Update on wetlands in Japan, spring 2004
(posted to the Ramsar Forum, 3 May 2004)
Dear Forum members,
Greetings from Japan. You may find the following information from JAWAN useful.
Japan Wetlands Action Network
Background & Update on Wetlands in Japan, Spring 2004
By Japan Wetlands Action Network (JAWAN)
30 April 2004
JAWAN is a network of local grassroot conservation NGOs throughout Japan on wetland issues.
Iron gates at the Isahaya Reclamation Project shut down on 14 April 1997. We therefore consider the date as Day for Tidal Flats, and have carried out various activities to save tidal flats in Japan since then. Understanding that such a huge loss of tidal flats comes from the underestimation of wetland values in general and tidal flats in particular, we have organized a series of activities to appreciate wetland values throughout Japan. This year 38 organizations in different locations carried out some 68 activities, including birdwatching and symposia. Some NGOs baked cakes and prepared Miso soups with marine products before or after clean-up campaigns at wetlands. See more details at our web pages in English (http://www.jawan.jp/index-e.html).
We have appealed some critical conservation issues to the Ramsar Forum from Japan, namely Isahaya, Awase and Sanbanze. We would like to update them and add new information on two sites from western Japan. Good news is that Nakaikemi marsh has been saved and would be designated as a new Ramsar site in the future; the bad news is that some construction works will have negative impacts on an estuarine wetland belonging to the Shorebird Site Network.
(1) Sanbanze is a remnant coastal wetland complex of intertidal mudflats and shallow waters in Tokyo Bay.
Because of their proximity to the metropolitan Tokyo, 90 percent of intertidal mudflat and shallow water wetlands in Tokyo Bay have, not surprisingly, already disappeared, mainly due to reclamation projects. Sanbanze, located offshore of Ichikawa and Funabashi cities in Chiba Prefecture, is one of the few remaining areas of this kind of wetland. Including areas of shallow water less than 5 meters in depth, it has an area of 1,600 ha.
Good access to Sanbanze offshore of Funabashi City encourages human use, and many people enjoy collecting shellfish in spring. As many as 100,000 people use the wetland during this season. Direct access to Sanbanze is not available offshore of Ichikawa City due to the existence of large concrete banks. People do, however, enjoy fishing here.
The Governor of Chiba Prefecture, Ms. Akiko Domoto, who was once an IUCN Council member, has established a "Review Panel for Restoring Sanbanze" that aims to improve conditions at Sanbanze. The Panel has debated various issues for two years and submitted its report to the Governor.
The Report proudly declares there will be "No More Reclamation" at Sanbanze. However, rocks, sand and earth will be deposited in front of a part of the existing concrete banks on the Ichikawa side. The reason for this operation is said to be expansion of an intertidal area that has been gradually sinking. As an application of adaptive management, the report asserts that large amounts of sand, etc., will not be brought in all at once. However, local conservationists have expressed their concern about the operation because the area in question is adjacent to a muddy area that has high priority for conservation.
Conservationists are asking Chiba Prefecture to take into consideration the "Principles and Guidelines for Wetland Restoration" adopted at the Ramsar COP8.
100,000 Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) and 80 Eurasian Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) visit the area during winter. Some local fishermen at Funabashi have opposed the designation of Sanbanze as a National Wildlife Protection Area Special Protection Zone. They say that this designation will prevent new construction or refurbishment of industrial facilities, may also prevent depositing sand and/or nutrients into the area, and also that [such designation, which will prohibit hunting in the area, will encourage] waterfowl to feed on spawning fish and their feathers may contaminate commercial seaweed to a greater extent than presently. This means that they are also against the designation of the area as a Ramsar site.
(2) Awase Tidal Flats: An offshore land reclamation project by the central government together with the Okinawa Prefectural government at Awase tidal flat area started in October 2002. Since these governments have declared that the project should be carried out while taking the environment into consideration, the reclamation work was halted from April to July - the breeding season of blue mud skippers (Scartelaos histophorus), a fish species listed on the Ministry of Environment's Red Data Book. Between April and July 2003, conservationists and researchers found some potentially new species and new records of rare species at the site. The concerned authorities therefore had to prepare conservation plans for those species, and as a result they could not resume the reclamation work as planned in August 2003.
The authorities in fact established a committee to review conservation measures regarding the Awase reclamation project. The committee has now been divided into two sub-committees, one committee to monitor the environment and another to review measures for environmental conservation and creation. Conservation measures for the newly discovered species have been discussed this year (2004). Due to a lack of clear-cut definitions for the different roles to be played by these two committees and the poor quality of the conservation measures submitted, no conclusion has been reached [this year on how to proceed]. Some committee members argued for a complete and thorough review of all conservation measures. However, representatives of the concerned authorities affirmed that further reduction in the area to be reclaimed is not an option at this stage. The reclamation work was in fact resumed for a short period during the Japanese 2003 fiscal year (ending 31st March 2004).
With respect to biodiversity, Awase Tidal Flat Area is No.1 in Japan in several ways: it has the largest number of non-breeding shorebird species, the largest number of seagrass species, and the largest number of intertidal-zone shellfish species. The area also has shallow water areas which fish inhabiting the surrounding sea use during some stages of their life cycle. The fact that such a natural area still exists is almost miracle in view of the close proximity of the neighboring urban area. Local residents still enjoy shellfish collecting, and the area can be considered as a sacred place since it provides spiritual relief to many people.
The reclamation project was originally initiated to stimulate the local economy, but the reality is that no firm commitments have been made on how to use the reclaimed land. Local conservationists have said that this should be a turning point for the whole project, and that authorities should consider sustainable use and conservation of the precious Awase tidal flat area as a Ramsar site.
(3) Isahaya Bay: Since its inauguration in 1990, the Isahaya Bay Reclamation Project has had destructive and negative impacts on fisheries within Isahaya Bay.
Especially after the shutting of iron gates in the outer seawall, notoriously known as "the guillotine," on 14 April 1997, impacts have expanded to the greater Ariake Sea and caused damage to fisheries in the region. This large-scale damage to the Ariake Sea is being called "the Ariake disaster."
The cultivation of Nori (laver seaweed), an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cuisine, in the Ariake region experienced its worst harvest in history during the winter season of 2000, following largest-scale red tides. Harvests of Nori seaweed have continued to be bad since then, and local fishermen are being driven to despair even now. At this point, local fishermen can no longer suppress their anger against the Isahaya Bay Reclamation Project, and many fishermen's associations have organized protests, such as demonstrations using fishing boats, sit-down strikes, petitions to the National Diet, and sit-down strikes at the Diet.
Citizen's groups and conservation NGOs opposed to the project long before it started construction have now joined fishermen and expanded their actions.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) was forced to establish a "Committee to Study and Review Countermeasures against Poor Harvests of Nori Seaweed" (commonly called the third party committee for Nori) on 26 February 2001, in order to investigate the causes of and suggest countermeasures to deal with the poor Nori harvest.
The Committee publicized its opinions in favor of surveys to be performed with the iron gates in the seawall opened and suggested that the Isahaya Bay Reclamation Project has influenced currents and sediment loads, both important environmental factors. It then suggested short-term, medium-term and long-term surveys for Isahaya Bay as well as the whole Ariake Sea. It suggested that a survey over a two month period as the first step (short-term), then a six-month survey (medium-term) should be carried out and, based on results of these, that a survey conducted over the course of several years (long-term) should be carried out.
Such surveys with gates in the seawall open would undoubtedly reveal that the Isahaya Bay Reclamation Project is the major cause of the Ariake Disaster and the severe damage to fisheries. Local fishermen and others concerned welcomed the suggestions from the Committee, which would lead to the cancellation of the reclamation project and the introduction a new vision for restoring the Ariake Sea. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), however, carried out only the short-term survey but not the medium- or long-term ones.
The MAFF forced resumption of the reclamation work on 13 August 2002, when local fishermen stopped their sit-down campaign temporarily to celebrate the midsummer holiday called O-Bon. The O-Bon is an important holiday for most Japanese, as they pay their respects to their ancestors during this holiday.
The MAFF, at the same time, established another Committee to Consider Medium-term and Long-term Surveys, just after they dismissed the Third Party Committee. The undeclared aim of the new committee was to find justifications for not carrying out those surveys. The new Committee includes ex-officers of the MAFF and other governmental agencies. The Committee found it impossible to conclude that there is no need for open-gate surveys, due to strong protests by fishermen and citizens, statements by experts recognizing that medium- and long-term surveys are indeed required, and unanimous resolutions calling for these surveys adopted by the elected representative assemblies of three neighboring prefectures, Saga, Fukuoka and Kumamoto. The new Committee's report, though not fairly concluded, officially said both yes and no to medium- and long-term surveys. This ambiguous report was the final activity of the new Committee and it was dissolved after 25 December 2003. The final decision on medium- and long-term surveys will be made by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The major focal points in the near future will be how to ensure implementation of the medium- and long-term surveys, as called for by the Nori committee established by the MAFF itself, how to stop further environmental destruction by the land reclamation project and how to achieve a turn-about, from the destruction of Isahaya Bay and the Ariake Sea to their restoration.
PS The Minister indicated on 27th April 2004 that neither medium- nor long-term surveys will be carried out.
(4) Nakaikemi Marsh (Peat Bog): Nakaikemi Marsh, a low-lying inland wetland, has layers of peat that date back 100,000 years (approx. 40 meters deep), which is extremely thick for peat bogs found in Japan. About 2,000 species of plants and animals have been identified in the 25 hectare Nakaikemi Marsh and its surrounding hills. Local people value it highly as a site for rest and relaxation, and environmental NGOs appealed for its protection at the Ramsar Convention's San José Conference (COP7) in 1999.
Ninety percent of the Nakaikemi's land is owned by Osaka Gas Co., which initiated a plan to construct Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) storage tanks on the site about 10 years ago. This plan was cancelled in April 2002. And, Osaka Gas has announced that they will donate the site to the local government, Tsuruga City, aiming for March 2005. Tsuruga City welcomes the move, and has expressed its willingness to conserve the site, including as an option future consideration of its designation as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
(5) Estuary of the Yoshino River: The estuary of the Yoshino River (Tokushima Prefecture) was the first wetland in Japan to be added to "The East Asia-Australasia Shorebird Site Network" (Site name: Yoshino Estuary, 500 hectares including the estuary and vicinity), which was launched at the Ramsar Convention's Brisbane Conference (COP6) in 1996. At present, only five sites in Japan have been designated for this Network, including sites already designated as Ramsar sites, such as Yatsu Tidal Flats (Chiba Pref.) and Manko Tidal Flats (Okinawa Pref.).
Toward the end of last year (2003), construction started on a bridge that crosses the river directly above the estuary's tidal flats. This project falls outside the purview of Japan's present environmental impact assessment law, and although some environmental surveys were conducted, the authorities came to the usual conclusion - insignificant environmental impacts. Also, as an environmental measure, the bridge was designed as a suspension bridge with no supporting pylons to be sunk into the tidal flat area, but local and national nature conservation organizations are still fearful of possible impacts.
An additional problem is that yet another road bridge, this one for an expressway, is planned even further downstream, right at the very mouth of the river, and there are also plans for a landfill on the south bank of the rivermouth. Reasoning that these are separate projects, etc., the authorities have not conducted any comprehensive assessment of these three projects' cumulative impact on the tidal flat and other parts of the wetland. Should impacts occur, there will be no way to assign responsibility for them.
Japan Wetlands Action Network (JAWAN)
c/o Kashiwagi, 3-18-1 #105 Higashi-Toyoda, Hino-shi,
Tokyo 191-0052, Japan
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