Shiretoko World Heritage Site listing almost certain

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The Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) has evaluated part of Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido as “appropriate” for designation as a World Natural Heritage Site, paving the way for UNESCO recognition, the Japanese Environment Ministry announced Tuesday.

As IUCN evaluations are extremely unlikely to be overturned, it is almost certain that Shiretoko will be listed when the World Heritage Committee meets in South Africa in July.

Shiretoko would be the third site to be listed as a World Natural Heritage Site in Japan after Yakushima island in Kagoshima Prefecture and the Shirakami Mountains, which straddle Aomori and Akita prefectures.

The area to be listed includes the towns of Sharicho and Rausucho–and three kilometres of sea off the peninsula, measuring 71,100 hectares.

The IUCN report cites Shiretoko as an area of global importance because of its being a habitat for rare salmonids, sea birds and marine mammals–such as sea lions and cetaceans–as well as a stopover for migratory birds.

The report also says the area is geographically unique as Shiretoko is the southernmost part of the Northern Hemisphere, where ice floes gather, providing an opportunity to explore how ice impacts the relationship between marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

At the same time, the IUCN requested that a management program be devised for the sea area around the peninsula to clarify and make recommendations on any adverse effects that dams may have on the aquatic ecosystem.

Between September and May, the IUCN had urged the central government to reinforce regulations against the local fishing industry and to abolish damming in order to preserve the river ecosystems.

Under such circumstances, it was thought unlikely among local communities that Shiretoko would become a World Heritage Site.

However, marine preservation is a worldwide assignment for the IUCN, and increasing the number of aquatic habitats is one of the organization’s main objectives.

South Africa will host the upcoming World Heritage Committee meeting, with UNESCO ambassadors from 21 countries attending. They will debate the features of the 10 sites that have been short-listed and make a decision.

Environment Minister Yuriko Koike said Tuesday at a press conference: “I’m very pleased with Shiretoko being short-listed because this first step will increase the area’s recognition. I have confidence that the area will be designated as a World Natural Heritage Site, and we will make all efforts to achieve this status.”

Asked about IUCN’s requests including the issue of dams, Koike said she would deal with the request, saying consultation with the local communities was of foremost importance.

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun