ENVIRONMENT AGENCY SHOREBIRD SITE LIST
CONFIRMS IMPORTANCE OF THREATENED SITES
The Environment Agency of Japan published on 8th September 1997 an "Inventory of Shorebird Sites in Japan," based on research conducted from 1988 to 1996. Seventy-three sites were identified as meeting at least one of several criteria, and 12 regions, some containing more than one site, were chosen as particularly important for shorebirds. Criteria for judgment used for these 12regions included: areas used by over 5,000 shorebirds; areas used by 1% of the flyway population of two or more species (or subspecies), areas used by over0.25% of 3 or more species (or subspecies). These criteria are based on the internationally recognized criteria of the Ramsar Convention, and the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy.
This inventory is an official government document; the Japanese overnment does not recognize any inventories drawn up by non-governmental organizations such as "A Directory of Asian Wetlands" (IUCN, 1989) as bases for government policy or decisions. We hope it can form a basis for inter-agency cooperation aimed at protecting the habitat of birds listed under bilateral migratory bird agreements.
This official inventory confirms the importance of sites which wetland conservation organizations have for many years been campaigning to protect. The major threat to many of these sites are public works projects, notably land reclamation, which will degrade or destroy their value as stopover sites for shorebirds breeding in the Russian Far East, wintering in the Australian region and migrating along the East-Asia Australasian Flyway.
In the research which formed the basis for identifying these important sites,the maximum count of shorebirds was recorded at Isahaya Bay, where 9,424 birdswere observed (1996/5/14). Isahaya Bay has been cut off from the sea by a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) land reclamation project this April, and its tidal flat ecosystem is now dying. The government continues to assert that shorebirds displaced by this project will find alternative sites in the Ariake Sea, of which Isahaya Bay is part. However, the same research showed that the two major tidal flats in the Ariake Sea other than Isahaya Bay had maximum counts of 1,167 and 1,043 (recorded 93/5/5 and 89/9/15 respectively), both only slightly more than one tenth of the figure for Isahaya Bay.
Meantime, MAFF has repeatedly asserted that "movements of shorebirds from Isahaya's tidal flats to other tidal flats in the Ariake Sea have been confirmed." The surveys on which this assertion is based have been withheld from the public until very recently, when it became clear that this is a misleading partial truth. Out of 74 shorebirds fitted with radio telemetry devices over a three year period, only 9 were confirmed to have moved from Isahaya to other tidal flats. In fact, these surveys clearly show that Isahaya is the dominant centerpiece of the Ariake Sea as a shorebird site.
OTHER THREATENED MAJOR SHOREBIRD SITES
The second greatest number of shorebirds (6,950 on 12 May 1996) was recorded at Fujimae Tidal Flat in Nagoya City, which plans to use part of this site for a city garbage landfill. Present projections estimate construction will start in March next year (1998). The environmental impact assessment for this project also asserts that impacts on shorebirds will be insignificant due to availability of alternative habitat. However, over three fourths of the original tidal flats in Ise Bay have already been landfilled, and according to detailed surveys by local non-governmental organizations, the area slated for landfill is preferentially used for feeding by shorebirds.
Tokyo Bay's Ramsar site, Yatsu Tidal Flat, is also just one part of an integral complex of sites used by shorebirds depending on the less-than-10% of natural shoreline left in Tokyo Bay. Nearby sites used by the birds recorded at Yatsu (maximum count 5,120 on 96/4/29) are also slated for landfill. At Wajiro Tidal Flat in Hakata Bay, monitoring surveys by local citizens have documented a crash in shorebird numbers since construction of an artificial island offshore commenced in 1993. Other threatened sites include the Yoshino Estuary and Sone Tidal Flats.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS LEAD NATIONAL PROTEST
The Japan Wetlands Action Network, World Wide Fund for Nature Japan, the Wild Bird Society of Japan, and other local and national non-governmental organizations have for many years repeatedly pointed out to both local and national government authorities the importance of these sites for migratory shorebirds whose protection is one of the objects of bilateral migratory bird agreements and of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat. NGOs have repeatedly petitioned for the review of public works projects which threaten these vital sites on the local and national level.
The drive to establish mechanisms to re-evaluate public works projects has become a major topic of national concern, and extends a wide variety of projects. The Ministry of Construction has already responded to public opinion by canceling or suspending 18 dam projects. Many projects were first planned before the establishment of the Environment Agency (1971); in fact, the Environment Agency initiated the study which resulted in the Shorebird Habitat Site Inventory the year after it approved the environmental impact assessment for the Isahaya Bay project.
NARROWING BOTTLENECK FOR SHOREBIRDS & INEFFECTIVE ACTION
It has been internationally recognized that, for shorebirds along the East Asia - Australasian Flyway, staging sites particularly in the northeastern region including Japan, China and the Korean peninsula are fast disappearing and in particular need of protection. In 1989, the Asian Wetland Bureau identified mudflats of central and southern Japan as a "low protection - high threat" wetland type in urgent need of protection. Declines in the number of some shorebird species in the East Asia - Australasia Flyway have also been noted, indicating the seriousness of the problem.
However, instead of heeding these warnings, the Japanese government has continued to pursue controversial public works projects destructive to these wetlands. The establishment in 1996 of the East Asia-Australasia Shorebird Network, in which the Japanese government played a leading role, has no functional relationship with or practical effect on development projects. As such, it serves to mask the unchanging reality of large-scale, needless sacrifice of a significant proportion of shorebird habitat remaining in Japan through government-subsidized development.