On uninhabited Torishima Island, in the Pacific Ocean about 600 km south of Tokyo, every day is hard physical work for the Environment Ministry officials trying to conserve an endangered albatross population.
Ranger Koji Nitta, 54, joins researchers in traveling to the island in the Izu Island chain every summer after albatrosses have bred and departed on their annual journey to the North Pacific.
His job is to cut down the shrubs that could obstruct the birds when taking off, and place sandbags around their breeding ground to keep mud out.
“What we do is to support their breeding, and that’s the only thing humans can do,” Nitta said.
“It’s a series of simple tasks,” he said. “Our conservation work is substantially physical work.”
Some call albatrosses “queens of the sea” because of their white feathers and ability to fly for hours without flapping their wings.
Hundreds of thousands are believed to have lived on islands in the Northwest Pacific, but over-hunting for their feathers pushed them to the verge of extinction. Conservation efforts, however, have helped the population to recover to an estimated 3,500.
In Japanese, albatrosses are known as “aho dori” (stupid bird), a moniker that belies their true nature.
“Albatrosses are very cautious,” Nitta said, noting that they are clever enough to be wary of humans. “They are absolutely not ‘aho.’ “
In an effort to further boost the wild population, Nitta is also creating a new breeding site on Muko Island on the Ogasawara Islands, further south. The team tries to attract the birds by deploying static albatross decoys and playing a recording of their cries.
Last spring, a suspected albatross chick was recorded on a neighboring island in the first sign of their successful nesting in the Ogasawara chain.
Nitta grew up in Azumino, a mountainous area in Nagano Prefecture.
He undertook a significant career change after years serving with Japan National Railways. His interest in climbing led to a job as a park ranger at the ministry, Nitta said. He joined it in 2007.
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