| Globally acknowledged waters of Okinawa
”Nansei Shoto” is a general name of a chain of islands situated in the southern end of the Japanese Archipelagos. It runs for 1,300 km, including Tanegashima and Yakushima Islands from the north, Tokara Islands, Amami Islands, Okinawa Islands, and Miyako Islands and Yaeyama Islands to the south.
The landscape of these islands varies from island to island, each of them very rare and diverse. In particular, globally significant and well-known sites are Yambaru - a vast subtropical forest in northern Okinawa Island, Yakushima Island-diverse from coastal broadleaf forests to mountain forests with old growth of cedars over 1000 years old, and a variety of coral reefs along the southern islands.
Nansei Shoto is one of the northern limits where corals form reefs. Here inhabit a number of coral species as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef of northeastern Australia that expands over 2,000km. Among them, Shiraho is peculiarly important for the richness of species, and the large colonies of Porites sp. and blue coral.
Unfortunately, it is rarely known among us Japanese that Japan has such valuable coral reefs. In 1997, WWF International selected both maritime and terrestrial ecosystems of Nansei Shoto as a “Global 200” site or an Ecoregion, appealing their values and the necessity of conservation.
History of Coral lagoon of Shiraho, Ishigaki Island
The coral reefs in Nansei Shoto Ecoregion have been degraded and lost because of the careless development activities following World War II, especially after Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. In addition, it was further worsened to critical levels by extensive infestations of the crown-of-thorn starfish.
The Shiraho lagoon, however, stayed as one of the few sizable reefs, which have miraculously survived through such stress and maintained healthiness. This 10-km long lagoon located along the eastern coast of Ishigaki Island has been offering a habitat for not only coral species but for various fishes, shellfishes, shrimps, water birds, and sea turtles. Also, a precious colonies of the blue coral are considered as one of the largest in the world.
Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, which is formed far offshore, the Shiraho reef is a lagoon lying in front of a beach. This presence of coral reef next to the village makes everybody possible to explore and to enjoy the blessings. In fact, this lagoon named “Sea of Survival” is still providing various benefits to the local people today.
In April 2000, WWF Japan opened the WWF Coral Reef Research and Conservation Centre in the Shiraho village, thanks to the support from many people. Since then, with the Shiraho villagers, we have been implementing activities aiming for the coral reef conservation and co-existence of human and the sea.