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Drifting ocean trash causes Ishigaki, Miyako problems

Date Posted: 2009-07-16

Hundreds of tons of floating debris is washing ashore on Okinawa’s southern islands of Miyakojima and Ishigaki, causing problems that disrupt the environment and ecosystem, while irritating tourists.

Much of the waste products are coming from China, officials say, perhaps as much as 60% of what’s floating to shore in Okinawa. A university professor studying the problem over the past decade, Haruyuki Yamaguchi, says the rate of trash and garbage being released into ocean waters has increased by a factor of 8.6.

Waste oil and harmful heavy metals are causing problems for the ecosystem. Apart from China, officials say waste products have been identified as coming from Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, all east Asian countries. Miyakojima City has allocated money to purchase a special incinerator to burn the trash being collected along its shores, but waste mixed with salt water has damaged the incinerator. Miyako officials say Dixon in the waste has polluted the water.

Tourism is being affected by the growing waste piles. Officials who note Okinawa’s ocean waters should be blue, and the beaches white, say trash is turning both colors they shouldn’t. The Ministry of Environment conducted a survey that showed clean beaches in southern Okinawa Prefecture would lure 50,000~100,000 more tourists to the region each year.

Okinawa Prefecture officials are frustrated with the waste products drifting ashore, and are asking Japan to appeal for international support to stop the discharge of waste from ocean going vessels. Japan’s government should, Okinawa officials contend, lead the quest for international rules regulating waste dumping, prohibiting dumping at sea, and punishing those who violate the laws.

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