Safety assurance sought for Awase wetlands

The Environment Ministry will ask officials overseeing reclamation of the Awase tidal flats in Okinawa Prefecture to confirm that adequate measures will be taken to protect the wetland during construction work slated to begin this week, Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki said Tuesday.

Ministry experts will seek an explanation from officials of the Okinawa Development and Promotion Bureau in response to Monday’s surprise announcement that construction will begin Wednesday on the controversial wetland reclamation project.

“The Environment Ministry is aware that this is a very important issue and we need to see that development authorities obey decisions made by the environmental evaluation committee — such as the transplanting of sea grass,” Suzuki said.

Attempts to transplant sea grass, some species of which are threatened with extinction, have yielded mixed results, drawing sharp criticism from preservation groups and some sea grass experts.

The construction calls for sea grass at the reclamation area to be transplanted to an alternative site. The grass will not be dug up using machinery — a method that has shown poor results in prior tests. Instead, divers will remove chunks of sea grass by hand, development authorities said.

A hotel, homes, a beach and other facilities are to be built on the tidal flats. The secretariat of the Ramsar Wetlands Convention has written to the government expressing concern over the construction project, claiming the wetland is “internationally important.”