The government on Thursday designated an evergreen forest region in the northern part of Okinawa Prefecture as its 33rd national park.

Named Yanbaru National Park, it sits in the lushly forested Yanbaru region — one of the largest subtropical forests in the nation.

The announcement comes as the Environment Ministry aims to meet UNESCO criteria for its inclusion on the World Heritage list.

To prepare for a recommendation, which will include the Ryukyu Islands, Yanbaru wild forest and Amami Islands in the neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture, the ministry approved the national park status to strengthen measures to protect the area.

Japan is seeking World Heritage listing for 2018.

The new national park covers 13,622 hectares of land and 3,670 hectares of sea. It provides habitat for species native to Yanbaru, including endangered Okinawa rail and Okinawa woodpecker, and has unique features such as mangrove forests and limestone cliffs created by wave erosion. It also features various types of subtropical vegetation.

The park is located next to a 7,800-hectare piece of land held by the U.S. military and used for training.

Construction of U.S. helipads at the Northern Training Area resumed in July, a key condition for the partial return to Japan of a large parcel of that land.

The government will consider expanding the park area once the land return is completed.