Kayak eco-tour brings unique cleanup effort to World Heritage Site

A group of environmentalists who took part in a kayaking eco-tour pick up trash near Kashuni Falls, a tourist attraction on the western side of the Shiretoko Peninsula on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, on 22 June 2022. (Kyodo)

KUSHIRO, Japan (Kyodo) — A group of Japanese environmentalists organized a week-long sea kayaking eco-tour over the summer to pick up trash that had washed ashore on Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula. , putting the power of people to work to preserve the precious World Heritage Site .

The tide carries huge amounts of ocean debris and accumulates along the steep peninsula that juts out into the Sea of ​​Okhotsk. Although local governments and others are involved in current cleanup efforts, it has been difficult due to the delicate operation needed to protect the environment from further human harm.

On the eve of June 22, a dozen eco-tour participants organized by local non-profit Shiretoko Nature School picked up trash that had washed up on the shore near Kashuni Falls, a tourist attraction located west of the peninsula.

“I was surprised there was so much trash,” said Raisuke Nishiya, 50, who traveled from Miyagi prefecture in northeast Japan, and was among the volunteers who used kayaks to collect plastic bottles, buoys and other ocean waste at a collective rate of approximately 50 kilograms per 10 minutes.

On April 23, a Japanese tourist boat carrying 26 passengers and crew sank in an accident in the same area. “It’s a small consolation as a memorial, but I also wanted to clean up even a little bit (for the victims),” said Yoshiyuki Yabe, who was also from Miyagi.

The Shiretoko Peninsula is about 65 kilometers long and extends to the southern tip of the Sea of ​​Okhotsk. Garbage is dragged by the current and lands mainly on the west coast – particularly around Cape Shiretoko – leaving piles of debris as an unsightly stain on the landscape.

The peninsula was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2005. To protect the natural environment from human damage and destruction, there are no vehicular roads leading to the cape and motorboats are prohibited to dock there.

According to Nao Sekiguchi of the Shiretoko Nature School, since the only way to access the cape “is to walk at night on a steep hiking trail or use a non-motorized boat”, collecting large amounts of trash is a difficult task.

The town of Shari and the Ministry of Environment are recruiting volunteers to continue collecting the waste, but an official from the ministry’s Utoro Nature Conservation Office said: “No matter how much we collect, they recover quickly.”

The environmental organization, which said it could no longer watch the dire situation in silence, used a grant from the Ministry of the Environment to organize a 7-night, 8-day sea kayaking trip from Utoro on the west coast of the peninsula to Cape Shiretoko. , picking up trash near the cape and transporting it on a small chartered boat.

The waste will be turned into props and other items and sold, with proceeds going to similar eco-kayak tours in the future.

Not only does the cleanup help maintain Shiretoko’s natural beauty, but it “is also important to maintain the heritage record,” an environment ministry official said.

Like Shiretoko, the Ogasawara Islands in Tokyo and Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture – both World Heritage Sites – also have ocean litter issues. By organizing clean-up events and having volunteers pick up trash, they strive to balance nature conservation with landscape preservation.

Associate Professor Takayuki Shiraiwa, who studies the Shiretoko waste problem at the Institute of Low Temperature Science, Department of Geography, Hokkaido University, said: “Shiretoko presents a special situation because it is ‘a world heritage site where waste cannot be carelessly collected.

He added, “Although a fundamental solution is quite difficult, it is necessary to widely share awareness of this problem.”

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