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Garbage threatens Island ecology

Date Posted: 2004-10-14

Trash drifting across the Pacific from neighboring countries is posing problems for Iriomote Island in the Yaeyama region of southern Okinawa Prefecture.

A study conducted by Professor Hareyuki Yamaguchi of the National Defense Academy says garbage, trash and junk from homes, as well as discarded fishing equipment, has found its way to Okinawa. He is calling for immediate development of preventive programs to protect the island and its mangroves.

Yamaguchi, who specializes in studying ecological issues and effects of refuse in ocean waters, began this most recent study of Iriomote Island in March. His team identified more than 7,000 pieces of garbage, including plastic bottles and containers, plastic fishing buoys, and fishing nets drifting in the waters. Much was found in three mangrove forests near the convergence of the Nakamagawa and Yuchingawa rivers.

He attributes much of the refuse to typhoons blowing through the region. His team found more than 200 pieces of trash in a single 100 square meters area, the worst he said they found. While exact sources are difficult to determine, clear labels on some bottles gave some clues.

More than 90% of the garbage drifts in from other countries, including about half from China, and 20% each from Taiwan and South Korea. He says oceanic currents such as the Kuroshio current, most likely brought the trash.

Mangrove roots are essential filters to the Iriomote Island, stopping soil erosion. Island habitat includes shrimps, crabs and wildcats. Yamiguchi says his concern to wildlife and sea creatures is that "trash doesn't just vanish from mangrove forests. Before rotting garbage causes damage to the island by emitting toxic substances, the government, in cooperation with neighboring countries, must implement measures immediately to prevent pollution in the area”.

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