Japan has decided to recommend a chain of southwestern islands as a candidate for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2020, the government said Friday.
It is the second time the government has put forward the site for consideration. It consists of Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima islands in Kagoshima Prefecture along with the northern part of the main island of Okinawa and the prefecture’s Iriomote Island.
The island chain boasts extensive subtropical forests that are home to rare species such as the Amami rabbit, the Okinawa rail — a species of bird — and the Iriomote cat.
In May, a UNESCO preliminary review panel rejected Japan’s 2017 recommendation of the site, citing issues with the scope of the nomination. The government dropped the bid the following month.
This time around, Japan will include in its proposal a northern Okinawa forest at a former U.S. military training site returned to the country in December 2016.
Tokyo will submit the formal recommendation to UNESCO by Feb. 1 and the global body’s World Heritage Committee will make a decision in the summer of 2020.
As recommendations to UNESCO are restricted to one per nation per year, Tokyo decided not to nominate Jomon Era archaeological sites dating back more than 10,000 years in north and northeastern Japan for the World Cultural Heritage designation, despite their selection by a government panel in July.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government decided to recommend the natural site “based on UNESCO’s policy to prioritize reviews of natural heritage candidates.”
While many locals welcomed the move, some are worried they aren’t ready for the listing.
“We have been working to raise local awareness on how rich and important nature is. I am relieved as I feel like our efforts have been recognized,” said Mutsumi Minobe, 55, who is active in nature conservation on Tokunoshima Island.
Yusuke Takayama, 37, who has been working on conservation on Iriomote Island, said he is “rather worried” about the possible listing.
Takayama, a member of Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund, said traffic accidents are killing the endangered Iriomote wildcat at the fastest rate since records began but that the construction of infrastructure for receiving visitors is only half-done.
In the summer of 2019, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is scheduled to review ancient burial mounds in Osaka Prefecture that Japan has recommended as a cultural heritage site.
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