Staff writer

Protection of tideland in Isahaya Bay, Nagasaki Prefecture, has been given added momentum now that the world’s environmentalists have offered their full support, according to a hardcore Isahaya tideland activist and winner of a renowned U.S. environmental prize.

Hirofumi Yamashita, 64, head of the Japan Wetland Action Network, a local citizens’ group, received the Goldman Environmental Prize on April 20 in San Francisco for his 27-year battle to preserve ecological diversity on the Isahaya tidal flat.

The award, established in 1990 in San Francisco by the Goldman Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization, is known as the “Nobel Prize for environmentalists.” Six people are selected every year from about 30 nominees for their outstanding nature conservation efforts.

Yamashita follows 1991 winner Yoichi Kuroda, a leading member of a rain forest preservation group, as the second Japanese to receive the prize. Yamashita is the first recipient to win for his involvement with domestic Japanese issues.

The other five winners of the $100,000 awards this year come from Colombia, Dominica, Italy, South Africa and the United States. “It is a great — and totally unexpected — honor to receive such a prize,” Yamashita said in a recent interview in Tokyo. “During the U.S. visit, I was greatly encouraged by many environmentalists and government officials, including Vice President (Al) Gore, who expressed concern about shrinking biological diversity on the dying tideland.”

On April 14, 1997, a 1.2-km section of a 7-km embankment that cuts across Isahaya Bay was closed off by floodgates despite vehement nationwide protests from environmentalists.

The bay’s 3,000-hectare tidal flat, known worldwide for its ecological diversity, has virtually dried up since the desalination process began, killing off crabs, clams, fish and “mutsugoro” (mudskippers), and forcing the migratory birds that visited annually to go elsewhere.

The Isahaya Bay reclamation project, which was first dreamed up in 1952, has been promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and supported by the Nagasaki Prefectural Government. Under the project, about 1,840 hectares of land inside the 3,550-hectare enclosure will be filled by the end of fiscal 2000 for flood management.

Since the closing of the floodgates, Yamashita, who is also a marine life expert, has continued to demand that the ministry reopen it to allow seawater to flow inside the closed area and resuscitate the various forms of marine life dying on the tidal flat. “I am not against bay reclamation,” he said. “But the current construction method to close the bay first and fill it in later is unnecessary and other options would simultaneously achieve flood management and tideland protection.”

Yamashita expressed confidence that the award gives him strong political leverage to press the authorities to reconsider the controversial 237 billion yen public works project. “The first thing I’d like to do when I go back to Isahaya is to report to both the Isahaya mayor and the Nagasaki governor that I won the prize,” Yamashita said, showing the trophy that he received. “I really want to see their reaction, if they ever agree to meet me.”

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