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Lessons from Other World Heritage sites: Japan

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I have to insist to my disbelieving family and others that my trip to Japan is not a holiday but really is a study tour and part of my quest to see what can be learnt in how other World Heritage sites are being managed.  I am particularly interested in island World Heritage sites and I have already visited two of Japan’s natural World Heritage sites that are islands, Yakushima and Ogasawara.  However, the latest World Heritage nomination of four island’s in the chain of small islands stretched out in an arc between the southern island and Taiwan that includes the Okinawa archipelago is of special interest.

My interest was aroused not only because this may be the last natural World Heritage site to be nominated by Japan for World Heritage listing, but because these islands are at a similar latitude and longitude to K’Gari (Fraser Island) but in the Northern Hemisphere.


Japan’s latest World Heritage nomination includes the Okinawa archipelago

In 2014, en voyage to Japan’s remote World Heritage island of Ogasawara, which is on the same latitude but much further to the east, I was amazed to see the extent of the weed problem.

Because of Ogasawara’s similar latitude to K’gari many of the weeds were very familiar, also occuring on K’gari.  However Ogasawara’s worst weed is Casuarina equisitrifolia which we are busily propagating in the Eurong Nursery to be used in bush regeneration especially along K’gari’s foreshores.  On Ogasawara this species runs rampant over the steep volcanic terrain.

Both Ogasawara and K’gari have a similar problem in dealing with weeds and faced with low resident populations, both are reliant on volunteers from the mainland.  Getting volunteers to Ogasawara 1000 kms south of Tokyo and without an airstrip on this rugged island requires a 36-hour trip on the twice weekly 1,000 passenger ferry.  This limits the number of potential visitors and volunteers.

The proposed World Heritage property in the Ryukyu chain accounts for less than 1% of the whole land area of Japan, yet it accommodates about 17% of the nation’s endangered vascular plants. This area is therefore of the utmost importance for the conservation of Japan’s endangered plants.

Su Dawson has been researching the weed problem on the four islands we are set to explore in the Ryukyu chain of islands and I will be interested to see how the weeds and other invasive species are being dealt with.  The World Heritage area straddles two Japanese prefectures, so there are two different organizations to administer them.  There are also two Visitor Centres, one for each prefecture.  I am keen to observe how the OUV is being interpreted in each.  I will report on these matters in the next FINIA newsletter.

Article by FINIA’s international reporter, John Sinclair, AO

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