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Campfires are a threat to remaining nesting sites of sea turtles

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-30

Environmentalists and locals have been showing concern over the fate of Okinawa's declining sea turtle population, which includes loggerheads, the hawksbill, and the green turtle. The main threat to these animals is coastal development, which has been destroying their natural breeding grounds. Much of Okinawa's coastline has been covered with concrete walls, and many natural beaches have disappeared. All sea turtles depend upon sandy beaches to lay their eggs, which makes any type of barrier to their nesting areas a major threat to their survival. Conservationists and environmentalists are now focusing on the remaining nesting sites, trying to keep them as protected as possible.

One of the problems with trying to preserve Okinawa's existing natural beaches is the clash between protection and recreation. Most of Okinawa's major resorts are located on the west coast of the island, in Onna village. This is also the same coastline where many sea turtles come to nest. The problem is compounded by the season for when the sea turtles make their way to the beaches, which occurs between April and July, and happens to also be the beginning of the summer season for Okinawa, bringing many sunbathers and campers to the beaches. Although all of Onna Village's coastline is a declared turtle nesting site and a Quasi National Coastal Park, most residents are unaware of this fact. Lack of signs, information, and environmental education have made it difficult to get the general population to follow rules and prefectural laws designed to give protection to sea turtles. Campfires, which are forbidden under a sea turtle protection ordinance, have increasingly become a danger to turtle nesting sites. The heat produced by the fires easily destroys any eggs and hatchlings directly underneath or nearby. Vehicles, which can crush or tear up a nesting site, are also banned from entering beaches. However, the growing popularity with outdoor recreation has made unaware campers and beach enthusiasts a threat to these sea creatures.

It is the job of several Okinawa Prefecture Coastal Park Monitors to patrol the coastline and inform the public about the rules set by the government along the Quasi National Coastal Park, but their job is made difficult by lack of man power, and simply too much area to patrol.

Recently, certain locations of the Coastal Park have seen a dramatic rise in the number of park rule violations. Cape Maeda, and its surrounding beaches is one of these areas. Beautiful coral reefs, surf, and white sand beaches, draw hundreds of locals and foreigners every weekend to the area. Divers, surfers, fisherman, and sun bathers all have an impact on the environment, and the growing number of people using the area have become a major concern for turtle conservationists and local volunteer groups. Besides the hazards a campfire presents for sea turtles, it is also dangerous to anyone enjoying the beach. A few weeks ago, the remains of a large campfire was discovered by one of the Coastal Park Monitors. "There were hundreds of nails that had been attached to the wood that someone had burned. Although the fire was covered with sand, it was still smoldering and there was also broken glass that was mixed in with other burned refuse. If any child had unknowingly stepped on the covered area, there would have been a serious chance for injury," Fortunately, volunteers cleaned up the area, but local fisherman are still spotting the campfires almost every weekend.

Vehicles had been a problem until Coastal Park Monitors and volunteers from the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club, with the help of the local government, put in cement poles to keep vehicles from entering the beaches. The problem however, still persists in other areas.

The Onna village government recently decided to put up signs at Maeda that explain the rules of the Coastal Park. Other rules include; taking home all trash, no glass containers, no cutting any trees or plants, and no taking any live coral or tropical fish. Citizens that enter Maeda's beaches, or any other beach along Okinawa's Quasi National Coastal Park, are asked to comply with the rules. If anyone witnesses any violation, they are asked to report it to the Onna Village Government Office (Tel. 966-8006).

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