Ogasawara Islands join World Heritage family

Kyodo

The Ogasawara Islands, a habitat for rare animals and plants in the western Pacific, was named as a World Heritage site Friday by UNESCO, government officials said.

“It brings us great joy to have a fourth World Natural Heritage site for our country and it’s a piece of news that encourages us who have been enduring the (natural and nuclear) disasters (in northeast Japan),” said Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto.

The chain of about 30 islands about 1,000 km south of Tokyo is home to many indigenous species because it has never been connected to a continent. It has been dubbed the “Galapagos in the Orient” for its rich and distinctive natural assets, which include the Bonin flying fox, an endangered bat.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee authorized the registration of 6,360 hectares of land including the Mukojima, Chichijima and Hahajima archipelagoes, plus Kitaiwoto and Minamiiwoto islands. It also recognized a combined 1,580 hectares of marine areas around the islets.

The Ogasawara Islands, a popular destination for ecotourism, belongs to Tokyo and is administered by the village government of Ogasawara. The island chain, which has a population of about 2,400, was occupied by the United States after the war but was returned to Japan in 1968.