World Wetlands Day 2005 -- Japan

World Wetlands Day 2005 -- Japan

14 March 2005

World Wetland Week events in JAPAN

Japan Wetland Action Network (JAWAN), together with various local groups, has organized a Wetland Week in Japan, prior to the World Wetland Day in 2005.

Dr Peter R. Baye, a wetland restoration expert from USA, and Dr Satoshi Kobayashi, former Ramsar Secretariat member, visited several coastal wetlands in Japan from 22 to 31 January.

Local fishermen's association in Tokyo Bay invited them onto a boat trip, starting from a harbor near Sanbanze. Among others on board were wetland conservation NGO members, wetland experts, government officers and fishermen from the area. They overviewed the Tokyo Bay in general and the Sanbanze area in particular. Sanbanze is an intertidal flat with shallow waters. There were large-scale landfill projects on the area, but such projects are basically cancelled thanks to the new Governor of Chiba Prefecture, Ms Domoto, through her pledges to cancel such projects at the time of election. The Governor established a committee to consider how to restore the area, and the small-scale landfill is, however, still possible at Sanbanze as means for restoration. The future of Sanbanze is not crystal clear at this stage.

The Chiba Prefectural government and various sectors concerned organized the "Sanbanze Festa" on Sunday 23 January. Dr Peter Baye explained his experiences on coastal wetland restoration through various San Francisco Bay wetland plans. Dr Baye worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and then for US Fish and Wildlife Service. Grassroots NGOs and local governments worked together to initiate various wetland restoration projects within San Francisco Bay. Fishermen from Tokyo Bay, Osaka Bay and Ariake Sea reported status quo of their respective fishing areas.

Next day they flew to Fukuoka City, and joined the discussion on the restoration feasibility over Wajiro tidal flats within Hakata Bay.

Two wetland experts moved onto Isahaya where a large reclamation project in Japan, replacing the largest mudflat area in Japan, has been almost completed. JAWAN organized a symposium there, inviting local fishermen to investigate the Isahaya reclamation project. The Saga (Prefecture) local court recently ordered the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to halt the already 94%-completed reclamation project, reasoning that the reclamation project has had negative effects on the overall productivity of the whole Ariake Sea and caused many local fishermen to suffer from the radical decline especially in shellfish catches. Citizens, conservation NGO members and fishermen asked the opinion from the US wetland restoration expert whether it is still feasible to restore coastal wetlands at Isahaya even at this stage. Dr Baye, though he visited the area twice including the last visit five years ago, said that without scrutinizing available data in detail it is not possible to come to conclusion, but in his experience, it has often proven feasible to successfully restore tidal wetlands after they have been diked, even after severe ecological damage.

Next day the wetland experts had a meeting with local fishermen in Saga Prefecture. Some explained that since the decline of catches in shellfish within Ariake Bay many fishermen are now compelled to go to the Inland Sea to use their familiar shellfish collecting methods with diving devices. Unfortunately some have to work even harder to compensate loss in catch in Ariake Sea. One fisherman died due to exortion and several attended the meeting just after his funeral held in the same morning. This may indicate wetland conservation and/or restoration means welfare of local people even in Japan.

They then moved from southern part of Japan to the central part, visiting Fujimae tidal flats in Nagoya. The Fujimae tidal flat was designated as a Ramsar site during the Ramsar COP8 in Valencia, Spain in 2002. The Ministry of the Environment is now constructing visitor centers at the site.

From Nagoya they moved to the western part of mainland Honshu. Another symposium was organized to discuss the conservation of Harima-Nada and adjacent Osaka Bay. The coastline around the Osaka Bay has been completely modified and is now 100% artificial.

After discussing a long-term conservation of Harima-Nada and remaining tidal flats at Shin-Maiko-Hama area within the Seto Inland National Park, they crossed the Inland Sea and had yet another symposium at Tokushima where one of the East Asia - Australasian Shorebird Network site is located. The shorebird network site, namely Yoshino River Estuary, is to be surrounded by two bridge construction works and may also be affected by a nearby landfill project.

On Sunday 30 January, local NGOs at Tokushima organized a symposium featuring Dr Baye's presentation on San Francisco Bay restoration projects and Dr Satoquo Seino's on the importance and uniqueness of the estuary.

Monday morning local NGO members together with Dr Baye visited the local branch of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and transport as well as the Prefectural government office.