The Environment Ministry decided Thursday to recommend the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage List of 2004.

The ministry will later recommend Tokyo’s Ogasawara Islands and the Ryukyu Island chain stretching from Kagoshima Prefecture to Okinawa in southwestern Japan. A panel of the ministry and the Forestry Agency decided to nominate the three sites in May.

The government will submit a formal recommendation to the Paris-based World Heritage Committee in January. After inspections are carried out, Shiretoko is expected to be formally registered as a World Heritage site during the annual selection process in June 2005, the ministry said.

UNESCO studies candidate sites for about a year before deciding whether to register nominees. All sites nominated in the past by Japan have been placed on the list, panel members said.

If all goes according to plan, Shiretoko will be Japan’s third natural heritage site after the Shirakami mountainous district in Aomori and Akita prefectures, and Yakushima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, the ministry said. Both were registered in 1993 due to their ancient forests and rich flora.

The ministry said Shiretoko is Japan’s first nomination based on the level of its wildlife protection system. Most of the areas on the peninsula have been designated as a special protection area, and the preservation of the area also has the support of locals, including the fishing industry.

Shiretoko, the southernmost place where drift ice washes ashore, boasts a unique ecosystem. It also serves as the habitat of a number of rare species, including the sea eagle.

Japan has nine cultural heritage sites under the list.

The World Heritage Program, initiated in 1978, aims to protect historic sites and natural landmarks of outstanding significance.

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