Save the last "Jurassic Beach" of Amami

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On the sub-tropical island of Amami-Oshima in southern Japan (Kagoshima prefecture), far from prying eyes, lays one of the most beautiful, remote and natural beach left in all of Japan. This beautiful place named Katoku is so breath-taking visitors who experience its pristine river mouth, its lush tropical valley and soft sandy beach are left with a lasting impression. 

 

Today Katoku is threatened by a 350 million yen (= 3.8 Million USD) seawall project, as part of the annual 30 billion yen (= 32 billion USD) budget spent mostly on public works projects such as mining, sand dredging and construction. The proposed plan would see a humongous concrete seawall replacing its beautiful pandanus tree dunes with a 6.5m tall (almost 3 storey high), 180m long seawall extending along the better part of the beach.


Nicknamed the "Jurassic Beach of Amami", Katoku beach is the only place in Japan where a giant Leatherback sea turtle was seen and photographed laying eggs (2002). Pristine fresh water from the lush tropical valley flows into the ocean forming one of the most sandy beach in all of the Ryukyu islands and enabling near extinct species of crabs and shrimps to prosper.


As a recreational spot Katoku is unique and exceptional. Swimmers and surfers can safely play with the waves without the risk of hitting rocks or coral heads (the only such spot in Amami-Oshima), while kids can frolic in the pristine fresh water pools formed by the Katoku river along the beach. Further upstream in the valley, beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes await nature lovers. Indeed Katoku has it all, soft sandy beach, pristine rivers, lush tropical mountains and an amazing biodiversity. It is indeed a true miracle of nature.

(A seawall and subsequent dumping of tetrapods would make the safest beach in Amami-Oshima extremely dangerous for beach activities and water sports.)

Despite a petition campaign in Japanese with over 27,000 signatures, multiple beach surveys/reports by the “Nature Conservation Society of Japan”,  independent scientists and our own group, Kagoshima prefecture has persistently ignored and rejected our call to preserve this unique and amazing part of Amami-Oshima island.  Katoku is the last and only beach-village in all of Amami-Oshima which doesn’t have a seawall, a harbour, or a concreted river-mouth. It could very well be the last bay in Japan that can boats these attributes. Regardless of Katoku “Jurassic Beach” uniqueness,  Kagoshima prefecture has forged ahead by awarding construction contracts to Kagoshima based companies. 

 

Today we are at a critical junction. Preparations for the construction of the seawall have started and many trees along the dune have already been chopped off to make place for the bulldozers. While Katoku has only about 15 full time residents, mostly elderlies, one young family with kids has already left, fearing the worst and choosing to avoid the pain of seeing their favorite beach destroyed before their eyes, and for years to come.

 

As of 2019, our group along with environmental lawyers and concerned citizens initiated a lawsuit against Kagoshima prefecture by raising funds via a crowdfunding campaign on ReadyFor. During our first court day on June 10th, along with a Katoku villager we pleaded for the preservation of this unique and beautiful beach, and showed pictures of sea turtle nesting trails from May and June of 2019.  Most likely as a result of these legal proceedings and a new beach survey by the Japan Nature Conservation Society, Kagoshima prefecture had to issue a statement asking for a temporary stop to the construction, at least until the end of the sea turtle hatching season at the end of the summer.

 

All seawall projects along east facing rivermouth beaches in Amami-Oshima and the rest of Japan have been disastrous. While seawalls and hard structures on natural beaches have become illegal/controversial in many parts of the world because they accelerate beach erosion, Japan has yet to update its post war policies.  It’s only in Avril of 2018 that the Ministry of the Environment recognised Eco-DRR (Ecosystem based disaster risk reduction) as a legitimate option for protecting the shoreline. In most of Japan, natural beaches have practically disappeared, replaced by seawalls and rows of tetrapods that require more public works to be maintained.


As for Katoku beach, it experienced a major dune erosion in 2014 following a river dredging and river flow diversion works started in 2013 and continued till April 2017 by the local government. The village and its inhabitants were far from arms way due to the height of the dune, however a seawall project was immediately proposed by Kagoshima prefecture.  As expected, the impact of the river diversion/dredging works in the Katoku river mouth have never been investigated nor officially mentioned. Yet it is well known that tempering with a river mouth sand will affect offshore sandbars and cause waves to reach the beach at full strength.    However Kagoshima prefecture simplified the issue by blaming two typhoons for the 2014 erosion, even as we know category 5 typhoons hit Amami-Oshima every year and since time immemorial, and no typhoon since 2014 have caused any erosion to Katoku beach, even during the record year for West Pacific typhoons in 2018.


In 2017, under our recommendation, the Nature Conservation Society of Japan used the Freedom of Information Act to request documents about the river dredging works. Though they (local government) did not provide documents dating prior to 2015, this request had them cease all river dredging and diversion works.  By the summer and fall of 2017, Katoku beach was wider than it had been in the last 10 years. Sand replenishment happened at an incredible rate once the sand stuck in the river delta was allowed to flow freely into the Katoku bay.


While opposition to the seawall was often fierce during the Katoku village meetings, Kagoshima prefecture made sure dissident voices would not be heard by setting up their own committee meeting with their own chosen members. All members of our group and the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, as well as villagers opposing the seawall were excluded from the debate. 


Thanks to multiple events and symposiums organised by our group, more people have become vocal about this issue. However, corruption, collusion and special interest groups lobbying for more construction have had their way. Also two people from the Katoku village have been awarded construction contracts, adding more pressure to the residents who fear retribution if they go against the biggest employers on the island.


In this environment of fear, support and pressure must come from outside in. To save Katoku, we need all nature loving people like yourself to show Kagoshima prefecture you care about preserving this unique jewel of nature, and one day have a chance to visit it yourself. The more signatures this petition gets the more public attention and media coverage it will draw. This in turn will give the people of Amami more courage to rise to the occasion and express their discontent.


(Context: Amami-Oshima, one of the biggest of the Ryukyu islands was colonised by the Satsuma regime while its people enslaved for over 200 years, toiling in sugarcanes. Keeping silent to avoid serious consequences was how they survived.  To this day this “slave mentality” still persists in Amami-Oshima.)

 

So let's make sure Kagoshima prefecture and its governor knows we do not approve of this destructive seawall proposal on one of the most isolated and beautiful corners of the Ryukyu islands. With this petition, let's hold public officials accountable and make sure Kagoshima prefecture's motto, often seen on sign-posts around Amami-Oshima is not just another hypocritical and empty slogan:  "We hope Amami-Oshima will be registered as World Natural Heritage".


Indeed Amami-Oshima is a candidate island for UNESCO World Natural Heritage! Pending IUCN inspectors decisions after their visit at the end of the summer, Amami-Oshima could be registered as a World Natural Heritage site. The first application failed in 2017 as new conditions set by the IUCN had to be met. 


Katoku "Jurassic Beach" is the only place in Japan where the critically endangered West Pacific Leatherback (IUCN Red Index) was seen on a Japanese beach. Let's make sure Kagoshima prefecture can no longer hide this fact and the exceptional universal appeal of the “Jurassic Beach of Amami”. 


If there's a place in Amami that deserves to be listed as a World Natural Heritage site, and protected for generations to come, Katoku beach, its lush tropical valley and pristine river should no doubt be top candidates!  Katoku could even qualify as a Word Heritage site due to being one of 3 beach villages in Japan with no seawall, and also the first village in Amami-Oshima where Jōmon era artefacts dating back 4000 years ago were discovered buried in the dunes. Only one scientific excavation project was conducted since 1973!  The massive seawall currently planned would also obliterate the dune and its treasure trove of archeological artefacts.


Your signature can make a big difference between the obliteration of Katoku and saving this magical place. In view of the World Natural Heritage registration, international pressure is as important as ever.  The more eyes are on the Jurassic Beach of Amami and the more the international community learns about Katoku, the more chance we have to preserve this amazing jewel of nature for generations to come. Please share this petition with all nature loving friends and let’s keep Kagoshima prefecture accountable to future generations and the concept and meaning of World Natural Heritage.

 


For more information, pictures and videos of Katoku visit:

Homepage:

https://amamiworldheritage.org


Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/katokuhama


Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/katokujurassicbeach


Youtube channel: shizentimes (mostly in Japanese, subtitles coming soon)