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Staff writer

The Australian minister for the environment has sent a private letter to his Japanese counterpart expressing concern over the loss of habitat for migrating birds caused by the Isahaya Bay land reclamation project in Nagasaki Prefecture, it was learned Sept. 12.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Japan Times, Minister for the Environment Robert Hill asked whether the habitat values of Isahaya Bay for migratory shorebirds will be lost as a result of the reclamation project. The letter was dated Aug. 11 and addressed to Michiko Ishii, then director general of the Environment Agency.

Japan’s tidal flats are internationally famous as important habitats for shorebirds, many of which migrate between Australia and Siberia. Japan concluded a bilateral agreement with Australia in 1981 that covered the protection of migratory birds, birds in danger of extinction and their environment. The agreement states that measures should be taken “to prevent damage to such birds and their environment.”

Pointing out that Australia has started work to identify important Australian wetlands used by migrating birds to help protect them, Hill also asks the Environment Agency “to consider moving similarly to recognize the important shorebird habitats in your country.” Hill suggests that Japan add important wetlands to the East Asian-Australia Flyway Network. The network was established in 1996 and Japan has nominated two sites, the Yatsu tidal flat in Chiba Prefecture and the Yoshino Estuary in Tokushima Prefecture, but not Isahaya.

In response to Hill’s comments, Ishii wrote in a reply dated Sept. 8 that “we are hoping that our agency will be able to effectively convince local authorities to join the network and to reinforce measures to conserve those sites and other wetlands.”

She also stated that the agency had recently published a list of wetland environments important for shorebirds, hoping it would encourage their protection. The letter also said that Japan will make efforts similar to those of Australia to protect wildlife and their habitats.

“As you see from the letter to Hill, we will do our best,” said Hikaru Kobayashi, director of the wildlife protection division of the Environment Agency, stressing that the agency should also develop relations with the local community.

Environmentalists trying to stop the project, however, expressed their dissatisfaction with the agency’s letter. “Although I understand the Environment Agency’s position, its reply is not satisfactory,” said Maggie Suzuki of Japan Wetland Action Network, International Liaison. “The government is only doing the easy things, leaving aside the difficult issues and trying to push them under the carpet,” she added.

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