|World Natural Heritage Sites and Tourism: Conservation and Utilization through Ecotourism in the Amami Islands
|Date: 12nd February 2022 13:00 - 17:00
Place: On line (Zoom)
Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima are home to several endangered and rare endemic species, such as the Amami rabbit. In July 2021, the two islands, along with northern Okinawajima and Iriomotejima, became Japan’s fifth World Natural Heritage site as important areas for the conservation of biodiversity. To register a site as a World Natural Heritage site, it must be preserved so that it can be passed on to future generations as a common property of mankind. Meanwhile, this can become an opportunity to promote tourism. In the Amami Islands, ecotourism has been promoted as a mechanism for using natural environments for sustainable tourism while preserving them as part of efforts to register the islands as a World Natural Heritage site. Although ecotourism uses a region’s unique natural environment, history, and culture as resources, it focuses on the observation of wild animals and plants. In this context, ecotour guides play an important role in not only providing tourists with experiences of nature, but also in deepening their understanding of the region.
In this symposium, we will consider tourism in World Natural Heritage sites, with a focus on Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima. First, ecotour guides from both islands will report on the current status and issues regarding how they are using the natural environment for tourism. They will also introduce the conservation activities they are involved in. Next, we will focus on how people living in the vicinity of World Natural Heritage sites feel about the use of natural environments around them for tourism and the conservation of these natural environments. We will also consider how the Amami Islands should handle its World Natural Heritage status in the future, and how local residents, tourism businesses, the national government, local governments, and educational and research institutions can collaborate.
13:00 Opening Address
13:05 「Conservation and Utilization of Marine Organisms in Amami Oshima」
●OKI Katsuki (Amami Marine Life Research Association)
Despite being located at high latitudes, the coral reefs around Amami Oshima exist and thrive due to the influence of the warm Kuroshio Current that flows through the western side of the island. Besides coral reefs facing the open sea, there are many coral reefs in the inner bays and straits inhabited by a variety of organisms suited to each environment. In recent years, new species, such as Torquigener albomaculosus and Diogenes heteropsammicola, have been discovered one after another. The population of sub-adult green sea turtles is increasing in coastal areas, with sea turtle snorkeling becoming increasingly popular. Offshore, the number of humpback whales that come to the area in winter for breeding has increased. Consequently, whale watching and whale swimming projects have been established. Furthermore, dolphin swimming with the local population of southern bottlenose dolphins that live in the coastal area and sperm whale watching in the open sea are being conducted on a trial basis.
These marine organisms are popular worldwide. Importantly, similar to the rare flora and fauna on land, and the culture nurtured by nature, they are precious resources of Amami Oshima and are key to its value as a World Natural Heritage island. In this presentation, I will introduce my conservation measures sustainable utilization and the examples of utilization for each target species.
13:35 「Ecotourism and Nature Conservation: A Case Study of Forests in Amami Oshima」
●KIZUKI Yasuo (Island Service)
The presenter has been involved in nature conservation activities while working in the tourism industry mainly in the forest areas of Amami Oshima. In this presentation, the current status and issues of the use of those areas for tourism will be examined considering the actual situation in each area. The focus is on the Kinsakubaru National Forest and Mt. Yuwan, both World Natural Heritage sites, and the mangrove forests included in the buffer zone. It will also give an overview of the theft and pilferage of rare wild animals and plants, the problem of wild cats, and roadkill, which has become more common in recent years. Further, some of the current activities to protect and preserve the rich biodiversity of the forests will be introduced.
In recent years, more and more U- and I- turners are starting to work as guides. The job of an ecotour guide, which deals with nature, is always unstable. It is affected by natural disasters such as typhoons and heavy rains; moreover, the number of visitors has decreased due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, guides who ensure that tourists experience nature in a safe and enjoyable way will become even more important with the registration of the island as a World Natural Heritage site. In the future, securing more human resources and providing high quality services will also lead to the conservation of nature.
14:15 「Environmental Changes and Coral Conservation of the Sea of Tokunoshima」
●IKEMURA Shigeru (NPO Shima-niji of Tokunoshima)
Tokunoshima is an oceanic island with a subtropical climate, located roughly in the center of the Amami Islands. The average annual water temperature rarely drops below 20ºC due to the influence of the Kuroshio Current that flows northward from the south through the waters near the island. This makes it a suitable environment for coral growth. The island is approximately 80 kilometers in circumference and comprises three towns: Tokunoshima Town, Isen Town, and Amagi Town.
On the one hand, surrounded by reef-building corals, the east side of the island (Tokunoshima Town) faces the Pacific Ocean, and is relatively calm and shallow. It has tide pools of various sizes which appear at low tide. The micro atolls of Poritidae that have adapted to their environment, colorful branch corals, and tropical fish with rich primary colors can be seen closely. On the other hand, the East China Sea side (Isen Town and Amagi Town) from the west to the northwest is affected by the monsoon and other factors. The rough and uplifted coral cliffs, and the strange rocks of degenerated coral created by erosion from waves can be observed. Finally, the granite in the northern part of the island looks like it has been covered with mushiro (straw mat), which is quite rare even in the Nansei Islands. The beauty of the varied coastal scenery of each of these three towns is a valuable resource for tourism.
This presentation will introduce some of the amazing corals and organisms in and around the tide pools that are currently being conserved. I will also clarify the current situation in which coral growth and organisms are adversely affected by natural factors (e.g., coral bleaching caused by global warming, disease, and damage from feeding by starfish) and anthropogenic factors (e.g., runoff of red soil and disposal of large amounts of garbage into the ocean).
14:45 「Current Status and Future Possibilities of Ecotourism in Tokunoshima」
●MINOBE Mutsumi (NPO Shima-niji of Tokunoshima)
The original purpose of the World Natural Heritage registration is to protect and convey the value of nature; yet, many people’s expectations were focused on regional development through tourism. However, conservation management initiatives are more important and must be prioritized. On the one hand, compared to the other three islands (Amami Oshima, Okinawajima, and Iriomotejima), Tokunoshima has a smaller area of registered land and is actually divided into two parts. This makes it vulnerable to the negative impacts of human activities. On the other hand, Tokunoshima has a history of coexistence and co-prosperity between humans and nature since ancient times. Even today, agriculture based on sugar cane is still thriving. Moreover, there is a wealth of nature close at hand that has been recognized for its value. These are unprecedented forms of World Natural Heritage sites that show how nature and people should be.
In the future, ecotour guides are expected to play a leading role in promoting a good balance between conservation and utilization. However, in Tokunoshima, there is still little demand for tourism and services; furthermore, ecotour guides are in short supply. The NPO Shima-niji of Tokunoshima, which has been working to solve these problems, will introduce the charms of Tokunoshima that they want to showcase and examples of ecotourism promotion initiatives that aim to conserve nature, and preserve the environment and culture.
15:25 「The Local Natural Environment and Ecotourism」
●SONG Dajeong (International Center for Island Studies, Kagoshima University)
Local residents are indispensable in realizing the ideal form of ecotourism. However, current ecotours mainly focus on the observation of wild animals and plants, with an emphasis on tourism businesses such as ecotour guides. The target area of this presentation, Sumiyo Town of Amami City, has one of the larger forest areas in Amami Oshima; most of Sumiyo Town is included as a World Natural Heritage site and the buffer zone. Typical ecotours also include mangrove canoeing and night tours to observe wildlife, such as the Amami rabbit. In this presentation, I will first introduce how nature has been used in the past by Sumiyo Town’s residents in the mountain forest area around the Santaro Pass, which is the main observation site for the Amami rabbit. Next, I will examine how these residents have changed their values of and involvement with nature as policies on use for tourism and conservation developed. Specifically, I use the responses to an interview survey to examine residents’ attitude toward the observation of the Amami rabbit and their response to the restrictions on nighttime use of the area around the Santaro Line city road. Finally, based on the above, I will discuss how local residents should handle ecotourism in their immediate natural environment.
17:00 Closing Remarks