan 36-page brochure entitled "&#@>(^$ *&#$%" in Japanese and "People and Wetlands in Japan" in English, which thoroughly surveys Japan's wetland situation and the legislative and institutional mechanisms for implementing the Convention, and describes all of Japan's Ramsar sites in considerable detail. The brochure also describes Japan's assistance to other countries on a number of Ramsar-related issues.

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Students of the Wakasa Shougakkou school examine page 16 of the People and Wetlands in Japan brochure (below). (Photo: Ms Setsuuko Suzuki)

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