Nishinoshima island ban being mulled

Nishinoshima island ban being mulled - JAPAN TIMES
30 July 2016. The Environment Ministry is considering banning people from Nishinoshima island, which is part of the Ogasawara Islands, a remote part of Tokyo. According to the ministry, Nishinoshima is the world’s sole “natural experimental site,” and its local ecological system is expected to grow from scratch having almost been destroyed by volcanic eruptions starting in 2013.
The ban is being considered in order to prevent people who visit the island from taking non-native flora and fauna with them. The Japan Meteorological Agency will shortly reduce the areas on the island that are on alert for eruptions.
The Environment Ministry plans to dispatch a research team there as early as October as a step toward discussing protective measures.
Nishinoshima is a state-owned uninhabited island where grasses and low trees used to grow, and it was a breeding site by seabirds such as the booby. However, the island’s plants were almost lost due to lava discharged in a volcanic eruption. Since then, the total land area has grown to 268 hectares — 12 times its original size of 22 hectares.
No further eruptions have been confirmed since November last year. The JMA has decided it will soon reduce the area on alert for eruptions — currently the entire island — to a 500-meter radius around the crater having determined that volcanic activity has decreased. The move will open up part of the land area and could encourage researchers to visit the island.
The Ogasawara Islands, known as the Galapagos of the East, were registered as a natural World Heritage site in 2011. Researchers say its ecological system started with seeds that were carried by birds flying over the islands, or nuts that drifted ashore. Nishinoshima’s new ecological system is expected to keep growing. This could provide clues about how the ecology of the Ogasawaras developed.
With this in mind, the ministry started considering protective measures, including legally registering the island as a wilderness area. However, an island needs to be least 300 hectares to be designated as a wilderness area. Because Nishinoshima island does not fulfill this criteria, a review on the rule will also be considered.
Such legislative action could take two to three years. Thus, the ministry and other relevant authorities made tentative “landing rules” in June to prevent unknown species — which could endanger the new ecological system — from being brought onto the island until the legislation is completed.
The ministry aims to buy time by implementing restrictions such as reducing the number of people who can visit the island; ensuring visitors wear brand-new clothing, shoes and bags; and ensuring visitors and their baggage are soaked in sea water to wash away any plant seeds or other flora and fauna. “We will restrict landings as much as possible. Regarding researchers who wish to visit the island, we will demand they thoroughly comply with the rules,” a ministry official said.
■ Wilderness area
An area designated by the environment minister under the Nature Conservation Law whose natural environment is free of any human influence. The current five wilderness areas include Minami-Iwoto of the Ogasawara Islands and Yakushima island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
IMAGE: Nishinoshima. Yomiuri Shimbun.