Natural heritage sites get protection

Kyodo

The Environment Ministry will set up a panel of experts before the end of the year to study ways to protect the ecosystems of Japan’s World Natural Heritage sites amid increasing tourism to the areas.

The aim of listing an area as a World Heritage site is to conserve it, but such a designation can attract many more visitors, therefore posing threats to the environment. For local municipalities, it can be hard to strike a balance between preservation and tourism-based income, observers say.

“It makes no sense if the natural environment is impaired by being listed as a World Heritage site,” a ministry official said. “We want to explore problems ahead of new registration.”

The Environment Ministry said Monday it will survey how the increase in tourists has affected ecosystems in the nation’s four World Natural Heritage sites — Yakushima Island off southern Kyushu, the Shirakami-Sanchi Mountains in northern Honshu, the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido, and the Ogasawara island chain, a habitat for rare animals and plants in the western Pacific.

The government also plans to start seeking applicant sites for future World Heritage status.